Heritages, permanences and fates of Romani spaces
Henriette Asséo, Grégoire Cousin & Petre Petcut
Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme
We trace the origins of the social organisation of Romanian Roma communities migrating to France. Combining ethnographic observations among groups settled in various Parisian slums and archival research in their villages of origin, we show how Roma groups adopted mobility as an economic strategy in response to the agrarian and property reforms characterising 20th century Romania. The agrarian economy required large sectors of the population to be mobile and Roma groups were able to organise large work brigades around family ties. This strategy, while turning the Roma into a social group that specialised in particular economic activities, also allowed them to maintain a distinct ethnic identity. This distinct ethnic identity was maintained even when previously distinct groups merged in locations where the demand for workforce was high. Following the economic transition of 1993, similar family ties supported migration to France. Using these ties, Roma migrants were able to organise the informal spaces in which they settled and to recreate their own internal power structures. Lack of formal recognition by the authorities of these forms of internal organisation, however, denied the communities the opportunity to negotiate their presence in the location with local institutions. The absence of a channel for dialogue and the authorities’ insistence on the illegality of the settlements, however, led to continuous evictions. These prevented any form of genuine participation in French society, while at the same time opened up the possibility of reconfiguring community boundaries as previously unrelated groups joined to protect their settlements.