Gitanos - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. As it is difficult to find a group or the group among Gitanos, so it is difficult to find neat patterns of elaborate social organization, ideas, or traditions. Because Gitanos do very few things together, because they avoid continuity and instead celebrate impermanence, they conserve few customs. They do have a tradition within flamenco (concentrated among Andalusians), a sometimes-practiced Virginity test for brides, and a special involvement with recently dead kin. Apart from these practices, however, their well-known, distinctive exuberance and dash is invested in Personal interaction, especially with other Gitanos, not in material objects or in "tradition." Gitanos, in fact, may be characterized as anticonservative. The way they treat custom is the way they treat material goods. As they discard and change "custom," so they consume and repurchase costly and ordinary possessions much more rapidly than their non-Gitano neighbors. Their lavish dispensation of their material inventory is not profligate (no more than, say, a Kwakiutl Potlatch) but instead is part of a larger pattern of avoiding permanence and structure. Against the background of few ongoing economic groups or religious systems (or even a cuisine) , of politics based on avoiding mobilization, and of a fluctuating interchange of allies and foes, what remains predictable is the unpredictable. The systematic configuration or pattern among Gitanos is one of avoiding patterns—but with ebullience and verve. Their resistance to continuity and Structure is a living example that demonstrates how the range of variation in human societies extends from the maximally to the minimally organized. The fact that social groups can successfully exist without intricate internal organization is an important contribution that the study of Gitanos makes to Social research in general.

Political Organization. The most characteristic feature of Gitano political organization is the absence of proper groups. Gitanos rarely act together to achieve a common end; they rarely mobilize around issues of "Gypsyness" or to gain access to resources or power. For this reason, Gitanos are best described as a cultural minority rather than as an ethnic group. Gitanos are egalitarian, and there are no statuses or offices endowing anyone with authority. There are some instances of powerful individuals who can exercise control in neighborhood disagreements and Whose occasional authority originates in their personal qualities, not in office. These men organize themselves in fluctuating bilateral kindreds with a heavy sprinkling of their own male kin. Such kindreds have sometimes been mistakenly called lineages and clans by the popular press. The data from anthropologists who have studied Gypsies, however, show an undisputed absence of unilineal corporate descent groups among Gitanos, as well as a kinship profile typical of Spain and western Europe.

In contrast to the low level of political mobilization among Gitanos themselves, many non-Gitanos in Spain organize themselves around issues concerning Gitanos. Every medium-size and large city in Spain has at least one, and often several, such organizations. This is not a new phenomenon. Since the sixteenth century, elites in Spain have organized and reproduced themselves around the tasks of regulating marginal peoples, including Gitanos. Today, Government and social-work agencies have established more than 200 offices to carry out aid-to-Gypsies programs. While these associations provide social services, they also attempt to change the Gitanos' low commitment to the institutions and values of the dominant society. In addition, a few organizations provide legal aid to defend Gitanos against local authorities. These authorities, responding to shop owners threatened by competition in an inflationary economy, prohibit Gitano street selling in areas outside public markets.


Conflict and Social Control. While Gitanos rarely work together beyond the level of a few closely related nuclear families, rarely act in concert for political ends, and rarely even congregate except for life-cycle events, there is one activity that does convene people. These are disputes. Disputes, which occur over large and small issues, do not divide people; rather, they routinely bring together kin and nonkin. There are no feuds, for although the same types of fights are reenacted recurrently, participants fluctuate and rotate as friends and enemies change places. Feuds in the Gitano context would be impossible: structuring fights into allies and foes would grind their society to a halt. (There are exceptions, of course; extreme physical force, which is unusual, can lead to permanent separations.) Disputes also delimit the moral community (Gitanos do not fight with non-Gitanos). Thus, by serving first as a locus of assemblage beyond the small Family, and second as a definer of the group boundary, quarrels produce and reproduce the connections and activities of local Gitano societies.

Quarrels and fights are also a mode of communication. More than just a locus of assemblage, they conjoin people in intimate, face-to-face relations unregulated by hierarchy, age, or gender. Among Gitanos, however, these intensely intimate interactions are not fleeting escapes from the ordinary constraints of daily social life, nor are they restricted to special events, such as rituals, pilgrimages, rebellions, and other passionate social dramas. They are, instead, secular and quotidian. This ordinary secularity is merely to be expected since sociopolitical organization is so loosely structured and egalitarian. Nevertheless, although disputes are a daily event, they remain a principal focus of the Gitano culture and a topic of steadfast, enthusiastic interest.

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