Accepted Paper:

Decline and restructuring of Gypsies' nomadism in France: beyond the nomadic/sedentary binary  


Ryoko Noro(Sachi)

Paper short abstract:

French policy towards Gypsies reflects the stereotypical understanding of their nomadism, as incompatible with sedentarism. This paper examines case studies on how Gypsies today reorganize a new nomadism, in which, nomadic and sedentary lives complement one another.

Paper long abstract:

Like most of Europe, France has generally tried to assimilate the Gypsies by outlawing nomadism. However, in 1990 and 2000, French government enacted the 'Besson Law', which requires that every municipality over 5000 residents create 'welcoming areas (halting sites)' for them.

This law, which is intended to protect Gypsies' traditional lifestyle, represents a significant change in the policy toward this population. But, as a result, many Gypsies today have been forced to stop travelling and to settle under difficult conditions. To understand this apparently paradoxical situation, this paper presents the two case studies about the 'welcoming areas' and the 'terrain familial (site privately owned by Gypsies for the purposes of parking caravans)' in the south-west of France, and shows how the failure of this policy reflects the stereotypical understanding of Gypsies' nomadism, as unable to fit into the sedentary life.

Reproducing the nomadic/sedentary binary which frames Gypsies as 'homeless wanderers', French policymakers ignore the importance of the 'fixed home' in their mobile practices. Gypsies, living in 'welcoming areas' with no legal right of exclusive possession, hesitate to travel for fear that if they leave, they will not be able to go back and have nowhere to go.

An important point is that Gypsies settling in the 'terrain familial' have adopted a new nomadism, in which, nomadic and sedentary lives complement one another. The 'terrain familial' enables them to travel and to work whenever they want to. It shows an adaptation that is different from the vision of policymakers.

Panel P038
Sedentarization and concentration among nomadic peoples (Commission on Nomadic Peoples/NME panel)