Thesis Spotlights – Poland, Blackness and Racialisation

Issue 44: Opening Up Sociology Wed 5 Feb 2020 0

Bolaji Balogun, PhD student, United Kingdom

Email: ssbb [at] leeds.ac.uk
Institution: School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds, UK
Time: 2 October 2014 – 2 October 2019
Supervisors: Prof. Salman Sayyid, Dr. Paul Bagguley and Dr. Konrad Pedziwiatr
Funding: Leverhulme Trust

In the last decades and particularly since the emergence of the EU migrant crisis, there has been extensive scholarship on migration. Whilst this body of works engages well with migration, it is yet to grapple with the various ways of categorising migrants from countries beyond Europe and the ways in which race and racialisation interact with migration and national identity. Simultaneously, studies on borders are often reduced to securitisation where the racialised immigrants, foreigners, and asylum-seekers are often connected to the internal security logic, where racial logic is either ignored or not fully acknowledged.

Premised on Critical Race Theory, my study maps the figures in the Polish imaginary of Europe, and examines whether Poland has different, if related, histories of racial thinking and exclusion. In doing so, the study examines how such histories have been conceived, shaped and mediated. Drawing on various dimensions of the everyday experiences of black and mixed-race people of sub-Saharan African descent living in various cities in Poland, this study focuses on the assessment of ‘race’ and racialisation within the people’s integration into the Polish society.

Whilst the main empirical focus of this project is on Poland, the study is contextualised around continental Europe due to a long-standing debate on the analytical linkages between migration and ‘race’ from which my analysis has benefitted. In mainland Europe, ‘race’ and racism are considered absent, yet people of colour, especially women, are in precarious social and economic circumstances as result of systemic exclusion based on racialised logics.

This work largely lies in contextualising and historicising the particularity of Poland and what this has meant for the development of regimes of racism in the country over time (from the histories of migration to Poland – and the presence of a multi-ethnic society – before the Nazi occupation, through Communism and into neoliberalism). This study gauges the extent to which these racist regimes are similar to and differ from understandings of ‘race’ and racism in the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe and what is required to make sense of these differences.

I unpack in this thesis histories of regimes of racism, especially during the recent EU migrant crisis. The study’s original contribution to knowledge is its elaboration on racialisation in Poland as part of the global understandings of ‘race’ and racism. It concludes that the concept of ‘race’ and racism is not peculiar to the West. Studying the lived experiences of black and mixed-race people from sub-Saharan background (born or raised in Poland) shows that ‘race’ and racism are part of the configuration of the nations of Central and Eastern Europe. In doing so, this study provides empirical grounding to existing global theorisations of ‘race’ and racism and adds to the geographical terrain of contemporary ‘race’ and ethnicity studies.

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