The ‘Schooling Paradox’ and the Negotiation of Distinctiveness among the Gypsies of a Settlement in Athens
THIS article focuses on a post-nomadic monolingual group of Greekspeaking Gypsies in Athens that was living in a settlement, which I call Gitonia (Neighbourhood). The article draws on ethnographic material produced during a fifteen-month period of fieldwork. Fieldwork engaged both children between four and twelve years-old and adults. The arguments presented in this analysis are theoretically informed from the point of view of anthropology and are structured through a discussion of what I call the ‘schooling paradox’.
This ‘paradox’ indicates that the acknowledgement of the importance of schooling among children and adults in Gitonia co-exists with the recognition of the incompatibility between Gypsy life and formal education. While recognising illiteracy as the main source of their problems and their low socioeconomic status within Greek society, they almost always choose to realise their individual aspirations and family-based projects at the margins of the school, either completely abstaining from the educational process or dropping out after the first grades of primary school.
I derived this ‘paradox’ from the Gypsy politics of distinctiveness (Greek-Gypsyness), informed by a synthesis of ‘Gypsy’ attributes and aspects of the ‘majority’ balamo discourse, expressed in attitudes of accommodation towards the Greek state. In fact, children’s own choices revealed the primacy of the duties entailed in kinship relatedness over the duties of schooling. Whilst the clash between the requirements of these domains has an undeniable impact on children’s lives, it nevertheless reinforces a collective sense of distinctiveness that is premised on entangled perceptions of Greekness and Gypsyness.
Specifically, the ‘schooling paradox’ is seen here as symptomatic of alternative (non-mainstream) processes of learning as well as relationships and practices which are principally located within marriage, household work and the kinship network. These processes of learning, relationships and practices are sustained and reproduced through the appropriation of the mainstream idioms of the nikokirio (household) and nikokirosini (the performance of household activities and work).
The Gypsies of Gitonia appropriate these domestic idioms and transform them into meaningful Gypsy practices, thus redefining simultaneously commonalities and differences between themselves and meaningful ‘others’ (mainly the non-Gypsy Greek majority and their Albanian Gypsy neighbours). Additionally, they strategically use these idioms to negotiate their relationship with the Greek state. In short, the attitudes of the inhabitants of Gitonia towards schooling shed light on particular ideologies and practices through which conceptions of sameness and difference, Greekness and Gypsyness, assume different meanings on different occasions.
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