Accepted Paper:

What is this "Roma" in Roma popular culture? Strategies of appropriation and the politics of music-making  


Gergely Pulay (Centre for Social Sciences, Budapest)

Paper short abstract:

Based on an ethnography of cultural debates and practices surrounding cultural appropriation, mixing and exchange among Roma performers in Hungary, this paper aims to identify recent trends of identity politics – mediated by popular culture and music – which can help us to overcome the dichotomist conceptions of ‘local’ and constructed or ‘national/international’ Roma identities.

Paper long abstract:

Besides the social exclusion and marginalization of Roma in postsocialist Eastern-Europe, the field of popular culture provides a terrain where Roma were actively contributing to the development of powerful niche-markets. Within these contexts the ethnic labeling of certain products, styles or streams of fashion rather contributed to the success then the failure of their creators. Moreover, the development of these fields are related to practices of 'cultural mixing' and exchange through various forms of appropriation - hence they also imply new ways of defining the relations of Roma to their own surroundings and to otherwise 'distant' social and cultural groupings which are somehow came to be understood as familiar.

Primarily based on fieldwork experiences amongst Roma performers in Hungary, the aim of this paper is to interpret certain trends in popular culture that are overcoming the oppositional definitions of 'local' cultural forms (understood as 'real' sources of Roma identity) and the attempts for institutionalizing 'national/international Gypsy cultures' (taken as unfounded and alienated from those that are supposed to be represented by them). A challenging task for an ethnographic approach of 'mixing' is to understand the ways in which cultural flows are made discontinuous by the practices of selection, appropriation and re-signification. Such forms of making and 'performing discontinuities' are practices by which social or cultural 'distance' is transformed into 'proximity'. Understanding these modes of mediation and appropriation can help us to identify struggles around identification which are going beyond the opposition of 'localism' and 'fake canonisation' in Roma cultural politics.

Panel W116
Beyond identity: new directions in the anthropology of Roma/Gypsy groups