Urban Roma, segregation and place attachment in Szeged, Hungary

By György Málovics, University of Szeged, and Remus Crețan, West University of Timisoara

Romani people occupy a complex social position within Europe, due to the stigmatization and discrimination they have faced for centuries there. Numerous studies have shown a strong ‘Romaphobia’ in European contexts (van Baar, 2011), positioning the Roma as Europe’s dehumanized ‘outsiders’ (Powell and Lever, 2017). This literature highlights that ‘the trajectory of the Roma in Eastern Europe is towards ghettoization’ rather than towards integration thus limiting life opportunities in numerous ways for people living in those neighbourhoods, but also providing advantages like protection and solidarity (Wacquant, 2012). A significant amount of research and media news cover this marginalization and urban spatial segregation of Roma in Europe, but the experience of living in ‘Gypsy ghettos’ needs to be examined in a more structured way. Our recent publication in Area (Málovics et al. 2018) addresses this challenge by providing a bottom-up view of the complex phenomenon of place attachment among marginalized urban Roma in two ghettos in Szeged, Hungary.

Approximately 3% of the Hungarian population (300,000 Roma) reportedly live in segregated environments, of which at least 1,633 ethnicity-based segregated neighbourhoods are known (Domokos and Herczeg, 2010). Findings from Szeged activists’ six-year participatory action research (PAR) project demonstrate that characteristics of both place and community relations are key determinants of place attachment for segregated urban Roma. Social relations within marginalized Roma neighbourhoods are shaped by dual ties. Traditional relationships based on reciprocity still exist, representing not only significant material and emotional support for families but also strong expectations towards sharing and the lack of a private sphere. In addition, we observed a process of social and spatial disintegration: Roma communities are becoming more fragmented, members aid others only in times of great distress, and they exclude those on the margins. The physical characteristics of segregated Roma neighbourhoods exert a dual influence on place attachment: these are ‘beyond-the-pale’ areas for local and national authorities. Basic public services are thus often neglected, resulting in poor housing conditions and an untidy environment (Photo 1), but also the perceived benefits of cheap housing and the relatively unregulated use of open spaces.

The relationship of segregated Roma to their neighbourhoods is shaped by further factors that extend far beyond the neighbourhood. Being embedded in the surrounding area(s) might represent numerous advantages (including work opportunities). However, poverty, prejudices, discrimination and, stigmatization from mainstream society limit life opportunities in numerous ways, for example, the ability to use public spaces. Because of poverty and ethnic stigmatization, numerous Roma are unable to ‘appear in public (spaces) without shame’ (Sen 1999, p.71). The same applies to important social institutions, including even primary schools: Roma pupils either attend segregated schools or classes or are marginalized within integrated primary schools. Overall, place attachment among marginalized urban Roma is a contradictory phenomenon: it varies from one segregated neighbourhood to the other and is influenced by social relations, the physical characteristics of the neighbourhoods, and relations between neighbours and everyday processes within the wider society.

The desegregation of urban Roma ghettos has become an official goal of Hungarian local development policy but we found that numerous issues should be considered in this process. The most important issue is that Roma communities are marginalized and stigmatized at the micro-level of daily social relations. In order to understand marginalization we must look beyond merely policy-oriented approaches and consider wider (historical) social processes and power relations within society. The question for further research remains: how to effectively struggle against centuries of social and spatial exclusion and ‘political pragmatism’ (Marinaro, 2003) as regards the marginal position of Roma within European societies.

About the authors: György Málovics is an associate professor of economics at the University of Szeged, Hungary. His academic interests are mainly dealing with local development, urban sustainability, marginalization and participatory action research. Remus Crețan is a professor of human geography at the West University of Timisoara, Romania. His recent research covers marginalization and stigmatization of Romani communities as well as (post)communist memory studies, political ecology, and social movements in Central and Eastern Europe. This blog post was written on behalf of our paper’s co-authors, Boglárka Méreiné-Berki and Janka Tóth.


Domokos, V., and Herczeg, B. 2010. Terra Incognita: magyarországi szegény- és cigánytelepek felmérése – első eredmények. Szociológiai Szemle 3: 82–99.

Málovics G, Creţan R, Méreiné Berki B, Tóth J. Urban Roma, segregation and place attachment in Szeged, HungaryArea2018;00:1–12.

Marinaro, C. I. 2003. Integration or marginalization? The failures of social policy for the Roma in Europe. Modern Italy 8: 203–18.

Powell, R., and Lever J. 2017. Europe’s perennial “outsiders”: A processual approach to Roma stigmatization and ghettoization. Current Sociology 65: 680–99.

Sen, A. K. 1999. Development as Freedom. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

van Baar, H. 2011. Europe’s Romaphobia: Problematization, securitization, nomadization. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 29: 203–12.

Wacquant, L. 2012. A Janus-faced institution of ethnoracial closure: A sociological specification of the ghetto. In R. Hutchison and B. D. Haynes eds. The ghetto: Contemporary global issues and controversies. Westview, Boulder CO, 1–32.

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