Materializing Difference: Consumer Culture, Politics, and Ethnicity among Romanian Roma

By Péter Berta
With a Foreword by Fred R. Myers

© 2019

How do objects mediate human relationships, and possess their own social and political agency? What role does material culture – such as prestige consumption as well as commodity aesthetics, biographies, and ownership histories – play in the production of social and political identities, differences, and hierarchies? How do (informal) consumer subcultures of collectors organize and manage themselves? Drawing on theories from anthropology and sociology, specifically material culture, consumption, museum, ethnicity, and post-socialist studies, Materializing Difference addresses these questions via analysis of the practices and ideologies connected to Gabor Roma beakers and roofed tankards made of antique silver. The consumer subculture organized around these objects – defined as ethnicized and gendered prestige goods by the Gabor Roma living in Romania – is a contemporary, second-hand culture based on patina-oriented consumption.

Materializing Difference reveals the inner dynamics of the complex relationships and interactions between objects (silver beakers and roofed tankards) and subjects (Romanian Roma) and investigates how these relationships and interactions contribute to the construction, materialization, and reformulation of social, economic, and political identities, boundaries, and differences. It also discusses how, after 1989, the political transformation in Romania led to the emergence of a new, post-socialist consumer sensitivity among the Gabor Roma, and how this sensitivity reshaped the pre-regime-change patterns, meanings, and value preferences of prestige consumption.

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Product Details

  • Series: Anthropological Horizons
  • Division: Scholarly Publishing
  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 384 pages
  • Illustrations: 24
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 1.0in x 9.0in
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  • PUBLISHED APR 2019

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    ISBN 9781487520403
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    ISBN 9781487500573
  • PUBLISHED APR 2019

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Quick Overview

Materializing Difference reveals the inner dynamics of the complex relations and interactions between objects and subjects and investigates how these relations and interactions contribute to the construction, materialization, and reformulation of social, economic, and political identities, boundaries, and differences.

Materializing Difference: Consumer Culture, Politics, and Ethnicity among Romanian Roma

By Péter Berta
With a Foreword by Fred R. Myers

© 2019

How do objects mediate human relationships, and possess their own social and political agency? What role does material culture – such as prestige consumption as well as commodity aesthetics, biographies, and ownership histories – play in the production of social and political identities, differences, and hierarchies? How do (informal) consumer subcultures of collectors organize and manage themselves? Drawing on theories from anthropology and sociology, specifically material culture, consumption, museum, ethnicity, and post-socialist studies, Materializing Difference addresses these questions via analysis of the practices and ideologies connected to Gabor Roma beakers and roofed tankards made of antique silver. The consumer subculture organized around these objects – defined as ethnicized and gendered prestige goods by the Gabor Roma living in Romania – is a contemporary, second-hand culture based on patina-oriented consumption.

Materializing Difference reveals the inner dynamics of the complex relationships and interactions between objects (silver beakers and roofed tankards) and subjects (Romanian Roma) and investigates how these relationships and interactions contribute to the construction, materialization, and reformulation of social, economic, and political identities, boundaries, and differences. It also discusses how, after 1989, the political transformation in Romania led to the emergence of a new, post-socialist consumer sensitivity among the Gabor Roma, and how this sensitivity reshaped the pre-regime-change patterns, meanings, and value preferences of prestige consumption.

Continue Reading Read Less

Product Details

  • Series: Anthropological Horizons
  • Division: Scholarly Publishing
  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 384 pages
  • Illustrations: 24
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 1.0in x 9.0in
  • Reviews

    "Materializing Difference offers a refreshingly delightful, exciting, and informative reading experience for academics across the social sciences and humanities. Anyone who feasts on the calibre of expert storytelling that accompanies the valuation of those objects ("things") introduced on the Antiques Roadshow will devour this fascinating book. Péter Berta’s quest is to plumb the complexities of the acquisitions and trade of prestige objects in order to tell his story of their mysteries: why they exist and how their existence has contributed to the social and cultural life of those Roma groups intimately engaged in their changing valuations, ownerships, and transfers."


    David J. Nemeth, Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toledo

    "Materializing Difference is a very strong ethnographic study that marshals an impressive amount of deep fieldwork. The explanation of the unusual prestige economies of Romanian Roma and the interethnic trade in silver beakers and tankards is particularly fascinating."


    Shannon Lee Dawdy, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago
  • Author Information

    Péter Berta is an Honorary Research Associate at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College London, a Visiting Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Global Prosperity at University College London, and a Senior Researcher at the Institute of Ethnology at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
  • Table of contents

    Introduction: Translocal Communities of Practice and Multi-Sited Ethnographies

    Part I. Negotiating and Materializing Difference and Belonging
    1. Symbolic Arenas and Trophies of the Politics of Difference
    2. The Gabors’ Prestige Economy: A Translocal, Ethnicized, Informal, and Gendered Consumer Subculture
    3. From Antiques to Prestige Objects: De- and Re-contextualizing Commodities from the European Antiques Market
    4. Creating Symbolic and Material Patina
    5. The Politics of Brokerage: Bazaar-Style Trade and Risk Management
    6. Political Face-Work and Transcultural Bricolage/Hybridity: Prestige Objects in Political Discourse

    Part II. Contesting Consumer Subcultures: Interethnic Trade, Fake Authenticity, and Classification Struggles
    7. Gabor Roma, Cărhar Roma, and the European Antiques Market: Contesting Consumer Subcultures
    8. Interethnic Trade of Prestige Objects
    9. Constructing, Commodifying, and Consuming Fake Authenticity
    10. The Politics of Consumption: Classification Struggles, Moral Criticism, and Stereotyping

    Part III. Multi-Sited Commodity Ethnographies
    11. Things-In-Motion: Methodological Fetishism, Multi-Sitedness, and the Biographical Method
    12. Prestige Objects, Marriage Politics, and the Manipulation of Nominal Authenticity: The Biography of a Beaker, 2000-2007
    13. Proprietary Contest, Business Ethics, and Conflict Management: The Biography of a Roofed Tankard, 1992-2012

    Conclusion: The Post-Socialist Consumer Revolution and the Shifting Meanings of Prestige Goods