Romani Studies has long held a special position at Södertörn University. The university has had national responsibility for the minority language of Romani Chib since 2013, and has the Nordic countries’ first professorship in the subject. With International Romani Day just around the corner, it has now been announced that Romani Studies will also be a department at Södertörn University.

Romska flaggan på Södertörns högskola Fotograf/Källa: Sophia Nilsson/Södertörns högskola

“We are very pleased, as this is an important signal from the university. We are the first higher education institution in Sweden with Romani Studies as a separate subject, and among the first in the Nordic region. It is also somewhat uncommon in an international context, although there are researchers in the subject in a variety of places,” says Jan Selling, associate professor of Romani Studies and new head of department.

Romani Studies is multidisciplinary, with the university conducting research in the subject in linguistics, ethnology, education, history and antiziganism studies. Romani Studies covers research questions about the Roma, interactions between Roma and non-Roma peoples, and non-Roma attitudes and approaches to Roma – including cultural, societal, linguistic and legal issues.

The university now offers eight freestanding courses in Romani Studies, including courses in Romani Chib, the history of the Roma people and a very popular course on antiziganism. The courses are currently for first-year undergraduates and work is underway on courses for the next level. The hope is that the subject will soon be able to offer doctoral education, as the development of Romani Studies is vital to counteracting structural discrimination, which forms a barrier that prevents Roma from accessing higher education.

In addition to these courses, the university has offered contract education courses, such as Roma bridge-building courses and a course for mother tongue teachers in Romani Chib. It has been crucial that these have been developed through close collaboration between Roma and non-Roma.

“Trust and good relationships are vital, and Södertörn University has prioritised our work with the Roma in many areas. This is a university where Roma people can feel welcomed and comfortable. We have often been unable to access the ‘fine spaces’, so the contract education and freestanding courses have allowed us to get a foot through the door of academia,” says Angelina Dimiter-Taikon, who has a Master’s degree in education and has taught Romani Studies on contract education courses and Teacher Education programmes.

Like other research areas that have historically been founded on Western norms, Romani Studies has been characterised by a ‘them and us’ attitude. Researchers in the field have often had a patronising approach, with the Roma people being regarded as inferior. The most extreme consequence of this was the Holocaust, in which hundreds of thousands of Roma people were murdered.

“There has been a gradual development towards more critical perspectives in the subject, partly linked to how, in the 1960s, it became permissible to criticise the white, European, male norm. The most important progress has happened in the past twenty years, with the increasing number of Roma academics. Inspiration has come from the African-American movement, which largely revolves around emancipation in the form of activism, both inside and outside academia. Meanwhile, the foundation that was built by previous academics is also coming into question,” says Jan Selling.

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the first World Roma Congress in 1971, Romani Studies at Södertörn University, along with colleagues from Central European University in Hungary/Austria and Harvard University in the US, are organising a seminar series under the title The Social, Cultural, and Political Legacy of the 1971 World Roma Congress. This event is an occasion for discussing critical milestones, changes and setbacks in the battle for Roma rights.


Sophia Nilsson