An interactive model of group work with issues, linked to ethnicity, stigmatization and tolerance

by Antoaneta Mateeva and Zlatko Teoharov

This study reflects the authors’ experience with leading 5 training events open to Roma and Bulgarian professionals and volunteers on the living situation of Roma women victims of domestic violence. These two-day-long workshops were meant to explore the specific ways in which representatives of both ethnic groups co-create their group identities in a stable opposition to the ‘dangerous other’.

The idea about the ‘dangerous other’ was introduced by the authors to map out the image of the other as strikingly different from the participants’ own culture and perceived as unusual, strange, and at times dangerous.
Drawing on some concepts developed in the field of psychoanalysis (D. Winnicott’s transitional space and the role of playing, V. Volkan’s understanding of large group identity formation), on the psychodramatic methodological principles, offered by P. F. Kellermann, for identifying blind spots in the perspective to the other, and sociological knowledge developed by B. Link and J. Phelan about the stages of stigmatization and discrimination, a specific model of interactive work with the group was developed and explored. It includes a combination of role play, self and group reflection, discussion of movies, social advertisements and drawings.

This model was created with the idea was to offer to the participants a space for exploration of the specific images and ideas through which both ethnic groups created their identity in relationship with the other. The dynamics through which the internal huge distance from the dangerous ethnic other was enacted back in the physical and mental space of the workshop was also part of this reflective process.

The aim of the interactive model is:

  • to shorten the internal distance kept by the culturally developed stereotypes and the lack of direct positive experience with the other group;
  • to broaden the image of the other and the meaning of the relationship between the two groups;
  • to keep existing differences between the two ethnic groups yet make them less frustrating.

The authors offered opportunities to explore workshop spaces as:

  • the actual points of meeting and contact between members of two ethnic groups, sharing similar tasks and equal power as workshop participants;
  • transitional space and a playground where group members were able to explore alternative, broader and controversial image about self and other;
  • mirroring space where some ‘socially unacceptable’ feelings and ideas could be shared and further explored in a blame-free setting, o that new meanings about experiencing the other would be found.

These workshop series pointed to an interesting finding: spaces where alternatives to the power-hungry, imbalance exchanges with the other can be explored, need to be opened up in order to challenge the limited perception about the dangerous other mode in which our minds usually. The authors introduced the concept of the ‘mother’s face as both real and symbolic space’ in order to explore the specific function of the workshop as space for intense sharing, where the relationship with the different other may gain new meanings.

In addition a critical approach was applied towards existing ideas and practices linked to the social integration of minorities. In the context of these workshop series it is understood as a process of creating shared space where the rigid perception of the striking differences between the two groups may be revisited, a pool of similarities and common characteristics may be identified and better understanding of the rationale behind the ‘opposite’ group’s behavior s may become possible.