In my research, I focus on operation of racial capitalism in the post-socialist context. Drawing on eleven months of ethnographic research among racialised Roma workers in the city of Ostrava in the Czech Republic, I work on an empirical exploration of a racialised “surplus population”. Engaging with recent research on the applicability of Marx’s category of the surplus population to society today, I make the case that, though Roma workers are integrated among wage labourers, they are contained in low-paid, stigmatised and precarious jobs, in a racialised condition of “under-employment”. This way I provide an alternative to the dominant trope in the media and political discourse that presents unemployment as a universal fact of Roma lives. Analysing the surplus population empirically, I look both at the operation of capital and also at interventions of the Czech state that facilitate and maintain it.
The main method of my research is participant observation, which I carried out while living in a racially segregated neighbourhood of Údol, and while working as a street cleaner and as a recycling operative, handpicking items on a conveyor belt, with a majority-Roma workforce.