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Accepted Paper:

Anthropological fieldwork among once non-literate Gypsies and Travellers, combined with studying up, has exposed marginalized perspectives, sometimes bringing policy and political changes  
Judith Okely (Oxford UniversityUniversity of Hull)

Paper short abstract:

Anthropological fieldwork among once non-literate Gypsies and Travellers, combined with studying powerful officials and policy makers, has exposed marginalized perspectives of the often persecuted. Ensuing texts are now studied by emergent groups of Gypsies, Travellers and Roma at universities.

Paper long abstract:

Intensive ethnographic fieldwork among Gypsies, Roma or Travellers, the most persecuted of minorities in Europe, has offered opportunities to present their perspectives and context, contradicting populist stereotypes, indeed demonization. This necessarily entailed studying up, also problematising state policies. Participant observation was extended where possible among policy makers and officials. The English Gypsies and Irish Travellers, encountered in the 1970s, were largely non-literate, their varied origins studied and exoticised by outsiders. In the 19th century, links between Romany language(s) and pre 11th century Sanskrit provided India as mono origin. Imagined monoculture was used by outsiders to privilege ‘true blooded’ Romanies versus stigmatized ‘half-castes’. Irish or Scottish Travellers, claiming only indigenous origins, were often attributed every nomadic negativity. Barth’s anthropological notions of ethnic self-ascription enhanced contextual definitions and contested reductionist, orientalist labeling and linguists’ neglect of cultural, contextual innovations through time and space. Official documents, both local and national, offered rich resources for investigating the mechanisms of power, sometimes revealing corruption. The anthropologist’s publications on occasions influenced policy, dependent on current hegemonies. Additionally, she acted successfully, as Expert and character witness in courts on behalf of English Gypsies. In 2008, this anthropologist was consulted in a court case for the landmark ethnic recognition, despite indigenous origins, of Scottish Travellers, then invited to celebrate with Travellers at the Scottish Parliament.

With growing literate numbers of Gypsies, Travellers and Roma who now study outsiders’ previous texts, the anthropologist has had the reward of acting as university postgraduate supervisor, referee and adviser.

Panel P108
Traditions of anthropology, prospects for engagement: have 'World Anthropologies' tried to change the world? (WCAA-IUAES session)
  Session 1