Invisible lives: The Gypsies and Travellers of Britain

Author/s: Colin Robert Clark, PhD
Availability: Open Access
Type: Dissertation
Year: 2001
Category: Romanies History

Abstract: This thesis examines the lives and experiences of relatively 'unknown' minority ethnic communities in Britain. As a group, they have been known by many names since their arrival in the 15th Century, although the most common one - and the one that has stuck - has been 'Gypsies'. This label, as the thesis demonstrates, is both historically and etymologically inaccurate, as well as being offensive to some of the people who are called a 'Gypsy'. Despite this, it is still the main label that features in the commentaries and literature that discuss this population. It is the aim of this thesis to get behind the headlines and sensationalism that surrounds 'Gypsy invasions', 'Gypsy scams' and 'Gypsy curses'. I aim to give a more factual and critical sociological and social policy account of who those persons known as 'Gypsies' are and how 'settled' Britain regards them This account produces five distinct parts to the thesis: Part 1 offers a critical overview of the context for the study and outlines the theoretical, conceptual and methodological approach that is taken during the course of the thesis (especially in relation to questions of ethnicity, ethnic identity, nomadism and the history of Gypsy stereotypes). This analysis is done by reviewing how Gypsies and other Travellers have been regarded in terms of 'race relations' and how they have been rendered, I argue, 'invisible' by the ethnic and racial studies academic community as well as by policy-makers. Part 2 provides a comprehensive account of who the main groups of Gypsies and Travellers are in Britain today. As is shown, they are not just one homogeneous group but several different groups who each have their own languages, lifestyles, cultures and ways of expressing their unique identities. To be sure, it is unhelpful and lazy to merely lump them together and speak of 'one' British Gypsy/Traveller population. Part 3 is specifically concerned with looking at how Gypsies and Travellers in England have been dealt with in terms of social! public policy and state services. The two main areas of investigation are sites (accommodation) and social security. However, these are not examined in isolation from the other social services as health, education and relationships with the Police are also critically assessed. Part 4 broadens the questions and issues out by taking into consideration the European context. Increasingly, what happens at a European Union (EU) level regarding Gypsies and Travellers has a direct bearing on how Britain chooses to view and treat Gypsies and Travellers. I examine the social, legal and 'racial' context of Europe and the main institutions in the EU and their stance on Gypsies and 'nomad populations'. I briefly offer a critical view on why it is that the EU only appears to be interested in Gypsies when discussing education issues. Part 5 is a general conclusion to the thesis and offers some final thoughts on the future for Gypsies and Travellers in Britain. It examines recent moves to try and steady the shaky legal ground that most Gypsies and…

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