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  • Final Report Summary - PDCMPCARGR (Politics of difference: Child marriage and prestige consumption among the Romanian Gabor Roma – with a special focus on the post-socialist transformation)

Final Report Summary - PDCMPCARGR (Politics of difference: Child marriage and prestige consumption among the Romanian Gabor Roma – with a special focus on the post-socialist transformation)

The research focused on the politics of difference (Roma politics) characteristic of the Gabor Roma living in Romania. Roma politics is a „tournament of value” composed of a series of – mainly ethnicised – symbolic arenas, practices, and ideologies used to create, perform, and redefine social and economic differences. The symbolic arenas my Gabor Roma interlocutors took into account when conceptualizing, and from time to time redefining, prestige relations between individuals, families, patrilines, and local communities are the following: (1) The accumulation of economic capital: with special emphasis on successes achieved in the prestige economy. (2) The politics of kinship I: the prestige hierarchies of Gabor Roma patrilines at local, regional, and ethnic population levels. (The position occupied in them derives from the political fame inherited from paternal forebears.) (3) The politics of kinship II: the accumulation of relational capital among Gabor Roma. In their case, the sources of relational capital with special significance are marital alliances established with influential Gabor men through arranged marriages (often of children), and a social network consisting principally of consanguineous male relatives (brothers, sons, and grandsons), co-fathers-in-law, and brothers-in-law who can be mobilized in case of need. (4) The Gabor Roma ethics of sociability: behaviour (phirajimo) and honour, respectability, and social appreciation (patjiv). In the fourth symbolic arena, individuals, families, and patrilines compete with each other for the construction and preservation of their own positive public images. The social evaluation of this image depends first and foremost on behaviour, that is, to what extent the given individual, family, or patriline respects the Gabor Roma ethics of managing social relations and interactions.

The research project payed special attention to the analysis of practices and ideologies within two symbolic arenas of Gabor Roma politics of difference: (a) prestige consumption organized around silver objects and (b) marriage politics based on arranged marriage.

(a) The key objective of the fellowship period was to complete a manuscript of a monograph (entitled Materializing Difference: Consumer Culture, Politics, and Morality among Romanian Roma). How do things make people, mediate human relations and identities, and possess their own social and political agency? What role does material culture – such as prestige consumption as well as commodity aesthetics, biographies, and ownership histories – play in the production and renegotiation of social and political identities, differences, and hierarchies? How do translocal consumer subcultures of collectors – interpreted as communities of practice – organize and manage themselves? Drawing on theories and case studies primarily from material culture, consumption, museum, ethnicity and (post-)socialist studies, this monograph addresses these questions via the analysis of the practices and ideologies connected to antique silver beakers and roofed tankards, which are interpreted as ethnicised prestige goods among the Gabor Roma. The consumer subculture organized around these objects is one of the contemporary, second-hand cultures based on patina-oriented consumption, similar to economies focusing on other types of inalienable possessions or communities of competing collectors specializing in personal belongings of celebrities. The book reveals the inner dynamics of the complex relations and interactions between (silver) objects and subjects (Romanian Roma) and investigates how these relations and interactions contribute to the construction, materialization, and reformulation of social, economic, and political identities, boundaries, and differences. It also discusses how, after 1989, the political transformation in Romania led to the emergence of a new, post-socialist consumer sensitivity among the Gabor Roma, and how this sensitivity reshaped the interpretations of an average standard of living and a good/normal/ideal life as well as the pre-regime change patterns, meanings, and value preferences of prestige consumption.

(b) As part of the research focusing on the politics of arranged marriage, an interdisciplinary book series has been established entitled The Politics of Marriage and Gender: Global Issues in Local Contexts. The series is published by Rutgers University Press. The intention of this series is to fill a gap in research by examining the politics of marriage and related practices, ideologies, and interpretations, and to address the key question of how the politics of marriage has affected social, cultural, and political processes, relations, and boundaries. The series will look at the complex relationships between the politics of marriage and gender, ethnic, national, religious, racial, and class identities, and will analyse how these relationships contribute to the development and management of social and political differences, inequalities, and conflicts. The first books in the series focus on one – or in many cases, several – of the following phenomena: (1) the politics of arranged/forced/early/child marriage; (2) transnational marriage migration and brokerage; (3) reconfiguration of family: same-sex marriages; (4) honour-based violence and the political economy of marriage, and (5) symbolic conflicts at the intersections of marriage/divorce, (family) law and culture. The series is edited by the Fellow.

As for the potential impacts of the research project and related publications, it is worth noting that anthropological and sociological research focusing on the Roma has devoted very little attention to a study of the ideologies and practices through which the social, economic, and political inequalities and hierarchies are organized within individual Roma communities and what interpretations are associated with them. When examining social relations and interactions within Roma communities, the majority of analyses have focused mainly on the ideology of present- and equality-centrism, describing in detail its manifestations, causes, and consequences. This asymmetry or under-representedness in research highlights the need for a more detailed, processual, relational, dynamic, and context-sensitive understanding of how the politics of difference works among Roma people.

In harmony with that need, the above-mentioned monograph primarily examines the role played by the politics of difference – and in particular practices such as prestige consumption and marriage politics – in the construction and representation among the Gabor Roma of social and political identities, values, hierarchies, and boundaries and their continuous negotiation. The chapters devote special attention to how these Roma construct, strategically use, and shape certain categories and mechanisms of categorization related to social, economic, and political differences.

The monograph starts from the theoretical viewpoint that for a deeper and more balanced understanding of the social relations and interactions among Roma it is necessary to simultaneously investigate the ethics of sociability and the politics of difference, and the ways in which they impact each other. It argues that observance of the ethics of sociability and adherence to Roma politics are practices, the simultaneous presence of which is not qualified by the Gabor Roma as risky, inappropriate, or undesirable – they do not necessarily exclude or extinguish each other. On the contrary, among the Gabors both the ethics of sociability and Roma politics are considered to be morally approved phenomena that in numerous contexts mutually interpret, explain, reinforce, and shape each other. In other words, the Gabor Roma discourse of the ethics of intraethnic similarity does not regard political differences as either morally stigmatized phenomena or dangerous anomalies to be eliminated; achievements in the symbolic arenas of Roma politics are important and highly valued elements in the Roma concept of social successfulness. It was precisely for this reason that my Gabor Roma interlocutors regarded not egalitarianism but the creation and maintenance of harmony and balance between the ethics of sociability and the politics of difference as the ideal model of intraethnic social and economic relations.

The monograph offers the reader a picture of Roma communities that in many respects show successful social and economic integration; many of their members live in relative prosperity, have accumulated significant economic capital, have a standard of living comparable to or higher than that of non-Roma living in their vicinity, and typically have balanced relations with the majority society. This monograph could therefore serve as an alternative to the dominant analytical perspective that tends to characterize social relations within Roma communities as only slightly differentiated, associating these ethnic populations mainly with stereotypes of social marginalization, poverty, deprivation, defencelessness, interethnic conflict, and subordination. Several of the symbolic arenas of Roma politics among the Gabors – for example, their prestige economy, marriage politics, or the prestige hierarchy of patrilines – are unequivocal proof that the Roma do not necessarily construct and represent their identities against the negatively defined majority society (with the intention of differentiating themselves from that society and creating social distance); rather, they can also be characterized by highly valued intraethnic identity practices that are inseparable from the Roma interpretations of social success and respectability and in which non-Roma either play no part or are participants of only marginal significance. Through the analysis of the intraethnic politics of difference practised among the Gabor Roma, the monograph can also contribute to deconstructing and reconceptualising the dominant image of Roma in Romanian and Western European media reports and public discourses – an image that is usually disquietingly fragmentary, negatively essentializing, and homogenizing.

The research results focusing on the politics of Roma arranged marriage can also count on the interest of experts who are creating and implementing legal and other regulations at global, national and local levels. For this reason, the vast majority of the research findings can serve as good bases for creative dialogue among academics, practitioners (education experts, human rights activists, law-makers, and so on) from mainstream society, and various international organizations (for instance, UNICEF, Human Rights Watch, International Centre for Research on Women). Therefore, the forthcoming publications dealing with the politics of arranged marriage can count on the interest of those in numerous academic disciplines, yet they also have a far wider social usefulness and impact.

Reported by

UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON
United Kingdom
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