12. Conclusion and Questions: “Çingene”? Roman?


The variety of terms discussed in section 1 and traced through cultural presentations reflect ongoing struggles for control over designations whose meanings have been augmented and condensed in cultural presentations. Although these discussions seem to be primarily concerned with the aesthetic realm, a critical investigation of these lineages of designation reveal that naming, describing, and inscribing continues to be key factors in how people imagine “an other”, and it is through these imaginings that actions are shaped, permitted, restricted, or obliterated. Thus the presentations of such images as outlined in this article are also inextricably linked to negotiations of power over social designations, and the question of the political efficacy of aesthetic representations. 

Further, the fluidity of such representations are vivid reminders that identities are not essential, but rather contingent, negotiable and contestable. Studies that analyze identity formation in Turkey such as those by Andrews (1989; 2002) and in Kandiyoti’s edited volume (2002) clarify that self-designation and self-presentation are contingent rather than essential, as groups have been given, and take for themselves, multiple designations over time and space. Given the premise that cultural identity is relational and conjectural rather than essential, we can ask how we can distinguish between the relative degrees of social effectiveness in the various forms of representation outlined in this paper. Certainly one important factor in the effectiveness of social and political change lies with the degree of agency allowed performers and audiences who can self-identify with a greater plurality of images. Given the durability of iconic representation outlined above, to what degree have Roman communities been able to take control over and re-shape their repertoire of self-representations as a resource to challenge political misrepresentations and silencing?

Media and other cultural portrayals, or Spivak’s darstellen, of “çingene” continue to persist in Turkey, and thus shape the possibility for political representation in terms of Spiva’s vertreten. Well-meaning liberal-minded intellectuals have commented on the “child-like character” of “their çingene”, repeat stereotypical adages such as “çingene eat up what they earn today and leave the future to the fates”, and other stereotypifying adages. Such statements are amplified in media re-presentations of “çingene” as people who celebrate entertainment (“eğlence”), and eschew housing and steady work. Such statements are indicative of on ongoing inculcation of historically-transmitted discursive structures. Such discourses are perpetuated by repetitions of earlier 20th century concepts, re-presented in cultural performatives such as precepts, newspaper articles, literature, movies, and other cultural realms. What is lost in these transmissions are pluralisms: narratives that include those who designate themselves by a plurality of names as well as “Roman:” doctors, parliamentarians, lawyers, teachers, as well as the frequently-narrated identities as professional musicians, entertainers, housewives, basket weavers, sieve makers, flower sellers, bottle- and paper-recyclers.

Changes in group self-designations are thus important signifiers that make possible larger social and political shifts. In Turkey these shifts in turn have been accompanied by cultural practices, which have solidified expressions of new identities and exerted relatively localized control over these contested self-fashionings. In particular, the creation of the musical genre, Roman dance music (Roman oyun havası) has brought into aural space a newly-revised repertoire of representations into an on-going staging of established representations, with the latter primarily under the control of non-Roman artists and audiences.

However, I do not posit that such symbolic representations under the term, “Roman” are unambiguously utopian manifestations for unproblematic social change. Rather, the complex polysemic references embedded in cultural representations promote alternative possibilities, which can be realized in multiple and unpredictable forms of expression. Here, this article traces the narrative shift evident in “çingene” to “Roman” representations. Examples from Turkey suggest that new symbolic practices can open up the possibility for revised communal imagingings of identity, while also acknowledging problematics.

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