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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Roma Health and Identity: Exploring Violence and Belonging

Othon Alexandrakis.

When Greek Roma (commonly known as Gypsies) get sick they do not rest, seek doctors, or take medication. Their understanding of the world dictates that disease and suffering is a natural part of the life cycle, no different from the suffering they endure as a result of racism or poverty. However, when a medical condition becomes severe enough to incapacitate the sufferer, Roma seek the help of doctors. They do so reluctantly and cautiously, and rarely expect positive results. Greek Roma go to hospitals to die.

At a time marked by social scientists as the era of declining states, the structural violence marginalized peoples systematically encounter suggests the opposite. In Greece, Roma have suffered from embedded prejudice and institutional exclusion for hundreds of years. Living under conditions of apartheid, Roma do not have access to social security, housing, or even healthcare.
My paper will focus on issues pertaining to identity by studying how the encounter between marginalized groups and healthcare systems affects subjective practice. One’s sense of belonging is emergent and constructive (dialogic). At hospitals, medical practice and policy challenge the cultural schema that underpin, not only the Roma understanding of health, but also the Roma understanding of “being in the world”. In an attempt to preserve their cultural identity, Roma have reinvented their notions of ‘doctor’, ‘hospital’, and ‘health’. Embedded within these new understandings is the history of the Roma people and their resistance to the oppressive state. Despite the outcry for more equitable, humane treatment of disenfranchised populations, these groups often continue to suffer the oldest violences inflicted in new ways.


Othon Alexandrakis  (Canada)
Masters Student
Department of Anthropology
University of Western Ontario

Othon Alexandrakis lives on London, Ontario where he is finishing his Masters thesis at the University of Western Ontario and preparing for PhD studies. He has conducted fieldwork in Athens, Greece, working both with Roma and at state and private hospitals.

  • Roma
  • Health
  • Identity
  • Marginalization
  • Subjectivity
  • Violence

(30 min Conference Paper, English)