RUTH PHILLIPS The Politics of Mobility: A Case Study of New Age Travellers.




‘Mobility’ is inherently political, concealing powerful ideologies (Cresswell, 2006). This dissertation explores the concept of mobility in terms of the representation and legislation of nomadic lifestyles. The introduction of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act in 1994, which effectively outlawed a nomadic way of life, sparked a flurry of academic interest yet little has been written since this time. The research presented here addresses this gap through an auto-ethnography of New Age Travellers who have ‘settled’ on a permanent site in the East Midlands. With a focus on the ‘adaptation and continuity’ which, in common with other peripheral groups, ensures cultural survival (Sibley, 1981), the research examines the Travellers’ lived experience as they undergo a transition from a nomadic to semi-sedentary lifestyle. The data reveals an unexpected ‘acceptance’ of this shift as well as the importance placed on the geographic and social community of site life. Mobility is no longer the defining feature of the Travellers’ lifestyle, but may be seen as simply one strategy in the ongoing creation of ‘autonomous geographies’. This concept, borrowed from Pickerill and Chatterton’s (2006) discussion of alter-globalization movements, describes the creation of spaces in which to enact everyday lives beyond the confines of the dominant, capitalist culture. It highlights the strategies of adaptation and continuity and, ultimately, the legitimacy of an alternative spatial and social organization from which much could be learnt.






I began this research with a focus on the ‘politics of mobility’ and a concern for the way that Travellers had adjusted to a seemingly enforced lack of mobility. Stemming from my own experiences as a Traveller, my interest was further piqued when an old friend, describing the new ‘controlled access’ arrangements for Solstice celebrations at Stonehenge, used the term “mutate and survive” to explain her continued attendance. For some, the ‘law’ had won and Stonehenge was no longer a site of celebration and resistance, but for my friend it was simply a case of adapting to different circumstances to do what she had always intended: celebrate the Solstice at Stonehenge!


This same friend lives on an ‘unauthorized’ Travellers site which is now being granted ‘Official Site’ status. The Travellers have settled here, they have a stake in the local community, not just in terms of employment but also voluntary work in local schools, football teams and community groups, and they intend to stay. Yet this presents a paradox: what happens to Travellers when they can no longer travel? For me, it meant living in a house and gradually, though not completely, discarding my Traveller identity. For others, it has meant going abroad to travel or to settle. And yet others, including these others, have retained something of their lifestyle and culture here in the UK.


The main theoretical concerns for this study involve the ways that Travellers have adapted and ‘survived’, especially as it relates to place, and what this may tell us about the concept of mobility in the dominant culture. In many ways I am predisposed to see the Travellers as having ‘survived’ and to celebrate their adaptive strategies, and this is based upon a firm belief that this is a valid, alternative way of life. Like others before me, I have difficulty with the term ‘New Age Travellers’ as it is a media label with a distinctly negative connotation, rather than a term used by the Travellers themselves. I have used it here as sparingly as possible, preferring to simply use the term ‘Travellers’, but it has sometimes been a useful shorthand to clarify that I am speaking of a particular cultural/historical group.


In my review of the literature in chapter one, these distinctions are seen to be somewhat misleading as it becomes clear that all Travellers share a number of similarities in terms of practical orientations to space and place, economic practices and, above all, the condemnation of their lifestyle by the dominant culture. This condemnation is largely based on ignorance of the practicalities of a nomadic lifestyle, supported by the mythological misrepresentations of Travellers in the media and other cultural formats. Ethnographic studies, such as those of David Sibley (1981) and Judith Okely (1983), have provided useful insights to the everyday lives of Gypsies which are applicable to other Travellers and peripheral groups. Furthermore, they have challenged the myths which prevail in the dominant culture and which see Travellers represented as ‘out of place’ in both rural and urban locations.


The rural/urban stereotyping of Gypsies is challenged by highlighting their dependence on a larger economy (Okely, 1983) which has always necessitated living in urban as well as rural locations. Sibley (1981) thus describes them as a ‘peripheral’ group - a term which is far preferable to the disempowering ‘marginal’ - and aligns them with Berger’s (1979) ‘Cultures of Survival’. That the rural stereotype should continue to be applied to New Age Travellers is a disappointing failure in the academic literature and perpetuates the unhelpful distinction between ‘real’ and ‘deviant’ Travellers.


Whilst New Age Travellers have suffered much the same misrepresentation and demonization as other Travellers, they have, in some ways, been treated even more controversially. Subject to a violent police offensive in 1985, they have also been portrayed in the media in the most offensive and derogatory ways. The legal protection offered by the Race Relations Act to Gypsies and Irish Travellers has rarely been extended to these New Travellers, and Government provision has failed to take their needs into account.


The site at which I undertook my fieldwork is one of the few exceptions to this lack of provision. Originally a Gypsy site, the land had been unused for many years before these Travellers moved on. Having lived there as an ‘unauthorized encampment’ for the last eight years, the Travellers have now been offered ‘Official Site’ status and basic amenities are being installed. With construction currently underway, I was able to study this group of Travellers as they negotiate these changes in their daily lives, on a practical and mundane level but also on a cultural level.


Chapter two describes the ethnographic methodology employed throughout this research which, due to my own history as a Traveller can best be described as an ‘auto-ethnography’. That is to say, I sought to write about these Travellers with an understanding which is informed by my personal experience and history, yet is very much their story. This required the careful negotiation of my own insider/outsider role and the need for continual critical self-reflection in order to achieve a study which would yield theoretical insights as opposed to simple description.


Using ethnographic methods of participant observation, focus groups and interviews, I was able to build up a large body of data. The theoretical assumptions which I was careful to uncover before embarking on my fieldwork, were useful as ‘sensitizing concepts’ but were quickly found to be not wholly correct. I took this to be a good sign, with the concepts which subsequently emerged being properly grounded in the data.


In chapter three’s data analysis, I begin by describing how the Traveller’s level of acceptance around their current options surprised me, since legislation introduced in the 1990s has undoubtedly curtailed their mobility. On reflection, however, this is entirely in keeping with notions of adaptation and continuity described by Sibley (1981) and others. Thus, I found that the Travellers, far from feeling legally constrained, displayed a more philosophical attitude and cited several other choice-based reasons for settling.


This has led me to suggest that ‘travelling’ was not an end in itself, but rather that it was simply one strategy of resistance. Having found, through the intended and unintended consequences of changes in the dominant culture, that it is no longer practical to live an entirely nomadic life, these Travellers have adapted to - even embraced - a new lifestyle which is best described as a continuing ‘autonomous geography’. This concept, coined by Jenny Pickerill and Paul Chatterton (2006) in relation to ‘alter-globalization movements’, describes the creation of spaces in which people can attempt to enact their lives in opposition to the dominant, capitalist culture.


The ‘opposition’ of New Age Travellers, whilst perhaps more politically informed than that of other Travellers, is not necessarily based on an explicit autonomy agenda. Rather, it is a simple desire to live a different way of life to that of the dominant culture. It is also not unique to this group of Travellers and can be seen in the way that Gypsies, when living on an official site, will continue to observe their own spatial and social organization as far as possible.


The fear of Travellers, which is evident in the societal reactions against them, can best be understood as intolerance towards the different spatial and social organization of these groups. It is difficult to offer a definitive explanation from the data I have gathered, but what is clear from my research is that the Travellers do not pose the kind of ‘threat’ that the dominant culture fears. Ultimately, the provision of sites for those who wish to live this way represents an economical solution to the current housing crisis and, furthermore, an experiment in alternative geographies from which much could be learnt.





“And no they didn’t need a reason,

It’s what your votes condone.

Seems they were committing treason

By trying to live on the road”

(The Levellers, Battle of the Beanfield, 1991)



Mobility is central to our culture yet, as Cresswell (2006:2) highlights, it is comprised of conflicting representations:

Mobility as progress, as freedom, as opportunity, and as modernity, sit[ting] side by side with mobility as shiftless, as deviance and as resistance.

Thus, certain forms of mobility - commuting to work, foreign holidays, student gap years - are positively encouraged, whilst others - hitchhiking, tramping, nomadic lifestyles - are frowned upon, at best, and criminalized at worst. Gypsies and other Travellers have always fallen into the latter category, perceived as a threat to society and cast as ‘outsiders’ (Sibley, 1981). Examining such outsider groups can tell us a great deal about the dominant culture (Cresswell, 1996:9; Sibley, 1981:4) yet, in terms of academic literature, this is truly a ‘road less travelled’.


Whilst Travellers have been seen as a threat, subject to draconian legislation from as early as the 16th Century (Okely, 1983:1), one of the first attempts to provide a sociologically-informed account was that of Farnham Rehfisch in 1958 (Okely, 1983:25). Rehfisch’s study, published in his 1975 collection, Gypsies, Tinkers and Other Travellers, is an attempt to overcome a previous lack of “reliable studies on their social structure and social organization” (1975:Preface), yet this collection still carries descriptions of travellers as ‘pariahs’ and ‘parasites’ (Barth, 1975:287). Judith Okely (1983) and David Sibley (1981) have both produced ethnographic studies which successfully address this attitude by relating the Gypsy culture to the dominant culture of which it is, in fact, a part (Okely, 1983:30), and by highlighting the ethnocentricity of both popular and academic (mis)understandings of Gypsy culture (Okely, 1983:33; Sibley, 1981:23-24).


New Age Travellers, a movement which emerged in the early 1970s, are often categorized as separate and distinct from Gypsies, not least by Gypsies themselves (Levinson & Sparkes, 2004:720) and certainly in terms of government policy (Wilkin, 1998). Nonetheless, studies of Gypsies provide a useful starting point and actually highlight a number of similarities. These include the perception of Travellers as a ‘threat’, as being ‘out of place’ in both rural and urban settings, as well as the continuity and adaptation of nomadic cultures at the margins of the dominant culture. These themes run throughout the literature and I will examine them now in more detail.


Travellers of all kinds, even taken as a homogenous group, are undoubtedly a minority group, with estimates of their numbers ranging from 82,000 to 350,000, including those who now live in conventional bricks-and-mortar housing (DCLG, 2007:7). This immediately raises questions about the definition of a Traveller, since it is clearly not predicated on actually travelling. Government guidelines offer the following definition of Gypsies and Travellers:

Persons of nomadic habit of life whatever their race or origin, including such persons who on grounds only of their own or their family’s or dependants’ educational or health needs or old age have ceased to travel temporarily or permanently (ODPM, 2007:6)

Gypsies and Irish Travellers are recognized as distinct ethnic groups under race-relations legislation (DCLG, 2007:7), but do not represent the entire range of Travelling Peoples. These may include “New Travellers, Showmen, Gypsies, Tarmac and Labouring gangs and itinerants squatting on empty land or derelict buildings” (Earle et al, 1994:111).


It is perhaps more useful to consider what Levinson and Sparkes (2004) refer to as the ‘nomadic mindset’ whereby

Travelling often remains integral to the Gypsy sense of identity even when the amount of travelling achieved seems to constitute little more than ‘holidays’ (2004:710).

That this mindset is also claimed by New Age Travellers (see, for example, Lowe & Shaw, 1993:218-243) contradicts the widely held view “that travelling was ‘in the blood’, the only explanation for which is Gypsy ancestry” (Levinson & Sparkes, 2004:711). Thus we can move away from the racial categorizations which cause troublesome distinctions between ‘real’ Travellers (Romany Gypsies, Irish Travellers) and ‘deviants’ (New Age Travellers and others).


This is not the only distinction which has been troublesome to Travellers of all kinds: a common myth of the ‘rural’ and/or ‘real’ Gypsy is explored by both Sibley (1981; 1995; 1999) and Okely (1983). The rural stereotype is based on romantic representations which owe more to popular culture than to any kind of reality (Sibley, 1999:137). In the popular imagination Gypsies are seen as rural folk, living close to nature in horse-drawn bow-top wagons, selling pegs and other handicrafts, and they are always distant in time and space. Gypsies, even those living in rural locations, are unlikely to live up to this stereotype and are thus seen as deviant. When Gypsies are encountered in urban settings they are then seen as ‘doubly deviant’ since, as Sibley (1981:19) states

To appear to have abandoned a noble existence, in harmony with nature, for one that conflicts with mainstream conceptions of order and harmony, is an indication of degeneracy.

In this way, we begin to see how elements of ‘place’ are an integral part of these stereotypes (Sibley, 1995:102) and how this is problematic for Gypsies in both rural and urban locations.


Unfortunately, the same distinction continues to be applied to other Travellers so that, having dismantled the myth of rural/real Gypsies, Sibley (1995:106-7) then goes on to place New Age Travellers firmly in the countryside. In fact, many studies connect New Age Travellers with a desire for rural life (Cresswell, 1996; Halfacree, 1996; Hetherington, 200; Rojek, 1988) and this assumption is as problematic for New Age Travellers as it has been for Gypsies (Okely, 1983; Sibley, 1981; 1995), resulting in an ongoing distinction between ‘real’ New Age Travellers and “town-based squatters, crusties and buskers” (Hetherington, 2000:70).


Okely (1983) links the rural stereotyping of Gypsies with the popular perception of an isolated, self-sufficient and ‘traditional’ culture. In fact, argues Okely (1983:30),

The Gypsies, when first identified in Europe, and indeed their equivalent anywhere else, have never been self-sufficient. They are dependent on the larger economy, within which they took possession of or created their own niche. The Gypsies can only survive as a group within the context of a larger economy and society, within which they circulate supplying occasional goods and services, and exploiting geographical mobility and a multiplicity of occupations.

Thus Gypsies and other nomadic groups are inextricably linked to urban locations as much as rural ones, due to their economic relations with industrialized society (Okely, 1983:30), and could more accurately be described as ‘peripheral’ than separate (Sibley, 1981:13).


Drawing on Berger’s (1979) notion of ‘Cultures of Survival / Cultures of Progress’, Sibley (1981:13-4) links the Gypsies to the “peasant or peripheral group culture” whose concern is ‘survival’. Juxtaposed to Cultures of Progress, which predominate in modern society and are concerned with expansion, peasant cultures have always had to survive at the very edge, the “base frontier”, of the dominant system (Berger, 1979:xii). For this reason they have had to take care of themselves, developing their own rules, customs, medicine and even language. They represent, as Berger (1979:xii) states, “a class apart” but not an independent culture:

It would be wrong to suppose that all this constituted an independent culture, unaffected by the dominant one and by its economic, social or technical developments. Peasant life did not stay exactly the same throughout the centuries, but the priorities and values of the peasants (their strategy for survival) were embedded in a tradition which outlasted any tradition in the rest of society. The undeclared relation of this peasant tradition, at any given moment, to the dominant class culture was often heretical and subversive.

Sibley (1981:14) suggests that this is “equally applicable to semi-nomadic cultures like Gypsies that maintain their autonomy by adapting to the dominant culture”.


New Age Travellers may have some different customs and cultural beliefs to the majority of Gypsies and other Travellers (Earle et al, 1994:139-52), but have largely adopted the same economic and spatial organization as ‘traditional’ Travellers. It is unclear, however, to what extent New Age Travellers have opted for this way of life. Kevin Hetherington (2000) clearly identifies the Travellers as having chosen this way of life (eg, 2000:6) yet this is misleading and his account, whilst providing a thorough history (2000:1-29), fails to adequately locate this within the social context of Britain in the 1970s and 80s. Ultimately, then, he presents a picture of New Age Travellers which has been criticized by Greg Martin (2002:724) as overly romantic and voluntaristic.


In contrast, Greg Martin (1998) suggests that whilst some of the earlier New Age Travellers were people who “gave up the relative security of their jobs and their homes, and opted for what they believed to be an existence that offered a better quality of life” (1998:741), those who went on the road in the mid to late 1980s were largely “economic refugees” who were “forced to do so for want of any reasonable alternative” (1998:745). Whatever the motivation for taking to the road, Martin’s (1998) examination of the social context also highlights the irony of the situation. Many Travellers felt that they had created a ‘solution’ to the social problems of inadequate housing and unemployment and, in many ways, this was “entirely consistent with the prevailing political ideology of personal responsibility and enterprise” (1998:749).


Society’s response to Travellers has always been disproportionate to any actual threat which they pose (Okely, 1983:1) and this is particularly true for New Age Travellers. In 1985 these Travellers were subject to a “paramilitary assault ... by the police” (Johnson & Willers, 2004:17), which has gone down in Traveller history as the ‘Battle of the Beanfield’. The events of that day have been chronicled elsewhere (see, for example, Worthington, 2005) but it is interesting to note that New Age Travellers were discursively positioned as an ‘army’, complete with “leaders” and “personnel carriers” (Police Radio Log, 01/06/85, reproduced in Worthington, 2005:109:138), with all the organization and level of threat that this implies.


Aside from this heightened sense of threat, New Age Travellers have been largely subject to the same kind of misrepresentations as Gypsies and other Travellers, and there is no definitive explanation for the fear they provoke. Whether the ‘threat’ is analysed psychologically (Bauman, 1998a; Hetherington, 2000; Sibley, 1995), politically (Halfacree, 1996; Okely, 1983; Rojek, 1988) or spatially (Cresswell, 1996, 2006; Sibley, 1999), there is a consensus that it is based on ‘difference’. Travellers do not conform to dominant notions of order and are thus seen as ‘disorderly’ and ‘out of place’. Furthermore, as an autonomous group, they are misrepresented by the mainstream media “seeking the familiarity of spokespeople, manifestos and organizational coherence” (Pickerill & Chatterton, 2006:731).


Sibley (1981; 1999) clearly demonstrates the link between Gypsies, who are represented as dirt and disorder, and the fear that they will ‘pollute’ the spatial organization of society (1999:144). Cresswell (2006:17), citing James Scott [1989], links this to the concept of modernity which always involved the imposition of spatial order onto chaotic nature, hence the anxiety that mobile people provoke. Others have gone further, suggesting that the presence of the ‘other’ exposes fundamental deficiencies in modern society (Halfacree, 1996:44; Okely, 1983:2) so that, as Hetherington (2000:18) states, “it is not that the stranger brings disorder but that he or she reveals order to always be a process rather than a thing”. These fears become myths in the popular imagination: Gypsies and Travellers are soap-dodgers; they are idle and work-shy; they have no respect for private property (for refutation of these myths see Davis et al, 1994, and Webster & Millar, 2001).


Whipped up by the media, these fears become a moral panic resulting in legislation designed to deal with the deviant group (Cohen, 1980). Chris Rojek (1988:28-29) argues that the concept of moral panics cannot be applied to New Age Travellers because of its “annual regularity”, but I would argue that this ‘annual regularity’ only represented a seasonal high-pitch to the societal reaction. Rojek was writing in 1988 and can thus be forgiven for not seeing the bigger picture: legislation, which effectively outlawed the Travellers’ way of life (Martin, 2002:724), was finally introduced in 1994.


The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 had massive implications for Travellers of all kinds. It effectively outlawed a nomadic way of life by removing the statutory duty on Councils to provide legal sites and criminalizing trespass on private land (Clements & Campbell, 1997). Much of the available literature is based on studies undertaken at the time of the Act, when media attention was firmly focussed on New Age Travellers and concern over the implications for all Travellers was high. Since this time very little has been written about Travellers, about the ways they have adapted and survived, and the ‘problem’ seems to have disappeared. Having reintroduced the statutory duty on Councils to provide sites via the 2004 Housing Act, the Government made grants available to cover the costs of site provision (DCLG, 11/12/07), and an old moral panic has reignited wherever a Travellers site is proposed (Guardian, 18/12/08). It is time to look again at these folk devils who simply refuse to disappear.







“Not unlike other ethnographers, so-called natives can be insightful, sociologically correct, axe-grinding, self interested, or mistaken”

(Rosaldo, 1989, cited by Motzafi-Haller, 1997)


As an ex-Traveller myself, an ethnographic methodology was an obvious choice but that is not to say an unproblematic one. Sibley (1981) and Okely (1983) have both demonstrated the value of the kind of ‘insider’ accounts which ethnography can produce. They draw our attention to a different point of view, a different way of understanding the everyday lives and worldviews of both the marginal group and the dominant society. This, too, was my aim but the methodological challenges were very different. For whilst Okely grappled with the challenges of “entering Gypsy society” (1983:40), my own difficulties arose from the necessity of avoiding “the comfortable sense of being ‘at home’” (Hammersley & Atkinson, 1995:115).


The kind of auto-ethnography I have aspired to may be defined as “a text which blends ethnography and autobiography ... [it] entails the incorporation of one’s own life experience when writing about others” (Reed-Danahay, 1997:6). It was, as already stated, an obvious choice and this is neatly summed up by Rachel Saltmarsh (2001:147-8):

How could I not write my culture autobiographically? ... For me it would be a denial - a denial of self, a denial of past experience. For me it would be a lie. Autobiography is a way for me to share my knowledge of my culture. Through snatches of autobiography I can share its richness, its pain, its pleasures and its everydayness.

What must, of course, be avoided is the research resulting in simple description (Davies, 1999:194) which would, as Hammersley and Atkinson (1995:115) point out, “be an interesting and valuable document, but not an ethnographic study”. Despite one old friend/participant’s assertion that I didn’t need to ‘research’ site life since I knew all about it already, the ten years which have passed since I lived on the road meant that I did not feel this to be the case, in the here and now.


In this sense, I felt myself to be both insider and outsider: certainly I did not have much to learn about the everyday activities and conventions - removing my shoes at the door, filling the water butts, keeping the burner going - but I knew nothing about what had led to these travellers wanting to settle and welcoming the chance to live on an official site. And whilst I could place myself in their shoes fairly easily and reflect on whether I too would have made the same choices, I could never be certain in my conclusions because, for me, there is a whole chunk of history missing.


My difficulties with the concept of insider/outsider did not end there, and this is hardly surprising since it is such a contested concept in social research. Citing Styles [1979], Hammersly and Atkinson (1995:109) state that

Insider and outsider myths are not empirical generalizations about the relationship between the researcher’s social position and the character of the research findings. They are elements in a moral rhetoric that claims exclusive research legitimacy for a particular group.

Writing an auto-ethnography was not, for me, about taking a position on this ‘moral rhetoric’, but rather an attempt to foreground my own ‘situated knowledge’, in recognition that all knowledge is situated, and ultimately to “produce more modest, embodied, partial, locatable and convincing arguments” (Cook et al, 2005:16). As such, I do not lay claim to any kind of ‘truth’ as a result of my (partial) insider account and this is exactly why my autobiography must be declared.


Another aspect of the insider/outsider concept is the recognition of the interests which drive research projects from the outset. My own experience of travelling provided the impetus to research this topic but, further to that, there is a sense, as Motzafi-Haller (1997:216) suggests, that “an experience of social and political exclusion is likely to shape more critical thinking and writing about such experiences in the collective, structural domain”. Certainly there is a concern to address what I see as oppression and, as such, I tend to agree with Habermas’ (1971, cited by Davies, 1999:61) notion of critical theory as the only valid form of social enquiry, produced “through engagement with struggles against oppression” (Davies, 1999:61).


The oppression of groups such as Gypsies and Travellers is undeniably structural: one need only consider the legislation enacted against such groups from as early as the 16th Century (Okely, 1983:1), as well as the social and spatial exclusion which is so often imposed upon them (Sibley, 1981). Gypsies and Travellers have, however, shown remarkable persistence in maintaining their way of life (Sibley, 1986), demonstrating a degree of agency within these oppressive structures. Ontologically, then, I would align myself with a ‘critical realist’ approach (Graham, 1997:17), viewing the Travellers as being constrained by legal, cultural and ideological structures but nonetheless being able to resist and negotiate their existence within these structures. Furthermore, they can be seen to have changed at least some of these structures both through their persistence in maintaining their way of life and through collective action.


Ethnographic methods have allowed me to focus on the Travellers’ everyday resistance and negotiation. Primarily, this involved participant observation, a focus group and individual interviews. My case study focuses on a group of Travellers in the East Midlands whose unauthorized site, which they have occupied for eight years, is now being made into an official site complete with amenity blocks and hard-standing. At the time of my study, construction work was well underway but I had little knowledge of the plans, either in terms of physical layout or who would eventually be living there and why.


Ultimately, my interest was to reveal how, on a day to day level, the Travellers live out their choice / acceptance / resignation to their current situation. However, given my ontological and epistemological position regarding the interplay between structure and agency, this required an understanding of three levels of history and geography. That is to say, I sought to understand the personal history and geography of individual Travellers, set against my own knowledge and experience of New Age Traveller history and culture, as well as the history and geography of this specific site. 


Living on site with the Travellers for a two week period allowed me to observe their day to day lives, but required a degree of preparation. The main ethical considerations included informed consent, confidentiality and anonymity issues, and recognition of my role as researcher and the effects that the research could have on myself, on participants and on Travellers as a group.


Despite referring to Travellers as a ‘marginalized group’ I do not, in practice, consider them ‘vulnerable’ or ‘deprived’ as such. Greg Martin’s (1998) study highlights the ways that Travellers are empowered by the DIY aspect of their culture, and this is borne out in my own experiences. Echoing this, in a more general sense, Hurley (2007:161) argues that assumptions of marginality fail to take account of the “social capabilities which are also part of experiences of marginality”. By ‘marginalized’ then, I refer primarily to their social and spatial distance from the dominant culture and to their minority status, both of which result in their voices not being heard. As such, my research aims to address this aspect of marginality by researching ‘with’, not ‘on’, the Travellers (Pitts & Smith, 2007:10) and engaging with their own understanding of their situation.


Whilst I do not see Travellers as ‘powerless’, it was nonetheless important to recognize the inevitable power differentials in my role as researcher. Marching onto site and demanding answers as to why they had decided to settle could have provoked unwanted, and unwarranted, soul-searching as to the compromises they had needed to make, and thus a great deal of sensitivity was required in my approach. Continual critical reflexivity was necessary in order to diminish, as far as possible, any risk of psychological harm to my participants.


I also needed to seek informed consent and I began this process by sending a letter to all the site occupants, as well as other travellers living nearby whom I may wish to observe and/or interview (see appendix 1). Informed consent is often problematic in ethnographic studies because the focus can change throughout the research (Hammersley & Atkinson, 1995:265), and it was helpful to consider it as a process, as something which needed to be discussed and checked throughout the field work (Davies, 1999:48). In the event, my focus remained much the same, though some of my theoretical assumptions had to change, and the Travellers were interested in what I was doing, keen to discuss my ideas and ask questions. This allowed me to reiterate my research aims and check that participants were happy to continue in an informal and natural way.


I was not overly concerned about potential risks to myself but needed to consider and be aware of these nonetheless. Aside from the difficulties of negotiating my insider/outsider position, there is, with all ethnographic research, some risk of ‘going native’. This, as Hammersley and Atkinson (1995:110) explain, can arise when “the task of analysis [is] abandoned in favour of the joys of participation, but even where it is retained bias may arise from ‘over-rapport’”. This latter was the greatest danger for me, referred to earlier as feeling overly ‘at home’, and the stresses and strains of maintaining the necessary distance meant that I felt tired and somewhat unwell throughout my field work.


I also had to consider legal risks: in many ways, the lifestyle itself is only semi-legal and the potential to be in the ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ is ever present[1]. However, given that this site has been established for many years, and is in the process of becoming an official site, the chances of eviction or other major legal problems were extremely small, if not non-existent. In fact, legal risks were of a more personal nature - for example, giving someone a lift who may be in possession of cannabis or travelling in a car which did not have an MOT - and this required awareness and vigilance on my behalf.


Having considered the risks and prepared the ground for informed consent, I was on my way to carry out my field work. I had originally been offered the use of a spare caravan but my hosts had decided that, having only a gas heater installed, it would not be warm or comfortable enough in the cold snap they were experiencing in mid-December. I was thus given a space within the two static caravans which had been joined together to make the family home. This space was a small room, about ten foot square, which was lined with book shelves and housed the family’s computer, and a blanket had been placed across the doorway to afford me some privacy.


I wanted to begin with a focus group in an effort to draw some themes from the Travellers themselves. In this way I hoped to reduce ‘researcher control’ and “enable focus group participants to follow their own agendas, and to develop the themes most important to them” (Wilkinson, 2004:181). After some procrastination, based on fears which I was relieved to find were common to ethnographic researchers (see Wintrob, 1969, cited in Hammersley & Atkinson, 1995:114), I went ahead with the focus group on my third evening. I had managed to gather four of the people who lived on the site and a local man who was visiting his girlfriend on site and lived in a caravan on some nearby farmland. Despite feeling that I hadn’t facilitated the discussion very well, the focus group provided some excellent themes and subsequently proved to be the cornerstone of my data analysis.


As I continued to engage with daily life on the site, I was able then to begin some individual interviews. I wanted, of course, to interview people who lived on the site but also other Travellers who lived nearby, either on other sites or in houses. In some cases I was able to pre-arrange an interview, but other interviews were necessarily carried out ‘on the hop’ as it were. This meant that on one occasion I interviewed a Traveller in a cafe and did not even have my recorder with me, and at other times it was only possible to pin someone down on the spur of the moment and conduct the interview amidst whatever else was going on.


Certainly it was challenging at times - conducting an interview whilst looking after the baby for example - but it made for a natural-feeling discussion. Aside from the awkwardness of turning the recorder on, the interviews were very similar to the kind of discussions we often had on site and sometimes it was difficult not to butt in too much with my own stories and experiences. Interviews were unstructured, allowing participants to talk about what seemed important to them with minimal prompting from me.


In total I conducted seven individual interviews, ranging from ten to forty-five minutes. Aside from the focus group, only two of these interviews were with people who currently live on the site, three were with people who were waiting to move onto the site when construction was complete, and the other two were with people who lived nearby but were not moving onto the site - one couple in a house and another on a different site. Although I had planned to interview more of the people currently living at the site, it was surprisingly difficult to pin people down, though this may have been easier in the summer months when there is less work to do and life is lived outdoors much more. It had, however, also been my intention to interview those not living on the site as I was keen to gain a variety of perspectives. All my interviewees were familiar with the site and its history, and most had lived there at some point.


Most of the difficulties I encountered in my field work were connected to my own internal struggles with my role as researcher. I was fortunate to conduct my fieldwork amongst a group of people who were interested in my research and were often supportive and encouraging in lots of different ways.


[1] I did, in fact, get pulled over by the police on one occasion and had the distinct impression that they knew exactly where I was staying and were checking out my details for this reason!





Boredom is the psychological corollary of other stratifying factors specific to the consumer society:  freedom and amplitude of choice, freedom of mobility, ability to cancel space and structure time. Common remedies against boredom are not accessible to those in poverty, while all unusual, irregular, or innovative counter-measures are bound to be classified as illegitimate and bring upon their users the punitive powers of the defenders of law and order.

(Bauman, 1998b:39)


When I first came upon these words by Zygmunt Bauman they struck a chord for me in relation to New Age Travellers. The great ‘gifts’ of consumer society - “freedom and amplitude of choice, freedom of mobility” - are gifts available only to those with the financial resources, with the “ability and willingness” to play the role of consumer (1998b:24). Travellers, like the poor in general, did not have this ability (despite the myth that they are all middle class drop-outs) but differed from the masses in that they also did not have the willingness. They sought freedom but, having neither the ability nor willingness to buy it, their “unusual, irregular or innovative counter-measures” saw them take to the road in coaches, caravans and trucks, bringing upon themselves “the punitive powers of the defenders of law and order”.


Some sweeping generalizations, perhaps, but a fair ‘in-a-nutshell’ representation of the Traveller scene which would be corroborated by any account of their history and lives (see, for example, Dearling & Gubby, 1998; Earle et al, 1994; Lowe & Shaw, 1993). Nearly forty years on and having felt, like other nomadic people before them, the full weight of the law, what now remains of the Traveller scene? My case study centres on a site in the East Midlands. It is not necessarily representative of all surviving sites and Travellers, but it raises some interesting questions. This little scrap of land, an old Gypsy site which had stood derelict for many years, has been home to some of these Travellers for the last eight years. In 2007 the local Council applied for Government funding to develop this as an official site, providing plots for eight families, with amenity blocks and mains electric, in exchange for a small (though as yet undisclosed) amount of rent.


How had this come about and, more importantly, how did the Travellers feel about and enact their lives in relation to these changes? I had expected to find a degree of anger or bitterness, a sense that the Travellers had been deprived of the central tenet of their lifestyle and culture, but this did not seem to be the case. There was no denial of the impact of 1990s legislation :

Dom: It has become harder and harder and harder - big time since the Criminal Justice Bill [sic] - so it has become much harder and we’ve stuck it out, stuck it out, until it’s just become preferable to settle really.

It is telling, however, that the Criminal Justice Act was mentioned on only one other occasion and that other factors were more often cited.


The ability to find and maintain work is one such factor, with the diminishing availability of agricultural work presenting difficulties for sustaining a mobile lifestyle:

Sean: There were a lot more like, y’know, nomadic workers wasn’t there, a lot of people who might go fruit picking in the summer, they might go off in the winter to, er, Spain or somewhere and pick oranges or whatever, whereas now, because things are becoming more automated, the options are far less.

The increasingly Fordist organization of agricultural work has had a knock-on effect, not just on the Travellers’ economy but also on their ability to find park-ups:

Jay: There used to be loads of farms you could go to. If you were lucky you’d get a winter park-up on a farm ... I mean when I first went on the road I used to work all round Hereford and Worcester, and then ten years later all around Kent and all that, Somerset, but then it just got less and less places.

The Travellers found other work, but it was often less conducive to a mobile lifestyle and to some extent it was this which precipitated a need to settle.


In many ways this demonstrates Okely’s (1983) argument that nomadic peoples have always had to adapt to the prevailing economic conditions of the dominant culture because “they can only survive in the context of a larger economy and society” (1983:30). This interdependence with the wider society is also highlighted by Sibley (1981), with reference to Berger’s (1979) Cultures of Progress/Cultures of Survival, which sees this kind of adaptation as a strategy “to ensure cultural survival” (1981:13). A history of adaptation and continuity can perhaps explain their level of acceptance towards settling:

 Stu: I don’t know, things change don’t they, I suppose

Jay: Yeah, I think it’s just evolved into a different thing

After all, if adaptation is, and always has been, necessary for cultural survival, then the only logical response is acceptance.


Another factor in relation to the Travellers’ decision to settle, is the importance placed on the education of their children:

Charlie: It’s mainly for the kids sake, d’you know what I mean, so that you can send them to school

Jay: But that’s it now, I mean most people, it is because the kids are at school and they want their kids to be in school ...


Nick: See, a lot of people that were moving from site to site around the country, having trouble with their kids in school, trying to maintain a decent education for their children and, kind of, we didn’t want that with ours


Kate: [With my eldest child], I moved about all the time, and his education’s beggared, really, because of it

In this respect there is a greater element of choice as opposed to an acceptance of intended or unintended consequences of changes in the dominant culture. Education was an oft-cited reason for settling which, rather uncharitably, I did not take too seriously to begin with. However, I quickly observed a level of commitment and engagement with their children which was striking, and which demonstrates the value placed not just on children but on family in general.


Other factors for settling included the convenience of having a base, if only to be able to come and go freely; the need to have an address in order to continue living on the periphery of the dominant culture; and the desire for a better quality of life than that which is possible under constant threat of eviction. The fact that settling is as much about choice and adaptation as it is about legally-enforced constraints, calls into question whether ‘travelling’ was really such a central tenet of their lifestyle or whether, in fact, this was just one strategy of resistance in the creation of an autonomous community. This may seem like a very bold statement but there is no doubt that my data points towards the notion that other aspects of their culture and lifestyle are (or have become) of prime importance.


An overriding theme amongst all those who were interviewed - whether living on site or not - was the sense of community engendered by site life. The concept of community is a contested one and may be based on geographic location or social networks (Wilson-Doenges, 2000:598). For the Travellers it is both, and their comments may be broadly grouped into a desire to maintain a different spatial organization and a highly valued sense of living with like-minded people who can be relied upon and trusted.


The ‘social network’ sense of community has always been an important feature of the travelling scene:

Nick: If somebody said they were from site then that was it, you automatically had a bond, or you felt there was a bond there that was stronger than a lot of other, certainly more than most other casual acquaintances ... I remember running out of petrol on the way to a festival in convoy and someone I didn’t know just came along and gave us a can of petrol ... there’s a lot more of that kind of camaraderie.

That Nick and his partner so readily invited me - an unknown, fellow traveller - into their home is testament to this automatic bond as, indeed, is my ease of access to do this research in the first place: I had been informed that other, non-traveller researchers had been turned away in the past with some choice words!


The bond continues, then, whether one lives on site or not, but the geographic community of the site means that this bond is lived out on a different scale, as the following discussion highlights:

Dom: [We] still live communally to a degree

Jay: And still outside

Charlie: Still got babysitters (laughter)

Dom: Yeah, people with vans next door to go wooding

Charlie: Yeah, that’s it

Ruth: Yeah, I liked it when Toni called Jay at the supermarket the other day to get Dom some gak, I just thought ‘yeah, I never call my neighbours ...’ (laughter)

Dom: Yeah, right

Ruth: ... I did call a friend of mine the other week cos I was like, I had my dressing gown on, I’d had a bath, and I wanted some fags and I knew that she was out. But it felt like a really odd thing to do

Charlie: No, no - “I need potatoes” or “I’m getting a bag of carrots, d’you want half of ‘em?” ... (laughter)

Dom: We do tend to live in each others’ pockets but it is actually quite handy

Jay: But I mean, that part of it just naturally, you just normally do. I wouldn’t think twice ...

Of course, this kind of communal living can have its downsides and there were fears that, exacerbated by the lack of mobility, this closeness and familiarity could, as the old adage goes, breed contempt.


Nonetheless, there was a clear sense of social community which was highly valued and, further, a sense that this was fostered by the kind of communal living which is encouraged by the geographic community of a site. Whilst some of the Travellers I interviewed were happily settled in houses, most agreed that there were some distinct advantages to living on site. The increased cost of living in a house, one of the major down-sides cited by those who had taken this option, was something the site-dwellers were keen to avoid. Aside from being seen as cheaper and perhaps more ecological, a simple preference for ‘mobile homes’ and for sites was often expressed:

Jay: Towns and streets and that always seem really enclosed to me, and I’ll never be in a position to have a house in the middle of a field, in the middle of some acreage, d’you know what I mean? I just feel comfortable in trailers and trucks, I think. I certainly don’t feel comfortable in houses in towns or, y’know, when you’ve got a house next door - I know you have vans and trucks next door to ya, but it’s just ... when you’re in a street and that, it’s just the whole place seems to hum [with electricity] ... there just always seems to be something on.


What is most telling in Jay’s statement is that he is not necessarily against living in a house per se, but that he would not be able to live in a house under conditions which would be acceptable to him. This is echoed by several other Travellers and relates closely to the geographical community of site:

Sean: We feel that [site]’s a much safer environment than living in a house surrounded by people that you don’t necessarily get on with, or don’t agree with in many respects.

The lack of choice in bricks-and-mortar accommodation is not just imagined, but is a reality that has been experienced by several of the Travellers. Sean’s family had previously been placed in Council accommodation, but left because it was “mouldy and horrible and the kids got sick straight away”. Kate and Jackie, who have six children between them, born and raised on the road, asked the council to provide a site for them when they were threatened with eviction from their current, unauthorised site. They were offered flats instead:

Jackie: We refused the flats and said no because otherwise we’d’ve had to get rid of all pets and, y’know, that wasn’t the kind of situation we wanted. We wanted to stay on site, as a group and y’know, basically I got offered a flat in [one village] and Kate got offered a flat in [a village several miles away].


By remaining on site, by fighting for this right over and above the ‘right to roam’, these Travellers have created a kind of ‘gated community’ - that is, in terms of “a lifestyle choice rather than fear” (Sanchez et al, 2005:282) - or what could be termed an ‘autonomous geography’ (Pickerill & Chatterton, 2006). This concept is used by Pickerill and Chatterton (2006) to discuss ‘alter-globalization movements’ and refers to “spaces where there is a desire to constitute non-capitalist, collective forms of politics, identity and citizenship” (2006:730). Whilst I am not suggesting that Travellers constitute a political movement as such, it is clear from Pickerill and Chatterton’s writing that the “thousands of capable and workable examples [which] exist” (2006:731) also includes the DIY ethos of “free parties and the rave scene, squatting” and the “tactics of ... nomadism” (2006:738).


Travellers do not have an “explicit autonomy agenda” (Pickerill & Chatterton, 2006:734) but nonetheless share many of the same values as the groups discussed, such as

Personal freedom, a mistrust of power and a rejection of hierarchy, and the advocacy of self-management, decentralized and voluntary organization, direct action and radical change (2006:734)

Sean touches on some of these issues when he talks about his decision to continue living on site:

Sean: Accommodation is like so expensive and there are so many things that you don’t really need ... it’s an absolute extortion ... an extra tax on the poorest part of society. Y’know, I’ve learned over the years how to live very cheap and, er, very ecological ... houses just don’t do it for me in that respect. They’re not ecological, you end up having a huge burden, y’know, a huge financial burden and, if you’re renting, you’ve always got the threat of being thrown out.

Travellers sought their own solutions to social problems and there has always been a sense of indignation that their initiative and efforts have been criminalized (Martin, 1998:748). That the Council are going to lease this site to the Travellers, to run as a co-operative venture rather than being warden-controlled, is an exciting, and perhaps unique, instance of the Council’s sensitivity to these beliefs and values.


Autonomous geographies are more than just a set of shared values, however, and there are several other aspects of site life which tally closely with Pickerill and Chatterton’s (2006) concept. Throughout my observations and interviews, the Travellers made constant references to other sites and Travellers, and this highlights the way that autonomous geographies “are not discrete localities, but networked and connected spaces ... where extra-local connections are vital social building blocks” (2006:736). These connections have always been an important factor of site life and, even in the days before mobile phones were widespread, it was astonishing how quickly word could travel: when my daughter was born in 1991, I was amazed that far-flung friends had heard the news within hours!


Shared history and story-telling is also important, and represents something more than just nostalgia:

Collecting, preserving and talking about collective memories of previous struggles across times and spaces is the lifeblood of autonomy, providing sociospatial reference points for projecting autonomous visions into the present and future (Pickerill & Chatterton, 2006:735)

This can be seen in the way that Travellers, on first meeting, will often run through people that they know, sites they’ve lived on and festivals they’ve been to, until they find some common ground. More importantly, perhaps, are the tales of past exploits:

Stu: Late eighties, early nineties, mid nineties, that was the best wa’n’t it, I liked it then. You know, just as mobile phones started working, we used mobile phones to their advantage, like for the festivals and all that (laughs), just caught the authorities on the hop didn’t it

Ruth: Yeah, but I guess it probably couldn’t’ve gone on could it, in a way ...

Stu: No, that couldn’t’ve gone on, no way, no way ...

Ruth: ... it got so big

Stu: Did you go up to Letham?

Ruth: No, no I was never there

Stu: That was pretty good! That won’t happen again, we got chased right out of Scotland ...

Autonomous geographies are in a constant state of creation and the tradition of oral history informs and shapes the present and future.


I do not mean to suggest that life on site - this site or any other - is some kind of perfect utopia. Far from it! There will always be issues to face such as “machismo, limited life-spans, disengagement from local communities, illegality, and ghetto and political lifestyles” (Pickerill & Chatterton, 2006:743), as Sean highlights when he speaks about his experiences on returning to the UK four years ago:

Sean: It was quite a shock really to find out there were so many divisions of travellers ... totally hostile to you because, we’re vegetarian, for example and, er, we met in India, so we’re quite into the Indian culture as well and, er - y’know, not really the religion, as it is, but, um, certainly a lot of the ideas. We found a lot of people being hostile to us because of that, because of being vegetarian, because of, er, not being into, er, the same kind of scene as them.

Nonetheless, there is much here to be celebrated and I find I cannot agree with Berger’s (1979:xi) pessimism about the survival of this ‘peasant culture’. It remains to be seen how the Travellers will ‘manage’ their site once construction is completed and it is officially leased to them, but there is every reason to hope that they will continue to adapt, to ensure their cultural survival at the periphery of the dominant culture, and continue to find a ways to live which are beyond (and yet within) the capitalist system:

Pete: There’s always people that are sitting in houses, narrow minded, they don’t wanna know anything else ... can’t communicate, don’t know the neighbours, don’t know anything ...

Charlie: Just assume ...

Pete: Lock themselves away in their little boxes ...

Dom: There’s a lot of that for sure 

Pete: Whereas we’re nonconformists

Jay: “Bloody anarchists, that’s what they are ... blowing stuff up” (laughter)

Toni: Yeah, anarchists in their ‘03 Mondeos! (laughter)

Jay: Yeah! The revolution’s moved on Toni!

Toni: Mutate and survive!






The research presented here is based on a case study of ‘New Age’ Travellers living in the East Midlands area of the UK. It addresses a shortfall in the academic literature by looking at what has become of these Travellers since the introduction of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act in 1994. Much was written at this time concerning the possible implications of the Act as it affected Travellers of all kinds, amid general recognition that it would effectively outlaw a nomadic way of life. Despite the apparent ‘disappearance’ from the public and academic conscience, Traveller groups continue to live out a semi-nomadic existence on the periphery of the dominant culture.


My concern has been to discover how Travellers have adapted to legislative and other changes and how, and in what form, they have been able to retain their way of life. Despite many similarities between different ‘groupings’ of Travellers - Gypsies, Irish Travellers, Showmen, etc - it has been necessary to focus on one group. The media label ‘New Age’ Travellers has served as convenient shorthand to differentiate a particular group that emerged in the 1970s with their own distinct (counter) culture. That this culture is at odds with the dominant culture is not unique to these Travellers, since all Travellers share a very different spatial and social organization, but it is arguably more politically motivated to some degree.


Mobility is inherently political and, whether or not New Age Travellers were making a political statement through their mobility, this can clearly be seen in the legislation which has seriously curtailed the Travellers’ mobility. In light of this, my ontological approach is one of ‘critical realism’ whereby the Travellers are seen to be negotiating their existence within the constraints of oppressive structures. Thus, their ‘resistance’ is not necessarily an explicitly political act, or collection of acts, but rather the result of coming into conflict with these structures as they attempt to live out their lives on a daily basis.


The day to day negotiation of their lives was what I set out to uncover through ethnographic methods of participant observation and unstructured interviews. As an ex-Traveller, I ran the risk of producing an overly favourable, biased account but have attempted to combat this by foregrounding my own biography in the form of an auto-ethnography. In this way I have been able to make explicit, as well as make use of, a ‘situated knowledge’ which is common to all researchers to some degree, but is often obscured in the results of social research.


Whether my familiarity with the culture, and with many of the Travellers, actually facilitated or hindered the fieldwork is a moot point but, if nothing else, it granted me access to a group of Travellers on a level which could have taken months to achieve as a complete outsider. At the same time, I did not consider myself to be a complete insider either and I make no claims towards any authentic ‘truth’ as a result of my (partial) insider status. Equally, as a case study of one particular group at one particular time, my research is not necessarily generalizable to all Travellers. That said, I have been able to draw some theoretical concepts from my data which may be usefully applicable to other Travellers and which represents, at the very least, another small piece of a complex puzzle.


The most surprising finding from my data is the suggestion that mobility is not necessarily the defining feature of the Travellers’ culture. This may not always have been the case and, equally, it has long been recognized that an individual may still be defined as ‘a Traveller’ even if they have settled permanently. Nonetheless, I am suggesting here that ‘mobility’ for New Age Travellers was simply one strategy in the creation of something larger: an ‘autonomous geography’. In this way mobility represents a means to an end, rather than the commonsense assumption that it is an end in itself.


As the Travellers’ freedom of mobility has gradually been eroded, they have been able to accept these changes and continue to live their lives on their own terms. The Travellers involved in this study do not appear to be ‘bitter’ or ‘defeated’, on the contrary they are positive and productive. They have negotiated a new space for themselves in which to enact their lives in opposition to the dominant culture. As we have seen, this is not an independent culture but one which can best be described as peripheral. In many ways the physical location of the site - neither urban nor rural - is a physical manifestation of their peripheral culture.


I had hoped to say more about this physical location since the urban/rural dichotomy has been widely discussed in the literature. Before embarking on my fieldwork I had hypothesized that the site’s location - not only in terms of its urban/rural position, but also the history and culture of this particular (urban) area - would have been a major factor in the Travellers’ success at settling here. In the event, this was not something which emerged in my data, particularly as the research was ‘led’ by the Travellers themselves, yet it remains a potentially fruitful avenue of study.


What emerged instead was a clear sense of the importance of community to these Travellers, both in terms of the geographical community of the site and the social network of this site and others. Equally, there was very much an element of preference for the spatial organization of a site as opposed to that of houses and streets. The Travellers did not want to live under conventional arrangements and were well aware that they would not be able to live in a way that would be acceptable to them if they did conform to convention. Living in caravans and vehicles was the only way they could avoid the confines of urban life and was considered to be more economical and more ecological.


All of these factors pointed towards the importance of maintaining site life over and above the importance of mobility. This led me to the concept of ‘autonomous geographies’ - a term coined by Jenny Pickerill and Paul Chatterton (2006) in their discussion of ‘alter-globalization movements’. Autonomous geographies describes the spaces created by these groups in which to live out a different social organization than that of capitalism. That is to say, a non-hierarchical, solidaristic and co-operative community which is both place and praxis. The concept of autonomous geographies provides a tool to consider these alternative spaces as valid experiments in the creation of “a more socially, environmentally and ethically just future” (2006:743).


The Traveller’s lifestyle is just such an ‘experiment’ and has changed and adapted as necessary. Mobility provided an opportunity to pursue an alternative economic existence based on seasonal farm-work and other temporary or mobile occupations. Festivals provided further opportunities for economic independence, acting as a marketplace for skills and handicrafts which were bought, bartered and exchanged. As festivals and mobility became increasingly difficult, the Travellers adopted different strategies for the continuation of an autonomous existence. To begin with this involved strategies of ‘invisibility’ or, at the very least, a lesser obtrusiveness. However, with the criminalization of the nomadic way of life, the Travellers have opted to preserve the autonomous geographies of site life through the principles of adaptation and continuity.


Whilst proposals for permanent sites continue to be vehemently opposed, this tends to be localized and provincial rather than the national public outcry which preceded the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. This suggests that it was, above all, the Travellers’ mobility which instilled such fear in the sedentary population. Furthermore it appears that it is the ‘unknown’ quality of nomadic groups - and the misrepresentations which follow - that is so fearful, since this and other permanent sites have become more or less ‘accepted’ once they are ‘known’.


An autonomous geography will always threaten the established order, since it challenges that order by its very existence. However, it is possible for Travellers to retain their autonomous and peripheral lifestyle without the strategy of mobility, and to thus live in greater harmony with the settled population. If greater tolerance could be shown to proposals for permanent sites, it may be possible to learn something from the Travellers’ experiment in alternative living. Not least of this is the Travellers’ economical solution to the current housing crisis, which should be embraced rather than condemned. Above all though, this research has demonstrated the Travellers’ adaptation to changes in the larger society, maintaining their autonomous geographies and providing a workable example to all who seek an existence beyond the confines of the dominant, capitalist culture.





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