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This study discuss how Romanian beggars experience contact with the local society in Kristiansand. The group of people this study deals with manly consist of the ethnic minority Roma, but also some ethnic Romanians. The study consist of two research questions: 1. How do persons from Romania who live in Kristiansand, Norway, for a shorter or longer period of time, who earn money from begging, - experience the encounters with this local society? 2. How do the encounters with the local society of Kristiansand shape the selfawareness of people in this group? To answer the two components in the research question, I have used two methodological approaches. Firstly, I have conducted qualitative interviews with seven Romanian beggars. Secondly, I have done covert observations of beggars in the downtown area of Kristiansand to understand the encounters between the beggars and local passers-by. The group of people the respondents represents lives in deep poverty on the outskirts of the Romanian society under poor housing conditions, lacking basic education and formal work experience. The group of Romanian beggars in Kristiansand came in order to work, but the strictly regulated labour marked is virtually inaccessible for this group of people. As a result, many of them beg, or earn money by doing other forms of street activities to provide their families in Romania. This study presents an empirical description of Romanian beggars’ everyday life in Kristiansand, and includes a chapter describing the experiences the respondents have in several areas of everyday life. This study will also present a chapter that presents an analysis of the empirical material. The study consists of three theoretical approaches to analyse the empirical findings to give answers to the research question. The three theoretical approaches are: 1. The phenomenon stigma as Erving Goffman developed it, and a more recently report on the sociological processes of stigma. The theory is used to determine if 3 the Romanian beggars in Kristiansand are experiencing stigmatization by the local community 2. A dramaturgical approach based on Erving Goffmans theory of everyday life, but developed further by Stephen E. Lankenau for specific research on beggars’ encounters with passers-by. 3. The Contact hypothesis further developed by Arzoo Rafiqi and Jens Peter Frølund. The Contact hypothesis argues that a given majority populations stereotypical perceptions and anxiety towards a given minority group lead to increased empathy if contact between majority and minority evolve over a given period of time. These theories are used to answer both how the respondents are experiencing meeting people from the local community, but also to answer the second component in the research question, which is how these encounters shape the understanding of the self of the respondents. Most of the Romanian panhandlers lives in a provisional slum under a highway bridge in the outskirts of downtown Kristiansand. In the coldest months, December, January and February the municipality is providing a dormitory where they pay 20 NOK per night. The local newspapers and the social media have given much attention to the Romanian beggars, and local political views have been an important part of the debate around begging and the Romanian group of beggars in Kristiansand. Especially one Facebook group called “Få tiggerne vekk fra Kristiansand” has drawn attention for its extreme views on Romanian beggars, especially Roma beggars. The political debate has been highly polarised and has circulated around the question of prohibition of begging whether the municipality is responsible for meeting this group of people with basic social needs. This study shows that the dominating experience for the beggars a few years ago was that of feeling invisible to the local society. The respondents felt that the local citizens avoided contact because of distress and harassment directed towards them. However, this was more prevalent than it is now. This study present three categories of public exclusion and harassment: 1.) Exclusionary practices aims at preventing beggars from take part in public space, and is enforced by private citizens, commercial interests (store and restaurant owners) or through judicial law enforcement. 2.) Exploitative practices refer to physical assaults like kicking, hitting, 4 but also “softer” kinds of assaults like spitting. Most of the respondents have been experiencing these assaults while being in Kristiansand. Exploitative practices aim to frighten beggars from taking part in public space, or make them defensive and timid so their presence are as unnoticeable as possible. 3.) Evaluative practices refers to ways of humiliating beggars to make them feel excluded. Several of the respondents have experienced people shouting and swearing towards them, putting paper bits in their cups. Evaluative experiences may also lead beggars to start see themselves through the eyes of passers-by that exclude them. The beggars may appear as scruffy, they live of the crumbs from the Norwegian society and they stay in places considered dirty by the larger community. Therefore, many categorize them into an impurity categorization. Negative attention given to beggars in newspapers, on social media and in face-to-face encounter, may stem from an impurity categorization. The impurity category which passers-by and the society in, general are putting them in may evoke feelings of distress, disgust and ambivalence in passers-by and consequently the beggars are avoided and excluded. The street can be a place of opportunity for the beggars, but also a place where they can experience stigma. The beggars have to learn to balance their presence between appearing visible and invisible. Both visibility and invisibility can lead to further stigma. By being visible, they can appear troublesome for other locals and breaking social norms by their scrubby presence. On the other hand, the beggars may take a passive approach to be as inconspicuous as possible. This approach can also be problematic because the passivity the beggar perform can lead people to ascribe the beggar responsible for his or her own destitute. Despite the wish of taking part in the work place, a common stereotype is that Roma and Romanian beggars do not want to work. Another common stereotype is that they are criminals or victims of criminal activity. The police in Kristiansand confirm there was some incidents some years back, receiving reports of concerns from people experiencing beggars as threatening or aggressive. Now, in a more recent interview, the police say that there has been far less incidents the last couple of years and that the reports of concerns from people has dropped steeply. The police see this trend as the result of a successful crime-preventing project between the police and different humanitarian and religious organizations and churches, and all the respondents express positive experiences with the police in Kristiansand. Still there is a lot of accusations about crime involved, especially on social media, and some local politicians have on several occasions 5 expressed that the culture of the Romanian beggars (Roma culture) make them unwilling to work. Several of the respondents are frustrated because they feel the papers are generalizing too much. It seems like there is a discrepancy between the Romanian beggars own understanding of themselves and the social identity ascribed to them by parts of the local community. This affects the social and economic status for the whole group in which the respondents take part. At the same time, it seems like the beggars manage to break free from stigma by using dramaturgical routines. By expelling specific dramaturgical routines, they express something about themselves through the begging act, which reveal something about their destitute, and awakes empathy in passers-by. Through the exclusion and the public harassment that they face they learn to control their own feelings and thereby their appearance, by learning emotion control. Emotion control makes the beggars as part of their panhandling routine. It makes them able to put people that are treating them badly into easy cognitive categories and ignoring them in ways so that the beggar’s experience of exclusion is easier to live with. It also gives the beggars the skills of handling abusive treatments with deflection or balanced defiant rebuttals. Through managing emotion control, the beggars protect their own self and present themselves in ways that potentially awakens empathy in passers-by. When peoples empathy is awaken, it happens that they befriend beggars, and some become regular donors. The stereotype of a beggar is a shabby unkempt person. When a donor give “nice stuff” like new clothes and the beggar start to wear it, the facade potentially adapt more to the social norms in public. This can lead to mistrust in passers-by because a beggar with a well-kept facade do not answer to the preconceptions of passers-by. People might think that the beggars destitute is a fake role. A well-balanced identity control on the other hand, can promote further empathy, especially in the regular donors, because they experience that the things they donate (money, clothes, etc.) are well spent. When regular donors or friends come to donate or to have a chat, they demonstrate tiesigns. The interaction takes many forms. A donation, a chat or a hug becomes a visual sign that tells something about the relationship between the local and the beggar. This can influence other passers-by to see the beggars with new eyes and lead to reduction in stereotypical notions about beggars. This study shows that all of the respondents take part in tie-signs with passers-by they have befriended. 6 In general, all of the respondents, to a greater or lesser extent develop out-group strategies, by befriending local passers-by with higher social status, and extend networks through religious and humanitarian organizations and churches they are attending. It seems like the out-group strategies lead to higher economic and social status among the respondents. Some important positive consequences are opportunities to do knitting sales and magazine sales, unformal jobs offered by local acquaintances, and invitations for dinner or coffee at local people’s homes. A few years back begging was the main income for the respondents. Now knitting sales, magazine sales, housecleaning and house maintenance is the preferred. Most of them say that working make them feel better about themselves than begging. They also feel that many in the local society in general has changed their views about them. These changes may have its background in a successful dramatization of the beggars self, the skill of controlling emotions and identity, and successful out-group strategies so that locals see them as more adapted to prevailing social norms. Passers-by perceive the beggars adaptation to social norms as familiarity, thus leads the passers to feel more empathy and less anxiety for the beggars. Religion is an important part of the life of the respondents. A strong belief in God is influencing how they perceive their everyday challenges and the encounters with other people. Most of the respondents attend church sermons on Sundays. As a ritual, the sermons seem to have an integrating function, which place the beggars into the greater local community, at least among Christians. These experiences leads to friendships with people in church. This study shows that positive ways of contact like mentioned above, between Romanian beggars and locals in Kristiansand, may be the reason for a decrease in stereotyped beliefs and anxiety among locals. The newspapers also plays a key role in this. When newspapers presents Romanian beggars in generalizing and negative ways, the beggars experience that people tend to avoid contact, do less purchasing, and donate less. Opposite, if newspapers depicts Romanian beggars in positive ways, anxiety seems to weaken and more locals seek contact. This study explains how the local community of Kristiansand displays Romanian beggars with negative stigma attributes, which make them vulnerable to exclusion, harassment and a discredited self. It also explains how seven Romanian beggars perceive experiences with stigma, but also how they at least in some ways, manage to break loose from it, creating a ways out of social exclusion by managing different role routines and strategies. Locals may see these roles and strategies as adaptations of prevailing social norms, and may lead them to change or put in to 7 question their stereotypical perceptions of Romanian beggars. This study also shows that a decrease in locals stereotyped beliefs may happens do to contact between beggars and passers-by over time. For positive contact to happen a minimum of empathy must be in place in local passers-by, which the beggars manage to evoke by their dramaturgical routines.
Masteroppgave religion- Universitetet i Agder, 2015