Academic journal article Romani Studies

Within or outside? Perceptions of Self and Other among Rom Groups in Romania and Norway

Academic journal article Romani Studies

Within or outside? Perceptions of Self and Other among Rom Groups in Romania and Norway

Article excerpt

We present a comparative analysis of the relationship between Roma and non-Roma in two different contexts: a group of Norwegian Roma in Oslo and a group of Romanian Roma in a village in Transylvania. The theoretical inspiration for this analysis is Baumann and Gingrich's 'Cultural Grammars of Selfing and Othering'. The main objective of the article is to challenge the traditionally held idea of Roma as 'outside' society and instead to claim that they depend on their local environment. While the local Rom group in Transylvania is dependent for their subsistence on exchange with peasants and villagers in their rural community, the Rom group in Norway are made clients of the welfare state and are dependent on welfare agencies for their basic subsistence. The locally dependent Transylvanian Roma have developed a grammar of encompassment, seeing themselves and the non-Roma as 'really the same', while the more socially segregated Norwegian Rom group have developed an orientalist grammar, despising Norwegian society and at the same time idealizing and copying the lifestyle of rich Norwegians.

Keywords: Roma, Self and other, Romania, Norway, cultural grammars, dependency, exchange


In the graveyard of Oslo's wealthiest area is the family mausoleum of one of the industrial leaders of Norway. Placed with its back to the mausoleum and with about the same dimensions and shape is a similar monument. But the resemblance stops there. While the industrial monument is serene, without excessive ornamentation, bearing only the names of the deceased in gold lettering, the other monument gives the impression of life and gaiety. This impression is partly due to the colourful portraits of the deceased with the titles 'king' and queen adorning each side section and a portrait of the 'royal couple' in the middle. The tomb is also covered with artificial flowers in bright colours. Portraits and artificial flowers are not a normal part of Norwegian tomb decoration and passers-by often snigger in admiration or disapproval. This is the last resting place of the heads of a prominent Rom family, who died in the mid 1990s.

The principal argument of this article is that the Roma, although they constitute a separate and often oppositional social group in all societies in which they dwell, are simultaneously dependent on and part ofthat same society Thus, to understand the cultural traits of any Roma group it is necessary to understand the relations and exchanges between them and the majority populations. This is particularly important in the current climate when the new migration of gypsies and Roma from Romania and Bulgaria to the rest of Europe stirs up historical perceptions and prejudices about gypsies and Roma as a threat that is somehow from outside' society (Vitale 2009). This makes it urgent to stress how much the Roma and other gypsy populations actually vary from one society to another, and how most groups in their different ways form part of the majority society they live in.

In this article I explore the perceptions and practices of self and other among a group of Roma in a village in Transylvania, Romania, and a group of Roma in Oslo, Norway, and discuss how these perceptions and practices are embedded in the discourses and practices of the two majority societies. My initial inspiration for this article are the theoretical concepts developed by the anthropologists Gerd Baumann and Andre Gingrich (2004), consisting of a set of structural grammars aimed at identifying and analysing perceptions of self and other in a socio-cultural context. Before presenting these concepts I will outline some basic features of Rom organization in Norway and Romania. I will return to the significance of the 'royal tomb' at the end of my discussion. So my question is: How do social and cultural contexts influence the perception of self and other among different Roma groups?

Research in Norway and Romania

Notes on methodology

My data on the Norwegian Roma in this article were obtained when I was head of a kindergarten for Rom children in Oslo from 1987 to 1995. …

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