Accepted Paper:

Doing research in a "Romani NGO": dilemmas of involvement  


Hana Synkova (University of Pardubice)

Paper short abstract:

The paper discusses questions of anthropological involvement in a social services organisation. It analyses how in situations of pressure to adjust an external image to the professional one, the reflection of own practices of code-switching can contribute to insight into organisational strategies.

Paper long abstract:

I have been involved in volunteering and researching strategies of survival of a NGO that labels itself a Romani NGO and provides social services in the Czech Republic. I let the organisation use me for whatever work was needed, gradually moving to more expert and external positions. I am going to explore the tensions between the strengthening presentation of the organisation in line with the official discourses of professionalism and social exclusion, and between the internal life of the organisation with conflicts around the legitimacy of authority and the influence of family structures. The organisation is run by a Romani woman, Anna, who gradually employed her two sons and some friends and thus became an important provider of socio-economic resources for these people. However, the new social services law and a pressure for efficiency forced her to take on more professionals, mostly non-Romani staff. Two conceptions of authority have clashed - the informal one of Anna, and the authority of a few professionals, who consider some of "Anna's people" being inefficient. Having this competitive disadvantage in mind, the public relations strategy tries to create an image of high professionalism.

To what extent can an anthropologist disclose organisational strategies in a situation of strong competition and control of organisational reputation? How should an anthropologist act if s/he is constantly asked to confirm organisational credibility, knowing that it does not conform to the mainstream image (as well as his/her own) of the organisation using public money? To resolve the dilemma I will use Pels' (2000) claim about the right of anthropologists to "guard the secret". I will describe the inconveniences of active involvement and identification with an organisation and will balance them with assets that can be gained through the reflection of the researcher's involvement in the practice of code-switching.

Panel W081
Modern institutions in a 'cross-cultural' perspective - ethnographies of adaptation and code-switching