Social Policy and Society

Themed Section Care or Control? Gypsies, Travellers and the State

Introduction Themed Section Care or Control? Gypsies, Travellers and the State

Colin Clarka1

a1 Department of Geography and Sociology, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow

The history of the state, in relation to its ‘dealings’ with Gypsies and Travellers in Britain and Ireland, has not been one worthy of endorsement, praise or special prizes (Hawes and Perez, 1986; Mayall, 1995). Since the emergence of written records detailing the presence of such groups on these Islands (around the fifteenth Century, according to Fraser, 1995: 111–120) a familiar series of tensions has tended to take shape, tensions that are explored by the articles within this themed section and that we might today discuss in terms of core dichotomies, such as ‘integration and assimilation’, ‘inclusion and exclusion’ and, with a social policy focus, ‘care and control’. Indeed, where objective academic analysis has been conducted of the state's enactment of social policy measures in relation to both nomadic and sedentary communities of Gypsies and Travellers a brightly coloured picture reveals itself, illustrating, on the one hand, a desire to ‘help’ (care) for their well-being, safety and security (Parry et al., 2004; Cemlyn, 2006; Mason et al., 2006) whilst, on the other hand, there is also a strong tendency to monitor, classify and regulate (control) their movement, accommodation, work practices and cultural identity (Clark and Greenfields, 2006; Richardson, 2006; James, 2007, forthcoming). No matter what specific area of interest the researcher might have, whether it is accommodation, education or health, the states’ activities regarding the care and control of its Gypsy and Traveller citizens often appears to be confused, shifting between the punitive and restrictive as well as being ill-informed and lacking any kind of joined-up coherent strategy. As we will see, through the articles within this themed section, the tensions between the state and Gypsies and Travellers show little signs of being resolved, although in the last few years there have been (policy) signs and (practice) signals that all parties recognise the fact that current entrenched positions are damaging and unsustainable.