Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Deterritorialised and Spatially Unbounded Cultures within Other Regimes

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Deterritorialised and Spatially Unbounded Cultures within Other Regimes

Article excerpt

Patrick Williams. 2003. Gypsy World: The Silence of the Living and the Voices of the Dead. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

The Gypsies or Roma are an example of a people who live within the space and dominant culture of others. It is only from the late 1980s or later that non territorialised, non spatially bounded groups and identities have captured the imagination of mainstream anthropology which recognises the changing implications of migration, movement and globalisation. For example Appadurai writes:

The landscapes of group identity-the ethnoscapes-around the world are no longer familiar anthropological objects, insofar as groups are no longer territorialised, spatially bounded, historically self conscious, or culturally homogeneous...The task of ethnography now becomes the unravelling of a conundrum: what is the nature of locality, as lived experience, in a globalised, deterritorialised world? (1991: 191, 196).

The questions raised by research on Gypsies lock into what are increasingly recognised as mainstream concerns. Clifford notes:

The world's societies are too systematically interconnected to permit any easy isolation of separate or independently functioning system...The increased pace of historical change... forces a new self-consciousness about the way cultural wholes and boundaries are constructed and translated......What is hybrid or "historical" in an emergent sense has been less commonly collected and presented as a system of authenticity' (1988:231).

It is regrettable that earlier research which did indeed problematise culture as fixed location, in urban and Western areas has not been sufficiently examined for examples and theories which can inform this allegedly new anthropology. The study of Gypsies provides a vital case study. Those of us who carried out such fieldwork did not fit into any limited regionalisation. Instead, we were and are continuously confronted by fascinating contrasts and comparisons of Roma, Gypsy type groups across every region and continent. They have long been global, although in their unique way. Gypsies could in no way be associated with a single territory which was theirs alone.

Gypsies provide a special example of culture as created in shared not isolated territory and which consequently involves daily and ubiquitous encounters with non-Gypsies and their representatives. Moreover, in the last resort it is the non-Gypsies who hold all the keys to power, and potential persecution. Unfortunately classical anthropology in theory and rhetoric held onto the idealisation of separations of groups and cultures until globalisation and more prominent migration made this impossible to ignore. At the same time, non-anthropologists concerned with Gypsies or Gypsiologists held fast to the sedentarist mythical charter which privileged an Indian origin. This colluded with rather than challenged the politically dominant ideal of culture as place and geographical isolate.

The renewed focus on India parallels the burgeoning investment by displaced persons in imagined places and homelands. It is a pity that supporters resort to such strategies when Gypsies or Roma are likely to be more recently and regularly displaced as nomads in localities closer to their current abodes. This is the greater problem for the Gypsies rather than any mythical displacement from an unremembered ancient single place. In addition the long tradition of Gypsy cultural innovation is overlooked and devalued. The Gypsies' pioneering example of cultural coherence has often been dismissed as hybrid, or even diluted if not "degraded." Yet hybridity has its cultural integrity. Gypsy culture is created sometimes through conflict and usually through specific exchange. In contrast to the classical paradigms, Gypsy culture emerges from culture contact, rather than being an isolate destroyed or undermined by contact.

The contributors to Gupta and Ferguson's Culture, Power, Place trace "ways in which dominant cultural forms may be picked up, used and significantly transformed in the midst of the field of power relations. …

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