7th January 2013

Brazilian Gypsies as financial entrepreneurs

Martin Fotta is an anthropologist and researcher at Goethe University, in Frankfurt. He conducted fieldwork in Bahia (Brazil), where he gathered substantial empirical material for a recently completed PhD on the credit networks deployed by Calon Gypsies. Defying the usual image of Gypsies as a marginal group, coping with unstable living conditions and having very intermittent contacts with the formal banking sector, this ethnographic work presents Bahian Calon as the industrious providers of special credit services both to Gypsies and Non-Gypsies in a ‘niche economy’ that recalls Jane Guyer’s study on transactional conversions involving multiple value scales in Atlantic Africa.

The thesis is titled The Bankers of the Backlands: Financialisation and the Calon Gypsies in Bahia (abstract presented below, along with Martin Fotta’s e-mail address).

In recent decades, a population of Gypsies, Ciganos, living in Bahia, who call themselves Calon, have been specializing in lending money on interest. The thesis argues that the development of Cigano money lending is a Calon assimilation of recent changes brought about by monetization of daily life transforming the Bahian tradition of seeing them as trickster-figures. Several recent developments have increased demand for cash in the Bahian interior and small-town life is now characterized by a dense financial net of various credit/debt forms — formal and informal, novel and traditional. In this context, Ciganos –as-money-lenders are one of many existing credit institutions. Going beyond the ‘demand side’, the thesis explores Calon concepts and social organization of credit. It argues that money in money-lending serves both as a medium of exchange, and as a way to create an environment for Calon social reproduction. Through manipulating pragmatics of credit/debt Calon forge themselves as moral persons and create proper sociality.

Email: Fotta@em.uni-frankfurt.de