In the article Representation and Intracultural Dynamics, Adriana Helbig addresses the difficulty and responsibility ethnomusicologists face when studying/observing a people who have a strong, almost degrading reputation. She specifically talks about her studies and experiences with the Roma, known as the "Gypsies" and how at ethnographic conventions some of her colleagues even said that the poorer groups of Roma people lacked culture and were not worth studying. I found this to be incredibly surprising, seeing as the field of ethnomusicology and ethnography prides itself on studying culture in an observational, removed manner. Helbig discusses how people tend to group the Roma together as one distinct group of peoples, while there is a broad spectrum of wealth and country within those who identify as Roma. In the West, however, all Roma are simply Gypsies. Studying and living with one group of Roma will not be representative of the entirety of Roma culture, especially because the Roma historically have been a traveling people and are spread out throughout a variety of different countries. It is only natural that culture will develop and begin to shape in different ways in different areas, just as various places within a single country have unique characteristics and traditions.
She also explains the difficulty in unequal representation of different Roma based on class and wealth. Only Roma who are of a certain class have the privilege to practice their cultural traditions freely and openly. But at the same time, she found that high class Roma often called the poor Roma dirty and uncivilized. This to me seems like an enormous abuse of power. Because they are given the opportunity to practice as they wish, they seem to view themselves as "real" Roma. Accusing the poor of being assimilated shows their completely lack of appreciation of their freedom - the poor Roma aren't assimilated by choice.
This article made me question how we tend to divide groups of people, and by what means. People practice tradition uniquely from individual to individual, and there will always be both similarities and differences in practices between each individual. So how "prominent" or distinctive does a practice need to be in order for it to be deemed a cultural tradition? How many people have to practice in this way for it to be deemed worthy of study? So when people initially began studying Roma culture, a group of people who became so widespread through their traveling, how did one group's practices become the dominant, stereotypical practices of all Roma people? Is there an aspect of chance that comes into play, such that the group that happens to be studied first become the norm? I think it is also easy for ethnographers to notice a certain tradition in one group, and look for affirmations of this traditions when studying other groups to support their theories of what all Roma people must be like.