Constructing the “Needy Subject”: NGO Discourses of Roma Need



Due to high rates of poverty, violence, and discrimination, the Roma (or Gypsy) population in Hungary is clearly seen as a “problem population.” As such, in recent years, there has been a great proliferation of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working with and for this subordinated minority. In their work, NGOs use specific discursive strategies that clearly maintain the Roma as problems in need of solutions. In this article, I focus specifically on the manner in which well-meaning organizations, due to constraints from external forces, rely upon stories of discrimination and an overemphasis on poverty. In doing so, they construct the Roma as “needy subjects.” Such a construction is problematic because (1) it often deprives the aid recipient of agency, (2) it obscures in-group differentiation and projects a homogenized identity focused on the most marginalized members of the group, and (3) it does not solve a double bind facing the agencies, whose continued funding and recognition rely upon continued reinforcement of differentiated rather than integrated status for those they try to serve. Given NGOs’ growing role in delivering services and serving as a voice for marginalized people such as the Roma, recognizing and resolving this double bind is a critical task for European NGOs – and for the funding sources that support them –if they want to be effective in achieving their stated goals.