EASA, 2008: EASA08: Experiencing diversity and mutuality

Ljubljana, 26/08/2008 – 29/08/2008

(W116)

Beyond identity: new directions in the anthropology of Roma/Gypsy groups

Location 309
Date and Start Time 29 Aug, 2008 at 09:00

Convenors

Yasar Abu Ghosh (Charles University, Prague) email
László Fosztó (ISPMN Cluj, Romania) email
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Short Abstract

In this workshop we invite participants to look beyond the ethnospace as a paramount context for the anthropology of Roma/Gypsy groups and to investigate the empirical evidence of strategies for circumventing identity politics on the part of various actors habitually considered Roma/Gypsy.

Long Abstract

"Classical" anthropologies of various Roma/Gypsy groups show a remarkable resemblance in focusing on collective identity as a vehicle of the capacity of these groups to re-invent the world and as a source of resistance. The overwhelming framework of the ethnographic accounts is linked to questions of native conceptions of belonging and difference from the surrounding population. In this workshop we invite participants to look beyond the ethnospace as a paramount context for the anthropology of Roma/Gypsy groups and to investigate the empirical evidence of strategies for circumventing identity politics on the part of various actors habitually considered Roma/Gypsy.

Chair: Paloma Gay y Blasco

Papers

Difference and identity among the Calon Gypsies in São Paulo (Brazil)

Author: Florencia Ferrari (Universidade de São Paulo)  email
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Long Abstract

Based on my fieldwork among Calon Gypsies in São Paulo, Brazil, I analyse the boundaries between Gypsies and gadjes, focusing on "mixed" marriages. Although the "native" discourse presents an ideal of ethnic endogamy, there is a considerable percentage − up to 30% in some camps and neighbourhoods − of marriages with gadjes (non-Gypsies). I examine the circumstances of a recent marriage between a Calon man and a gadji woman, exploring in detail her adaptation to Gypsy life and her relationship with the Calon family, especially with her mother-in-law. I compare this marriage to similar situations among other gadjis and Calins. Anchored on this case, I discuss notions of belonging and difference, through the concept of "gypsyness".

Accumulation of wealth, economy of prestige and politics of kinship in a "traditional" Roma community in postsocialist Romania

Author: Catalina Tesar (Museum of the Romanian Peasant)  email
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Long Abstract

The emergence, in the aftermath of the fall of the communism in Romania, of the new economically successful Roma was tempted to be explained by the indigenous academic discourse in terms of culture/ethnicity (compliance with Gypsiness asserted through "brotherhood ties"). Drawing on the critics of the literature on resistance as well as on ethnographic data gathered in a so-called "traditional" Roma group living in central Romania, the main concern of this paper is to dismiss the idea of conceiving of Roma as homogenous subordinate groups and to move the analysis towards the loci of internal power relations. The practice of inheritance of the prestige item (o taxtaj) together with new patterns of conspicuous consumption (such as housing) and kinship strategies (cash dowry established accordingly to the monetary value of the future groom's prestige item) account for fissions and tensions inside the Cortorari (literarily Tent Dwellers) group. Ongoing internal conflicts together with social practices informed by the interaction with the dominant other as well as internalization of the public discourse demystify the idea of a monolithic, static and independent culture of the Gypsies that was put forewords by the classical literature.

Cultural fundamentalism and the political imagination: the case of 'Roma'/'Gypsies'/'nomads' in Florence, Italy (1988-2007)

Author: Giovanni Picker (Central European University)  email
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Long Abstract

Abstract

This paper is a socio-historical analysis of the politics of the categories 'Roma'/'Gypsies'/'nomads' in the city of Florence (Italy) over the last 20 years. Since the end of the 80s, people coming from Yugoslavia were forced to live in camps (campi nomadi) which have constantly been the sites where ethnicity has been 'working'. Based on my ethnographic fieldwork in 2007, the paper examines the ways in which the dialectic between the politics of categories from above (official texts, discursive practices and decision making processes of the local council) and from below (narratives, practices and strategies of a local Roma organization and of its single members), has made possible, in particular historical circumstances in the public discourse, a certain notion of 'Roma'/'Gypsies'/'nomads' take shape. It is argued that the ground on which this dialectic has been taking place is not a political one, or a socio-economic one, but it has the ultimate reference in what Verena Stolcke (1995) calls "cultural fundamentalism". Furthermore, the relations between the accent on the cultural(ist) dimension and the negotiation of membership and belonging to the urban polity by a Roma organization are discussed. The conclusions are an attempt to develop a critical framework of analysis which actualizes Stolcke's thesis thirteen years later, in order to study the nowadays Romani social life in southern Italy.

Differentiating Gypsiness: the case of Slovakian Roma migrants in Slovakia and in migration contexts

Author: Jan Grill (University of Manchester)  email
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Long Abstract

Based on my fieldwork among one specific grouping of Roma migrants following the Slovak accession into EU, I intend to look at the changing social ties and solidarity linking individuals to larger collectivities. In east Slovakia, migration has become both a mean and symbol of 'self-transforming projects' (Gardner and Osella 2003) with mobility being understood as a possible strategy enabling these migrants to circumvent variously constraining social orders. I will show that while these migrants can, through material and social uplift and modes of consumption, transform their self-representations there is also a set of newly emerging and transforming differentiation and categorisations of Gypsy migrants both in relatively homogenous Slovakian and more diverse UK context. I will show how the more 'successful' migrants often perceive themselves as being more 'advanced' and more 'modern' on imagined symbolic continuum while the other surrounding Roma being often labelled as backward. This self-positioning highlights how these Roma differentiate themselves from other 'Gypsies' and it also shows how these migrants refuse to put their identity under one umbrella of what is considered as lost in the past or associated with previous forms of poverty. The migration experience can be then understood as a specific form of consuming modernity. These various forms of social differentiation will be illustrated through ethnographic examples of the Roma migrants' interactions with Roma from different neighbouring villages in Slovakia vis-à-vis other Roma and non-Roma groups from Central Eastern Europe living in Great Britain.

What is this "Roma" in Roma popular culture? Strategies of appropriation and the politics of music-making

Author: Gergő Pulay (Central European University)  email
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Long Abstract

Besides the social exclusion and marginalization of Roma in postsocialist Eastern-Europe, the field of popular culture provides a terrain where Roma were actively contributing to the development of powerful niche-markets. Within these contexts the ethnic labeling of certain products, styles or streams of fashion rather contributed to the success then the failure of their creators. Moreover, the development of these fields are related to practices of 'cultural mixing' and exchange through various forms of appropriation - hence they also imply new ways of defining the relations of Roma to their own surroundings and to otherwise 'distant' social and cultural groupings which are somehow came to be understood as familiar.

Primarily based on fieldwork experiences amongst Roma performers in Hungary, the aim of this paper is to interpret certain trends in popular culture that are overcoming the oppositional definitions of 'local' cultural forms (understood as 'real' sources of Roma identity) and the attempts for institutionalizing 'national/international Gypsy cultures' (taken as unfounded and alienated from those that are supposed to be represented by them). A challenging task for an ethnographic approach of 'mixing' is to understand the ways in which cultural flows are made discontinuous by the practices of selection, appropriation and re-signification. Such forms of making and 'performing discontinuities' are practices by which social or cultural 'distance' is transformed into 'proximity'. Understanding these modes of mediation and appropriation can help us to identify struggles around identification which are going beyond the opposition of 'localism' and 'fake canonisation' in Roma cultural politics.

Articulations of power: Rom life struggles beyond resistance

Author: Ada Ingrid Engebrigtsen (NOVA)  email
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Long Abstract

The object of this paper is to discuss the relations of power in terms of "the strategic situation" of most Rom groups in most Nation states, and how this strategic situation is lived. Based on empirical data from Rom groups in Norway and Romania the paper will question the assumption of Roma as an oppressed ethnic minority. Data suggest that ethnicity is not and can not be a strategy for most Rom gypsies to secure their way of living. Basic Rom Gypsy claims to support their way of life would be illegitimate in the ethnicity/nationality "game". Ethnicity, seen as a political strategy for equal opportunities, is based on negotiations with governments about legitimate differences. Ethnicity discourse thus confirms the nation state as superior and the ethnic group as an aspiring, different and equal, nation. Rom gypsies reject this ideology. To understand their position one must understand their historical relations to majority populations, to governments and their current mode of subsistence. Nomadism as an analytical term, grasps the strategic situation of the Rom gypsies in Europe in ways that can challenge simple understandings of national and ethnic groups and of power relations between them.

Escaping Gypsyness: the marginalization of Roma through power and identity

Author: Yasar Abu Ghosh (Charles University, Prague)  email
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Long Abstract

While a number of ethnographies of Roma/Gypsy groups sought to conceptualize internal divisions as expressions of the symbolic order, they rarely looked beyond the immediate cultural context in order to anchor the divisions in a framework of existing power relations. Typically the pure/impure cleavage is linked uniquely to ritual conceptions of belonging whereby Roma/Gypsies supposedly envisage the working of their internal world in contrast with the outside. In this paper I will assert continuity over discontinuity in a local social context. In Tercov where a group of Roma is divided in two fractions of Gypsy-like and integrated Roma the cleavage is determined by the capacity of one fraction to impose a humiliating view on the other as Gypsies although in all possible aspects the two fractions do not show any differences. Drawing on Elias' concept of established/outsiders I will examine how a complex of ideologies, practices and histories resonate in the configuration which gives rise to a surprising phenomenon of Roma being repeatedly hunt down by an identity they wish to escape. Such an approach, I argue, should allow integrating seemingly culturally specific ideas of difference into a general mechanism of social distanciation.