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Whose Blood, Which Genes? Narratives and Sampling Strategies in Roma-Related Genetic Research from 1921 up to Today

Wednesday, January 20, 2016, 11:00 am – 12:30 pm

The grouping of Roma in a homogenous category has a long history. I argue that shaping and stabilizing Roma groupness is the result of the interrelated practices of categorization and counting, both important ways in assembling an object of study but also a target for governmental intervention. I bring examples of how repeated academic, administrative and police-led inquires contributed to enduring representations of the Roma group in different political regimes. My presentation aims to demonstrate that framing Roma as a genetic isolate relies on biohistorical narratives and classificatory practices that cross over disciplinary fields and contributes to the reification of Roma ethnicity. The focus is on the re-emergence of genetic studies on Roma during the last 25 years. Making up samples and selecting genetic markers enacted the technologies of difference and reinforced the division between Roma and non-Roma. By a close reading of genetic literature I analyze how the main narratives about Roma were imported from social sciences and public discourse, and how genetic research contributes to shape a Roma identity along biological lines.

In 2014 Mihai Surdu was a postdoctoral research fellow at Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin and previously an Open Society Roma Initiatives fellow. He holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of Bucharest. He worked as a researcher and consultant for research institutes, international organizations and governmental institutions. His forthcoming book Those who count. Expert practices of Roma classification (spring 2016 with CEU Press) reflects his interests in history of science and Roma categorization by academics and policy makers.