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Accepted Paper:

Living Counterfactually: New Travellers’ Experiments in Alterity  
Freya Hope (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

New Travellers, a UK mobile alternative community, are a counterfactual group both as an ‘embodied counterfactual’ (Gedeon Archi 2020) and because in anthropological terms they may not actually exist. Due to this, exploring their lives may elicit what it takes to 'live differently’ (Weston 2021).

Paper long abstract:

This paper focuses on New Travellers, a group borne out of the 1960s/70s UK counterculture, who became an enduring mobile alternative community that have now sociobiologically reproduced over three plus generations. In response to their own speculative future predictions, which included imminent climate catastrophe and the fall of global capitalism, building on Gedeon Achi’s (2020) conceptualisation of groups in development random control trials, I suggest New Travellers intentionally became an ‘embodied counterfactual’ ‘parallel reality’ to the rest of UK society.

Not only are New Travellers counterfactual in the above terms, but also perhaps in the terms of anthropology itself. For example, they perceive themselves as living as anarchists but do not fulfil the criteria for groups living in anarchy prescribed by classical anthropologists. They also adhere to what they consider cultural beliefs, values, and practices of indigenous and ancient peoples, that would be considered lay and romanticised understandings of such within the discipline. In this sense, it could be a counterfactual proposition to say New Travellers exist at all in the way they understand themselves to. However, these ‘romanticised’ ideas and ideals have been central to the alternative sociocultural and material world which they have made, and which I will demonstrate has led to novel modes of kinship, ontologies, and human and posthuman connectivities. Consequently, engaging with Kath Weston’s (2021) notion of counterfactual ethnographies as ‘tools to imagine the future’ I will explore how the lives of New Travellers may help a consideration of ‘what it takes to live differently.’

Panel P46
Looking forward, counterfactually: Visions of the might yet be/maybe not of marginalised people and their states
  Session 1 Thursday 9 June, 2022, -