Romani Studies

A community without history? A life story approach to Romany memory and ethnicity

Romani Studies (2019), 29, (1), 27–50.


This paper approaches Romany memory culture through life stories and is based on results and conceptualizations from the study of biographical narratives and life experiences obtained within various ethnic and cultural settings in Latvia. It explores how the experience of living under different political regimes is conveyed in communicative memory through collected life stories of Roma people. Many studies point out the apparent indifference to history in Roma communities. Roma people do not seek to emphasize their distinct identity, and their history is not fixed in artefacts such as monuments and national narratives. Analysis of Romany life stories allows the perception of relationship between the status of a given group in society, Gypsies’ historical experience, and their neglect of the past.

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


Apine, Ilga. 2007. Gypsies (Roma) in Latvia. In: Dribins, Leo, ed. Minorities in Latvia: The past and the present. Riga: Institute of Philosophy and Sociology at the University of Latvia, Secretariat of the Special Assignments Minister for Social Integration Affairs. 282–300. Google Scholar

Assmann, Jan. 2008. Communicative and cultural memory. In: Erll, Astrid, and Nünning, Ansgar, eds. Cultural memory studies. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter. 109–18. Google Scholar

Atkinson, Robert. 2007. The life story interview as a bridge in narrative inquiry. In: Clandinin, D. Jean, ed. Handbook of narrative inquiry. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 224–45. Google Scholar

Berbrier, Mitch. 2008. The diverse construction of race and ethnicity. In: Holstein, James A., and Gubrium, Jaber F., eds. Handbook of constructionist research. New York: Guilford Publications. 567–91. Google Scholar

Bertaux, Daniel, and Kohli, Martin. 1984. The life story approach: A continental view. American Review of Sociology 10: 215–37. Google Scholar

Bērziņš, Valdis, ed. 2003. 20. Gadsimta Latvijas vēsture. Neatkarīgā valsts 1918–1940 [20th-century Latvian History: The Independent Nation 1918–1940]. Riga: LVIA. Google Scholar

Bleiere, Daina, ed. 2008. Latvija Otrajā pasaules karā (1939–1945) [Latvia in the Second World War (1939–1945)]. Riga: Jumava. Google Scholar

Brubaker, Rogers. 2004. Ethnicity without groups. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Google Scholar

Brubaker, Rogers. 2009. Ethnicity, race, and nationalism. Annual Review of Sociology 35: 21–42. Google Scholar

Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia. 2014. Demography 2014. Riga. Google Scholar

Connerton, Paul. 1989. How societies remember. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar

Csepeli, György, and Simon, Dávid. 2004. Construction of Roma identity in Eastern and Central Europe: Perception and self-identification. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 30 (1): 129–50. Google Scholar

Erll, Astrid. 2011. Memory in culture. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Google Scholar

Fonseca, Isabel. 1996. Bury me standing: The Gypsies and their journey. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Google Scholar

Gay y Blasco, Paloma. 2001. “We don’t know our descent”: How the Gitanos of Jarana manage the past. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 7 (4): 631–47. Google Scholar

Garda-Rozenberga, Ieva, and Zellis, Kaspars. 2015. Atceroties genocīdu: romu iznīcināšana nacistu okupācijas laikā Latvijas romu kolektīvajā atmiņā [In remembrance of genocide: Annihilation of the Romanies during Nazi occupation in the collective memory of Latvian Roma]. Latvijas Vēstures Institūta Žurnāls 2: 64–95. Google Scholar

Geertz, Clifford. 1973. The interpretation of cultures. New York: Basic. Google Scholar

Gillis, John R. 1994. Memory and identity: The history of a relationship. In: Gillis, John, ed. Commemorations: The politics of national identity. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 3–24. Google Scholar

Guy, Will. 2001. Identity and post-Communist policy. In: Guy, Will, ed. Between past and future: Roma of Central and Eastern Europe. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press. Google Scholar

Halbwachs, Maurice. 1980. The collective memory. New York: Harper and Row. Google Scholar

Hall, Stuart. 1989. Ethnicity: Identity and difference. Radical America 23 (4): 19–25. Google Scholar

Hodgkin, Katharine, and Radstone, Susannah, eds. 2003. Contested pasts. The politics of memory. London and New York: Routledge. Google Scholar

Irwin-Zarecka, Iwona. 1994. Frames of remembrance: The dynamics of collective memory. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction. Google Scholar

Jenkins, Richard. 2008 [1997]. Rethinking ethnicity. Second Edition. London: Sage. Google Scholar

Kott, Matthew. 2015. The fate of the Romani minorities in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania during the Second World War: Problems and perspectives for Romani Studies and comparative genocide research. In: Feldmanis, Inesis, ed. Latvijas Vesturnieku komisijas raksti [Papers of Latvian Commission of Historians]. Riga, Latvijas Vesturnieku komisija. Google Scholar

Lemon, Alaina. 2000. Between two fires: Gypsy performance and Romani memory from Pushkin to post-socialism. Durham and London: Duke University Press. Google Scholar

Malešević, Siniša. 2006. Identity as ideology. Understanding ethnicity and nationalism. New York: Palgrave Macmillian. Google Scholar

Mayall, David. 2004. Gypsy identities 1500–2000: From Egyptians and Moon-men to the Ethnic Romany. London: Routledge. Google Scholar

Megill, Allan. 1999. History, memory and identity. History of the Human Sciences 11 (3): 37–62. Google Scholar

Middleton, David, and Edwards, Derek, eds. 1990. Collective remembering. London: Sage. Google Scholar

Misztal, A. Barbara. 2003. Theories of social remembering. Maidenhead: Open University Press. Google Scholar

Muižnieks, Nils. 2011. History, memory and Latvian foreign policy. In: Muižnieks, Nils, ed. The geopolitics of history in Latvian-Russian relations. Riga: Academic Press of the University of Latvia. 7–18. Google Scholar

Nollendorfs, Valters, ed. 2002. Latvia under the rule of the Soviet Union and National Socialist Germany, 1940–1991. Riga: Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. Google Scholar

Nora, Pierre. 1989. Between memory and history: Les lieux de memoire. Representations 26: 7–25. Google Scholar

Nora, Pierre. ed. 1996. Realms of memory, vol. 1–3, trans. A. Goldhammer. New York: Columbia University Press. Google Scholar

Passerini, Luisa. 2003. Memories between silence and oblivion. In: Radstone, Susannah, and Hodgkin, Katharine, eds. Contested pasts: The politics of memory. London: Routledge. 238–54. Google Scholar

Plummer, Ken. 2001. Documents of life 2: An invitation to a critical humanism. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Google Scholar

Ricoeur, Paul. 1988. Time and narration. Vol. 3. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Google Scholar

Riessman, Catherine K. 1993. Narrative analysis. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Google Scholar

Ross, Michael, and Wang, Qi. 2010. Why we remember and what we remember: Culture and autobiographical memory. Perspectives on Psychological Science 5 (4): 401–9. Google Scholar

Saeima of the Republic of Latvia. 2005. Declaration on the condemnation of the totalitarian Communist occupation regime., accessed 16 January 2018. Google Scholar

Silverman, Carol. 1988. Negotiating “Gypsiness”: Strategy in context. The Journal of American Folklore 101 (401): 261–75. Google Scholar

Skultāns, Vieda. 1998. The testimony of life: Narrative and memory in post-Soviet Latvia. London: Routledge. Google Scholar

Skultāns, Vieda. 2014. Remembering to forget. Commemoration of atrocities in the Baltic States. Central Europe 12 (1): 32–46. Google Scholar

Skultāns, Vieda. ed. 2017. Piederēt un atšķirties: romu, krievu un latviešu dzīvesstāsti Latvijā. LU Filozofijas un socioloģijas institūts, Latvijas Mutvārdu vēstures pētnieku asociācija “Dzīvesstāsts.” Rīga: Dzīvesstāsts. Google Scholar

Smith, Brett, and Sparkes, Andrew. 2008. Contrasting perspectives on narrating selves and identities: An invitation to dialogue. Qualitative Research 8 (1): 5–35. Google Scholar

Stewart, Michael. 1997. The time of the Gypsies. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Google Scholar

Stewart, Michael. 2004. Remembering without commemoration: The mnemonics and the politics of Holocaust memories among European Roma. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 10 (3): 561–82. Google Scholar

Thompson, Paul. 2000. The voice of the past. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar

Tihovska, Ieva. 2017. Īsta čigānu mūzika: Autentiskums un etniskums Latvijas čigānu (romu) mūzikā [Real Gypsy music: Authenticity and ethnicity in the music of Gypsies (Roma) in Latvia]. Riga: LU LFMI. Google Scholar

Toleikis, Vytautas. 2005. Lithuanian Roma during the years of the Nazi occupation. In: Dieckmann, Chrisoph, Toleikis, Vytautas, and Rimantas, Zizas, eds. Karo belaisvių ir civilių gyventojų žudynės Lietuvoje 1941–1944 [Murders of prisoners of war and of civilian population in Lithuania 1941–1944]. Vilnius: Margi Raštai. Google Scholar

Trumpener, Katie. 1992. The time of the Gypsies: A “people without history” in the narratives of the West. Critical Inquiry 18 (4): 843–84. Google Scholar

Velmet, Aro. 2011. Occupied identities: National narratives in Baltic museums of occupations. Journal of Baltic Studies 42 (2): 189–211. Google Scholar

Weiss-Wendt, Anton. 2003. Extermination of the Gypsies in Estonia during World War II: Popular images and official policies. Holocaust and Genocide Studies 17 (1): 31–61. Google Scholar

Wertsch, James. 2002. Voices of collective remembering. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar

White, Hayden. 1978. Tropics of discourse: Essays in cultural criticism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins. Google Scholar

Wodak, Ruth, de Cillia, Rudolf, Reisigl, Martin, and Liebhart, Karin. 1999. The discursive construction of national identity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


Author details

Šūpulis, Edmunds