Zooming In and Stepping Back: A Two-Sided Approach to Research

As I head into the second half of my internship at the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) in Budapest, I find myself equipped with a more focused understanding of my research— and, curiously, a wider understanding of my research. This may sound strange at first. How can my perspective become narrower and broader simultaneously? It might seem paradoxical, but I’ve realized that digging deeper into a research project often entails zooming in and stepping back.

Here I am standing on Liberty Bridge and looking at Budapest from across the Danube River–a zoomed out view if you will.

The ERRC is a public interest law organization that does strategic litigation for Roma people, the largest ethnic minority in Europe. I have been doing research on human rights abuses, which will later be presented to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) as evidence in anti-discrimination cases. Working with the legal team has taught me a lot about Roma communities and the systematic racism they face. For instance, when I helped draft a research report on school segregation in Hungary, I learned of the various and complex mechanisms that work to deny Roma children quality education.

Through this research, I have also learned a great deal about the ECHR and the European Convention on Human Rights, which is an international treaty designed to protect fundamental freedoms in Europe. Compiling complaints and evidence to send to the Court has taught me about the intricacies of this legal system and the applications of the Convention’s provisions.

I would categorize everything I just mentioned as an increasingly focused understanding of my research. As I described, I am becoming familiar with the intricacies of the system and the specific ways in which many institutions discriminate against Roma.

But I’ve also learned a lot from zooming out, and seeing how my research and the ERRC’s overall work fits into larger conversations about human rights.

For example, the legal team recently discussed #SayHerName, a U.S.-based racial justice movement that emphasizes intersectionality — the way in which oppressive institutions like racism and sexism are interconnected. We talked about the role that intersectionality plays in Roma communities and the distinctive way in which Romani women experience discrimination. We also discussed why the ECHR does not often consider intersectionality, and how the concept might take form if it was introduced in litigation or policy advocacy on behalf of Roma. This meeting and many similar ones helped me situate my research projects within broader, international discourses on human rights abuses.

Both zooming in and zooming out are important strategies for any research project. However, I think that we sometimes neglect the latter. It is easy to get bogged down in learning as many details as possible—say, memorizing the different provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, or gathering data on dozens of different school systems. But especially for a summer experience, it’s important to understand the context of these details. When I return to Princeton in September, I don’t know if any of my coursework or independent research will require me to recall specifics on the ethnic breakdown of primary schools in rural Hungary. But I do know that understanding the similarities and differences of various legal systems will be an invaluable tool moving forward.

Emma Kaeser, Social Sciences Correspondent