Academic journal article Romani Studies

Gypsies, Ethnicity, and the Labour Market: An Introduction

Academic journal article Romani Studies

Gypsies, Ethnicity, and the Labour Market: An Introduction

Article excerpt

The article reports on two years of ethnographic research carried out within a Gypsy community in an area on the outskirts of Porto, in northern Portugal. Data were collected during participating observation in labour environments (fairs) and residential settings (a council ward) as well as from interviews. The aim is to contribute to our knowledge and understanding of the lifestyle and opportunities of a particular community, in particular what employment means in this community and the relationship it establishes with the wider labour market. The data show (a) that capitalism of flexible accumulation affected the marginalized ethnic groups who live on the periphery of the system, and (b) that the relationship between a specific Portuguese Gypsy community and employment is mediated by ethnic belonging. Some crucial elements in the choice of occupation in this community are (a) independence through self-employment, which allows people to combine work with looking after the children and attention to intra-ethnic solidarity, and (b) the possibility of personal time management.

Keywords: Portuguese Gypsies, ethnography, kinship, social and political organisation, work, labour market, capitalism of flexible accumulation, ethnicity, ethnic habitus, cultural genetics, family socialization


This article reports on lifestyles within a Gypsy community, with particular reference to how employment is perceived in the context of the changing labour market in the present-day capitalism of flexible accumulation (Harvey 1989). We try to understand-in the Weberian sense of 'apprehending the meaning of social action-(a) how the transformations in industrial organisation affect marginalised ethnic groups such as Gypsies, not just the main employed socioeconomic classes, and (b) what work means for a specific Gypsy community. To this end, we first carry out a basic background study of the community, followed by an analysis of the changes in industrial organisation and of the meaning of employment. Essentially, the analysis will be carried out by studying the data collected during fieldwork and by earlier studies by the author (Casa-Nova 1992,1999, 2002), addressing theoretical questions with regard Io these issues.

1. Background of the community

The research of which this article is part was undertaken within five extended families with a common ancestry, comprising 52 nuclear relatives, amounting to 190 individuals whose ages range from 4 months to 85 years.

1.1. Residence

The families, like the majority of Portuguese Gypsies, are sedentary, residing in an area on the outskirts of Porto, in the north of Portugal.1 The majority of these nuclear units live individually in apartments, though cases of cohabitation in the same apartment of two, sometimes three, nuclear families exist-usually, parents with single children and a married daughter or son. However, this individualised lifestyle does not mean the dissolution of extended family bonds, which continue to exist intensely, independently of sharing the same physical space.

1.2. Marriage, relationships, and endogamy

Most of the families are endogamous (of the 52 unions, only eight are exogamous), in which people usually marry first cousins (siblings of a brother or a sister), or with slightly more distant relatives such as second-, third-, or fourthdegree cousins.2 Such relationships between bridal pairs were also shown in the studies that Sutherland (1975), Williams (1984), and San Roman (1997) carried out within Gypsy communities.

Marriage between first cousins is favoured, not only as a form of reinforcing family ties (which was observed by Williams and San Roman, too), but also as a way of guaranteeing that the siblings of sisters or brothers (through which they are considered to have an increased responsibility) will not be left on their own (i.e. without husband or wife).

The exogamous marriages in the community look place in three of the extended families studied, with six Gypsy men married Io non-Gypsy women and two Gypsy women married to non-Gypsy men. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.