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To choose, fix, or ignore culture? The cultural politics of Gypsy and Traveler mobility in England

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Abstract:

Historically, states have sought to repress the nomadic way of life, as evidenced by various policies that seek to displace, criminalize, or assimilate them. This practice continues today, as the situation of Gypsies and Travelers in Ireland and Britain attests to. This paper examines how Gypsies and Travelers are repeatedly denied the right to practice a nomadic way of life. This occurs through various measures, each corresponding to a particular understanding of how culture operates. I identify two dominant discourses: 'culture as choice' and 'culture as nature.' The former seeks to assimilate and sedentarize while the latter wishes to prevent Gypsies and Travelers from 'settling down' as it does not see any option but for nomadism to continue. Both are similar, however, in that they misunderstand nomadic practices and wish to erase Gypsy and Traveler ways of life. I then delineate how a cultural politics of mobility avoids the pitfalls of seeing culture as a choice or as essential and unchanging, as well as not ignoring culture as acultural approaches do, but instead recognizes how Gypsies and Travelers themselves utilize cultural discourses to navigate through legal constraints and discrimination.

Keywords: Britain; Gypsies and Travelers; Ireland; cultural discourses; mobility; nomadism

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14649360902853247

Affiliations: Department of Political Science, Economics, and Philosophy, 2N 224, College of Staten Island-CUNY, Staten Island, NY, USA

Publication date: June 1, 2009

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