Theorising mobility: migration, nomadism, and the social reconstruction of ethnicity
Acton, Thomas (2010) Theorising mobility: migration, nomadism, and the social reconstruction of ethnicity. In: Romani Mobilities in Europe: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 14-15 January 2010, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford.Full text not available from this repository.
Almost the first lecture in West European and North American Romani Studies classes establishes the theoretical distinction between commercial, pastoral and hunter-gatherer nomadisms, and between all three of them and migration. Whether and how they can be anchored into any theoretical framework of economic development is more controversial: nationalist visions tend to regard nomadism as a reactionary obstacle to the establishment of a secure, territorially based modern state. The discourses of East European Romani Studies are therefore rather torn between their desire to present nomadism as a retrogressive pathology caused by persecution, and their desire to assert a non-territorial ethno-political identity which transcends the nation-state.
This paper will suggest that the analytical distinction between the various sources of identity and social capital are not as hard and fast as they seem. It will suggest that since all perceived ethnic boundaries are the consequences of mobility, it is not surprising that nomadic traditions can assist success in migration, and indeed that commonalty of ethnicity may aid persons of sedentary culture to acquire elements of social capital that assist successful migration. The patterns of cultural change and the acquisition of new cultural capital are very complex, as may be seen in the differences between the adaptations of 19th, 20th and 21st century Romani migrants from Eastern Europe, the distinction encapsulated in the American Vlach Romani distinction between “amare Roma” and “themeske Roma”. A more complex theoretical framework may help to deconstruct the ideologies which lead Western states to obstruct the free movement of people, and perhaps ultimately to dismantle the controls themselves.
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