Okategoriserade The Post-Gypsy Lore Moment: Defining Romani Studies

This is a very interesting discussion that Kimmo Granqvist moderates here. It is unusual to have scholars reflecting on the potential of their discipline, so this is a great occasion for Romani studies. If one looks at the contributions closely, one can see the emergence of a struggle by scholars to wriggle their way out of a long-standing and narrow agenda created for the study of “gypsy” issues and to demarcate a wider territory called Romani Studies.

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds BW 2-3: 2018, pp 110-112
Published on balticworlds.com on september 6, 2018

Inga kommentarer till The Post-Gypsy Lore Moment: Defining Romani Studies Share
  • Facebook
  • del.icio.us
  • Pusha
  • TwitThis
  • Google
  • LinkedIn
  • Digg
  • Maila artikeln!
  • Skriv ut artikeln!

This is a very interesting discussion that Kimmo Granqvist moderates here. (READ THE INTERVIEW HERE>>) It is unusual to have scholars reflecting on the potential of their discipline, so this is a great occasion for Romani studies. If one looks at the contributions closely, one can see the emergence of a struggle by scholars to wriggle their way out of a long-standing and narrow agenda created for the study of “gypsy” issues and to demarcate a wider territory called Romani Studies.

In 1888 a group of enthusiasts and amateur scholars created the Gypsy Lore Society with a specialist journal that had a small readership. The goal of the society was to encourage and promulgate knowledge about what at that time were called “gypsies”, in essence all groups that lived a peripatetic existence. Thus the thrust was on the imagined free-wheeling lifestyle and customs of nomadic or semi-nomadic peoples living on the margins of their communities. Much of the research was placed on comparative linguistics, folklore, and connections to the languages and culture of India as well as documentation of European anti-gypsy policies. The Gypsy Lore Society still exists with annual conferences that now are entitled conferences on “Gypsy/Romani Studies”. This addition is indicative of a new turn of scholarship that has also caused the recent mutation of its journal to being no longer Gypsy Lore but rather one dedicated to Romani Studies, of which Granqvist is now editor.

The key to this transition is the opening up of Eastern Europe for studies of its native Romani population and the necessity to distance scholarship away from its earlier focus on “gypsies” as quintessentially colourfully nomadic. Refocusing demands new kinds of studies (previously quite rare) on the large groups of permanently settled Roms of South-Central and South-Eastern Europe. Suddenly, new issues have emerged. How should one approach the dilemma that many marginal groups in Eastern Europe are considered by the majority population to be “gypsies”, but who themselves insist that they are not “Roms”? This question has political repercussions as in political contexts pro-Roma activists tend to claim very large numbers and to include groups that reject being termed Roms. This creates confusion when money and other forms of support are designated to Roma inclusion. The Gypsy Lore heritage of focusing on nomadic groups leads in some cases to policies that were designed for problems of nomadic life such as access to housing, caravan sites, schooling and so on, and are not suited to the problems of the permanently settled. Also, in the effort to standardize Romani language what variant should be considered the base – should it be the relatively prestigious Kalderash variety spoken by a wide-spread previously nomadic group of Romanian origin, or should it be the Yerli variant spoken by an even larger but permanently settled population in the southern Balkan region?

As illustrated by the discussion the transition is on-going with as yet no clear definition of what can constitute the core of the new Romani Studies. The heritage of the Gypsy Lore Society weighs heavily on thinking about the new path. For instance, professor of linguistics Ian Hancock’s main point does not deal with a new agenda, but rather the need to recruit more scholars with a Romani family background, taking for granted that their research will be better representative than that of the non-Roms who dominate the field. Professor of pedagogics Hristo Kyuchukov brings unique psycholinguistic perspectives to how young children learn the Romani language. This new type of perspective has considerable actuality as in many countries efforts are being made to revive the Romani language, as many families no longer have it as their daily spoken language and pupils and students are learning it a second language. Both Corina Ceamă in Romania and Ion Duminică in Moldova are engaged in state-supported efforts to promulgate the teaching of the Romani language. Ceamă created a national Romani language literature contest. Duminică has been successfully working with Moldovan government departments to introduce school education on Romani language, customs, folklore, and history into the curriculum.

Ceamă, Duminică, and Tomasz Koper stress the importance of being multidisciplinary, which is an obvious stance for a field as complex as that of Romani Studies. The people to be researched live in many countries, have had many different historical experiences and have been formed by contacts with the surrounding community in manifold ways. As well as this point of general agreement the core is still on the Romani language. Duminică is the most explicit of the discussants. For him Romani Studies is a “new science”, but which uses “classical research methods” like case studies, participatory observations, field interviews and so on. The major problem for the researchers is gaining access to and the trust of the studied community. Objectivity is attained when the community participates directly.

Duminică imagines a situation that may be difficult to attain. To gain access to a community’s trust there must be some sort of mutual respect. Yet the discussants, particularly Kuchukov, stress that they have difficulty of finding respect inside the Romani community. As academics, they have become unusual outsiders. However, the further development of Romani studies lies in greater professionalism. Greater use of research methodology from other disciplines, greater degree of co-operation with researchers from other disciplines, increased research co-operation within networks and sophisticated graduate education. All of this will contribute to a professional academic identity that probably will make “being part of the community” more than just complicated even for a researcher of Romani origin.

Interestingly, a number of previously important scholarly projects are not discussed here. One of them is the debate on the Indian origins of the Roma and when and how they left India to arrive in Europe. Another not here discussed theme is the semi-political project to unite all the various groups into for instance the International Romani Union which has now split into several parts. I personally would like to see more sociological research as to the local social structures of Roma communities, more economic studies of the division of labor and everyday life of families, and political research into the reasons for the failure of Romani political parties to mobilize their potential voters. ≈

  • by David Gaunt

    Professor emeritus of History, Centre for Baltic and East European Studies, Södertörn University. Member of the Academy of Europe section for history and archeology, the editorial board of Social History and International Genocide Studies and the Workshop for Armenian-Turkish Studies.

  • all contributors