Politics of Photography


Marett Klahn and André Raatzsch

Dominant and Dominated Realities and Their Relation to Visibility

Excerpted from: “Where are the good gardeners? On the (in)visibility of Roma and ‘others’” by André J. Raatzsch and Marett K. Klahn

Imagination is a form of consciousness that produces a mental image, as Bowen describes in reference to Jean-Paul Sartre. It shapes the way that we relate to the people and objects in our world. Through our education and culture we all carry with us mental images of people and objects. For this reason, such images based on previous knowledge and associations within dominant power relations may lead to the danger of projection or promote effective stereotypes.1

But whose knowledge is it? Who produces knowledge about whom, and for what purpose? May I claim to assert myself here as an authorized spokesperson for Roma? Who is allowed to speak about whom? The average European citizen’s general ‘understanding’ of Roma is based on a variety of images and messages spliced together from different media – as is also the case in relation to discourse on “integration problems” and “poverty-based immigration”. The structural, historical and political causes of the existing situation of Roma – such as post-colonialism, everyday racism and discrimination at school and in the workplace, as well as in public and private institutions – are not included in this superficial, associative and prejudice-ridden ‘understanding’.

A certain visibility of ‘the’ 2 that enables the reception and the reproduction of a social and typological order3. This in itself is the result of a collective process, a political negotiation in which subjectivities and reality emerge4 – which at first might suggest a plurality of possibilities. Bourdieu calls this negotiation process the “struggles over the monopoly of power [...], to impose [one’s own – the authors5] legitimate definition of the social world [upon others].”6 The preconditions for these negotiations are problematic since not everyone has equal resources, and this inequality is reflected in an unequal measure of access to the power of definition, which fundamentally affects the construction of social reality.7 In this way, not only reality but also the subjectivities that arise within it and (re-) produce and uphold it are subject to this unequal relation – while its very emergence and its construed nature remain unquestioned.8 Further, it is precisely this symbolic power that serves as an instrument to legitimize divisions and the construction of differences in society and thereby, the creation of social groups.9 What is essential for the reception of these basic asymmetries of power and difference is the “compliance”10 of all groups in the system: “Symbolic power is a power that can only be exercised if it is recognized [...] and that is defined in and through a given relation between those who exercise power and those who submit to it.” 11

“To avert the critical gaze from [...] object to [...] subject”12

One basic prerequisite for representing Roma as a minority, and for their visibility (solely) as that which is associated with and recognized in dominant discourse as ‘being Roma’, is the fact of their objectification – that they are still acting as subjects is written large, as is the reproduction of their positioning through their own action. They are objects as “the” Roma and as “other”. Morrison describes this process as it is represented in white U.S. American literature. This uses the presence of black characters with the intent to (re)produce the sense that “the American self knows itself as not enslaved, but free; not repulsive, but desirable; not helpless, but licensed and powerful, not history-less, but historical; not damned, but innocent; not a blind accident of evolution, but a progressive fulfillment of destiny.”13

Truths, descriptions and representations must be liberated from their hegemonic structures and accepted in their ambiguity and fluidity. The historical and artistic-cultural canon in Europe must be analyzed with a critical view in this regard, as to how ‘the’ Germans, ‘the’ French, ‘the’ Hungarians, minorities and migrants take part in their own creation and can become visible. But who determines the conditions of participation, of visibility and artistic production? How democratic are the structures? Who represents, who gets represented? Who is visible and recognized? Who is not visible? Who is allowed to and able to represent themselves? Who is not allowed and not able to represent themselves? Who is authorized to speak about others and to represent others? Who is validated as a legitimate spokesperson in a group? Who is not validated as a legitimate spokesperson?

Even in cases where their exclusion and discrimination is observed, Roma remain ‘racialized objects’ and subjects of debate about this very exclusion and discrimination. Through this objectification, not only does a creation of false causality take place – through which Roma are made supposedly responsible for their own exclusion and lack of opportunities for participation – but also, first and foremost, there occurs an externalization by those on the dominating side, a making-invisible and a disconnection from their dominance as (one) cause of others being dominated. The liberation of Roma “from their chains of enslavement [...] depends on us – the Europeans”, says Wippermann14; that is, on the ruling and norm-determining structures and groups. Back in the 1990s, Toni Morrison formulated her demand in relation to the U.S. Black population thus: “to avert the critical gaze from the racial object to the racial subject; from the described and imagined to the describers and imaginers; from the serving to the served.”15

This demand aims to put an end to precisely this invisibility and unmarked presence of white power structures based on the legitimized non-recognition of the oppression of others and “[to explore – the authors] the impact of racism on those who perpetuate it”16 and benefit from it. This covers a broad spectrum, as was previously described – from economic privileging to utilizing racialized visibilities or from “shadowless omnipresence” to the production of national or collective identity. In order to explore the “subject”, the “describers” and the “served”17 and racism’s impact on them, Morrison introduced the term “Africanism”: for “the denotative and connotative blackness that African peoples have come to signify, as well as the entire range of views, assumptions, readings, and misreadings that accompany Eurocentric learning about these people.”18

“This structure of prejudice”, says End, “has hardly anything in common with the real people affected by anti-Roma racism. To a certain degree, the structure exists independently. However, since the stereotypes and interpretations in anti-Roma racism have only very indirectly to do with Roma and much more to do with the imaginative world of the majority of the population, it is necessary to talk about anti-Roma racism”19, thereby addressing the dominant group of those who profit from it and challenging them to engage on the issue. “Africanism” and “anti-Roma racism” are examples of tools to hold up a mirror to the white position, to confront it with its own ego, its fears and desires. First and foremost, these tools can contribute to making visible how dominant “normal” structures are constructed and held in place by means of institutional, psychic and discursive violence. With this foundation, a causality that was previously unmarked between the structures of dominance and the discrimination of social groups such as Roma or Black people can be made visible.20

Rights held by: André Raatzsch — Marett Klahn (text) — Agi Bezeczky (translation) | Licensed by: André Raatzsch — Marett Klahn (text) — Agi Bezeczky (translation) | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: RomArchive