Narratives of Gypsy Identity and the Crossing of Boundaries

Myers, Martin (2014). Narratives of Gypsy Identity and the Crossing of Boundaries. PhD thesis The Open University.



Gypsies have lived in the UK since the fifteenth century following a long diasporic movement originating in the north of India. Despite their long-standing presence they remain a marginalised group, often regarded in negative or stereotyped ways by their neighbours. This research considers the relationships of Gypsy families and their neighbours on the south coast of England. Using semi-structured interviews with members of 32 families the research explores the shaping of Gypsy identity. The interviews produced a unique picture of the lives of Gypsy families on the south coast and highlighted the ways in which family and individual identities were constructed both through their relationships with non-Gypsy neighbours and through the maintenance of boundaries between them. The research considers the associations between Gypsy identity and Gypsy community and identifies how these both shape and are shaped by relations with non-Gypsies. In this respect it pays particular attention to the role of citizenship in Britain since the Second World War and examines how citizenship demarcates a boundary with Gypsy non-citizens. The thesis suggests that Gypsy families on the south coast manage inherent physical closeness and distance in relations with their neighbours as well as less tangible, non-physical cultural markers. This bears the hallmarks of Simmel's (1971) stranger, but is often adapted around a self-imposed invisibility. Gypsy community is described as having a literal quality distinct from the citizenship routes of non-Gypsies in which community is based upon imagined commonalities. In doing so a 'Gypsy' identity emerges that can both maintain an historic understanding of Gypsy identity and adapt to the pressures of managing at times difficult relationships with non-Gypsy neighbours.

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