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  • Roma-Zigeunerkulturen in neuen Perspektiven. Romani/Gypsy cultures in new perspectives
  • Yaron Matras (bio)
Roma-Zigeunerkulturen in neuen Perspektiven. Romani/Gypsy cultures in new perspectives. Fabian Jacobs and Johannes Ries, eds. 2008. Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag. 295 pp. ISBN 978-3-86583-255-9 (pbk.).

This collection of articles in German and English is intended to serve as a kind of identity badge for the Leizpig school of 'Gypsy studies' - or, to use its self-acclaimed disciplinary title, 'Tsiganologie' ('Gypsiology'). It includes contributions by the circle's founder, anthropologist Bernhard Streck, and a number of his students - co-editors Fabian Jacobs and Johannes Ries, Olaf Günther, Theresa Lorenz, Maria Elisabeth Thiele, and Udo Mischek - and a number of additional chapters, mainly reprints or revisions of published work by researchers who are closely associated with the Leipzig group - László Fosztó (an extract from his doctoral dissertation), Judith Okely (a slightly revised version of a paper published in The Sociological Review 53, 2005), Marek Jakoubek and Lenka Budilová (a reprint and translation of their article in Romani Studies 16, 2006), Elisabeth Tauber (partial reprint of an article published in 1999 in Italia Romani II) and an original chapter by Huub van Baar. The editors deserve to [End Page 90] be praised for a meticulous job and for attracting and compiling a fascinating set of professionally written, thoughtful and thought-provoking contributions. However understandable their choice of publisher may be, it is a pity that the volume, which is partly written in German, is not very likely to enjoy the international marketing effort and dissemination that its content merits.

The topics covered represent the outlook and range of interests of the Leipzig-based 'Gypsiology'. The chapters deal with definitions of 'Gypsyness' and Gypsy identity, the history, socio-economic profile, internal stratification and values of individual communities, music, speech acts and ceremonies, the organisation of space and kinship relations, conflict resolution, external images and historiography, as well as activism and political networking. Note the absence of language and linguistics. Individual contributors by no means ignore the issue of language and brief references to language choice and language repertoires is made in some of the articles. But the lack of any pre-occupation with language can be taken as representative of the Leipzig-based Gypsiology's fixation on contextual representations of culture and social organisation and its reluctance to engage in what it regards as 'essentialist' or even 'positivist' approaches to Gypsy identity, such as those that are based on language or origin. I shall return to this issue below.

Two of the book's chapters are most explicit in defining the agenda of Gypsiology according to the Leipzig school. In his opening contribution to the book, Bernhard Streck rejects the notions that the study of Gypsies must devote itself to either primordial cultures, migration, or marginalisation. Instead, Streck views Gypsies as a diversity of groups whose common characteristic is occupying a socio-cultural niche or neglected space. This position gives rise to an asymmetrical relationship that is characterised by the Gypsy minority's economic and cultural dependency on the sedentary majority. Gypsy separateness is interpreted as an attempt to assert symbolic independence and so as deliberately contrastive to (the symbolism and aesthetics of) the majority culture. This approach has its pitfalls. It risks adopting different theoretical tools to describe similar processes found among Gypsies and non-Gypsies. To return to the issue of language as an example, Streck extends his view of a contrast culture to the Romani language, which he regards as one of the special 'in-group' or 'secret' languages that are cultivated by peripatetic populations as anti-establishment jargons. There is little doubt that no such interpretation would be offered for the retention of languages like Low German among the Argentinian Mennonites or Afrikaans among the Boer settlers. How do we know that language loyalty among the Roma is contrastive rather than conservative?

In the concluding chapter, Johannes Ries argues for an even less objective and less universal definition of Gypsies. Comparing self-identification, appearance, and outsiders' views of members of three distinct marginalised [End Page 91] communities in Romania, he shows that there is no a...


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