Introduction - Consider the Lilies of the FieldIntroduction - Consider the Lilies of the Field

         The original impulse for this book came from a sense that the ways of life of London prostitutes, Hungarian Gypsies and Aegean Greek peasants--among whom we, the editors, carried out research--could be interestingly compared. These people live more or less in poverty at the margins of society where they are treated with contempt. Instead of adopting mainstream notions of work, productivity and long-term economic planning, they appear to take a "natural" abundance for granted and to forage for their subsistence. Sex workers gather what they need from obliging markets, as Aegean Greek peasants and Rom Gypsies "harvest" money from state banks and the non-Gypsy world. In these cases foraging depends upon an idea of plenty; it is taken for granted that whatever you need is available more or less whenever you want it--there is no need to store, to do without so as to hoard for the future. 
         This "anti-economic" stance is part and parcel of a specific set of attitudes to time, to person and to community as indicated in this Introduction. This abundant world is celebrated in "rituals" that create a community of equal and autonomous individuals. Greek men drink and gamble themselves free from the mundane and oppressive world around them rather as the Gypsies drink and sing themselves into a brotherhood of equals. While London prostitutes do not create a corresponding community, they too achieve a satisfying individuality in their homes.  In such ways, all three groups invert their socially marginal positions and claim a significant personal autonomy. Since these achievements are explicitly and systematically contrasted to the longer term orientation of their neighbours, it seems ethnographically accurate to say that they live in opposition to the mainstream. Certainly, at times, they are perceived as a threat to other, "respectable" ways of life.

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