Recreating and Materializing Social Differences through Patina-oriented Consumption: The Post-socialist Ownership History of a Second-hand, Luxury Commodity

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Péter Berta

Abstract

The study examines the post-socialist ownership history of an extremely valuable Gabor Roma prestige object: a silver-footed beaker. The resulting object biography sheds light on the role of the prestige economy constructed around silver objects in the creation, materialization, and renegotiation of social differences among the Gabor Roma in Romania. The analysis also reveals that this economy is a contemporary, second-hand culture based on patina-oriented consumption, similar to other economies of inalienable possessions (family heirlooms, etc.) or communities of competing collectors specializing in personal belongings of celebrities. The object biography further demonstrates how the second-handedness and ownership history of silver prestige objects are constructed through various ideologies and practices (sale, inheritance, economic brokerage, proprietary contests, etc.). Finally, the study makes a detailed comparison of the patina-oriented versus the fashion or novelty-oriented prestige goods popular among the Gabor Roma. The two can be distinguished from each other primarily by the different meanings and values associated with the ownership histories outlined in the introduction.

Article Details

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Peer-Reviewed Articles
Author Biography

Péter Berta, Department of Social Anthropology, Institute for Ethnology, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Péter Berta is currently a senior researcher at the Department of Social Anthropology, Institute for Ethnology, Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Budapest, Hungary) and a Marie Curie Fellow at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London. His special research interests are the economic and social practices of Romanian Gabor and Cărhar Roma, with a special focus on the politics and materialization of difference (prestige consumption and marriage politics).