Most special issues on Roma minorities want to alert readers to the devastating consequences of racist public attitudes and misdirected public policy. Here we don't shy away from such issues, but we also want to challenge our own scholarship and ask some fundamental questions about how we, as academics, are approaching such research. In this introduction the context of the special issue is explored, both in terms of the historic backdrop of an expanding European Union and the academic theoretical framework of minority integration. Major critical questioning – such as broader questions around migration, race and ethnicity discourses – are still lacking when it comes to research on or with Roma minorities. Our main aim is to move debates on from continually describing who Roma people are and what they are doing, to questioning: who defines who is Roma, when and why? What happens in policy-making, research, everyday interactions? This approach sees an understanding of recognition, representations and power dynamics as fundamental to understanding the positionings of minorities who can also be marginalised or feel disenfranchised. This introduction to the special issue highlights the importance of deeply conceptualising issues around minority integration alongside empirical knowledge of how Roma identities become implicated in and through different modalities of mobilisation. Contributions to this special issue speak to debates in minority politics and identity studies along with migration and race/ethnicity discourses. This indicates that the experiences of, and discourses surrounding Roma minorities reflect the fundamental concerns of social science research about identity, ethnicity, cohesion and change.