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2004 | 2 | 58-76

Article title

The construction of the ethnic identity of 'successful' Gypsies/Travellers in England


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The aim of this study is to explore the pattern of ethnic identity of those Gypsies/Travellers who achieved more than others and to show whether there is some evidence of double binding identity in their life. Special attention is given to Gypsy/Traveller's ethnic identity, whether they have to balance two cultures (Gypsy/Traveller culture and the culture of the mainstream society) and develop a double-binding identity, sometimes referred to as bi-culturalism. As our sampling frame consists of two types of interviewee (university students and people in professional occupation on the one hand and political leaders and activists in the Gypsy/Traveller movements on the other) we also pose the question of whether there is a crucial difference regarding ethnic identity/double binding between the two groups. Pre-assumptions: these 'successful' Gypsies/Travellers can be regarded as members of the minority elite. As they are in daily contact with the mainstream, they get to know the cultural values and norms of the majority culture. So as to be accepted by them, they have to adapt their behaviour to the requirements of the majority society, which implies the internalisation of some of its norms and values as well. This can be a pull factor towards acculturation or in extreme cases, towards assimilation. As a result of the internalisation process, they might have a double binding identity: arising from their level of education or their achieved position they are bound to the mainstream society as well as to their community. It was found that the assumption of double binding identity is sound. The interviewees also have strategies to preserve an 'umbilical cord' with their ethnic roots. The study confirms Silvermann's findings that the target group also uses the non-Gypsy culture as 'a rich storehouse' from which they can adapt some elements to their life in order to survive. Although at the level of self-description the interviewees express a tight commitment to their ethnic roots, at the level of behaviour, norms and values their loyalty is not so apparent. These findings allow us to conclude that the interviewees slightly move towards assimilation, especially Gypsy/Traveller professionals. In the group of Gypsy/Traveller leaders and activists, a more intensive resistance is observable against the 'temptation' of the mainstream society. The accommodation of the professionals to the majority culture is beset with problems: the process of balancing culture is accompanied by a feeling of imbalance.






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  • K. Toth, no address given, contact ther journal editor


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