Accepted paper:

"We're not like animals, we like the good things!" Treasures, great and small, for social distinctiveness among the Ciganos from Évora (South of Portugal).


Sara Sama Acedo (UNED, Grupo de Cultura Urbana)

Paper short abstract:

In opposition to the widespread idea that Gypsies are unconcerned with material durable goods, this paper shows through photography and analysis of consumption, use and care practices, how the poorest Portuguese Gypsies of Alentejo are intensely concerned with some objects as symbolically valuable treasures related to social and moral distinction.

Paper long abstract:

This paper arises from long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Évora (Southern Portugal) with people who regard themselves as Ciganos (Gypsies). My communication focuses on people living in a situation of deprivation, combining horse trade, clothing sales and social benefits, and alternating mobility and permanence. Many authors (e.g. Gay Blasco (1999); Pascualino (1997); Seabra (2006)) have provided ethnographic proof that Gypsies are unconcerned with material goods, that they use them intensely, in an almost destructive way, and that they invest relatively little in "durable goods." These explanations show that self-affirmation is mainly carried out through one's own body, and ways of saying and doing things. However, I found myself at odds with ethnographies concerning situations of poverty and marginalisation among Ciganos. Instead of examining objects that were lacking or not taken care of, I took note of the practices of consumption, use, keeping and care of objects that are symbolically valuable. My communication takes into account the different ways that permanent and temporary residents in a "nomad camp" decorate their shacks, tents and vans, how the trousseau is prepared and kept for the "mozas," and how they care about sepulchres and their decoration. Analysing these practices, I will shed light on how those who identify themselves as "poor Ciganos" do in fact show concern for material objects, and have strong intentions of harmony and beauty. This corresponds not only to an aesthetic recreation and consolidation of ethnic boundaries, but to aspirations toward social and moral distinction in inter/intra-ethnic processes of identity/otherness.

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Materiality and poverty