ASA Conference 2004, Durham - Locating the field

Movement, place and boundaries: representations by and of ‘Gypsies’

Nomadic fieldwork as portent for others and changing times

Professor Judith Okely, University of Hull

Anthropologists have long studied nomads who are, by definition, not associated with a single locality. This has entailed travelling fieldwork and the problematising of culture linked to place. Nomads often have to negotiate with sedentarist societies (cf D. Brookes’ on Iranian pastoral nomads). Even more than pastoralists or hunter-gatherers, Gypsies have to engage both politically and economically with a non-Gypsy dominant sedentarist society and surrounding cultures. Thus fieldwork among the Gypsies, Travellers or Roma necessarily entails engagement with interconnections and conflicts between cultural identities.

Gypsies have long provided key themes which anthropologists now find in the study of transnationals and multi-sited contexts. Cultural boundaries are not defined by geographical space but are re-created and constructed both through selection and rejection. The subjects are not confined as projected in the classical notion of fieldwork.

This paper explores examples from fieldwork in England from the 1970s, and recent collaborative ethno-musical research with Iren Kertez-Wilkinson among the Magyar Roma or Romungro in Hungary. Whereas Gypsies in England have retained nomadic practices, the Roma under communism were forcibly settled. Fieldwork among post communist Roma confronts new developments associated with movement and the impact of accessible communication technologies.

Circumstances have changed for the once ‘typical’ Gypsy Romungro musicians who performed in non-Gypsy restaurants. Some have migrated to the West. The example of the Romungro in Hungary reveals how a group, now with their own videos and a Roma radio programme in Budapest, has adapted and incorporated access to the mass media. Transformations and musical and linguistic interchanges between the Vlach Roma and Romungros are also occurring in the post communist metropolis. Fieldwork included critical examination of the mass media, as well as visual recording of private and public events in both the metropolis and a rural locality.

Paradoxically, the Stalinist insistence that nationality and accompanying rights be identified with an original territory is embellished among some post communist Roma figureheads, linguists and others who affirm an Indian origin as the exclusively authentic cultural marker. While Western social anthropology is interrogating the conflation of culture with current or original place, the Indianist ideology has been embellished through Roma web sites. Social scientists’ critical scepticism, formerly confined to paper publications, is increasingly subject to hearsay surveillance and demonisation in cyberspace. New technologies thus both assist in the construction of culture and have consequences for the reading of texts. But nomadic fieldwork has its continuities.

Defying definitions – or what anthropologists and Gypsies do with ‘boundaries’

Sal Buckler, Durham University

The problems and issues outlined in the theme of the conference are perhaps not problems and issues for anthropology because the world has changed in any fundamental way. Rather as anthropology vies with other disciplines, with other understandings and uses of knowledge, it has to adapt, to shift its relationship to its subject matter. One of the ways that anthropology has done this is by examining the way it represents ‘others’ a move which has led to anthropology becoming its own subject matter almost as much as any of the ‘others’ of its established past. This paper firmly links such reflexivity to the practice of ‘fieldwork’ arguing that it is only through ‘participant observation’ or ‘engaged learning’ that anthropology continues to come up with new and useful understandings of the world we live in – understandings that have both practical and theoretical applications and implications.

Specifically, the paper will examine the common anthropological device of the boundary metaphor – its relevance and limitations for anthropology and ethnography today as geographical, cultural and intellectual boundaries become increasingly questioned and seem to dissolve.

My discussion draws ethnographic examples from research carried out whilst employed as a development worker with Gypsies in North East England, people who have regularly been described through the extensive use of boundary metaphors. In most ethnographic representations of Gypsies the boundaries which separate Gypsies from non-Gypsies are enacted and embodied in ways which allow some kind of definition of what a Gypsy ‘is.’ Similarly defining ideas about Gypsiness allow boundaries to become concretised through the actions of the non-Gypsy world – for instance by locating of Gypsy sites on the edges of towns. I argue however, that such boundaries only reflect Gypsiness as it is viewed through the lenses of non-Gypsies. I make the case that through adopting and making use of the non-boundary based metaphors preferred by the Gypsies that I worked with a different picture of Gypsiness appears. Such a picture challenges a ‘scientific’ anthropology that looks for definitions and categories but complements an ethnographic tradition which aims to translate and represent alternative experiences of being in the world.

Throughout I include illustrations from my experience of ‘engaged learning’ in ‘the field’ and some of the ways in which a rooting in the traditions of anthropology and ethnography have helped and/or hindered my experience as a development worker and vice versa.

Belonging in a doubly occupied place: the Parakalamos Gypsy musicians

Aspasia Theodosiou, Department of Music, Technological Institute of Epirus - Department of Social Anthropology, Manchester University

Triggered by continuous references to Parakalamos - a village on the Greek-Albanian border area in the NW of Greece- as "musicians' or gypsies' village" - this paper attempts to unfold a number of layers embedded within the process of identity formation by exploring the way place and its locatedness (both physical and symbolic) are implicated in processes of othering. The purpose is to invite reflections on the interrelations between the constitution of identity of places and the constitution of "terrains of be-longing" with specific reference to the gypsy case.

Ethnographically my analysis concerns the twists the redefinition of place imposed by the formal institution of the Greek nation-state in the area involved in the Parakalamos case: not only was the place to be made "Greek", but also it was to be invested with the significance of "home" for the previously "roaming" gypsies of the area. As a result of these processes Parakalamos's constitution as a place involves the stitching together of a series of pairs (i.e. dwelling/travelling, peasants/ musicians, balame/gypsies etc.) and is thus marked by ambiguity/ marginality. The way the topography of the constructions of gypsyness bears on gypsies' sense of "be-longing" summons up even more complexity: with their settlement in Parakalamos marking a new departure in their local history, gypsy musicians are both part and reflection of the ambiguity that permeates representations of Parakalamos as a "doubly occupied place": being locals but not indigenous, settled but with a long history of travelling, "authentic" performers but "inauthentic musicians", gypsies are cast as "dishevelled" gypsies; they are constituted as "incomplete selves" in relation to both the other groups of gypsies and local populations.

Such a story however runs counter to most of the assumptions shared by recent studies on gypsies: against their focus on "nomadism" and/or "imagined communities" - a focus that seems to disregard the significance of place in the constitution of gypsy identifications- the paper raises the ways in which gypsies' locatedness and sense of "be-longing" might be more apt in understanding how policing their identification with place can indeed be a crucial part of the gypsy world.