Irish Traveller women negotiating home and school environments : identity, space and embodiment
The purpose of this research is to investigate the manner in which Traveller women negotiate different spaces, in particular, the home-school interface within the context of a rapidly changing society. Previous writers (Helleiner 2000; Okely 1983) on Gypsy Traveller women recognised that withdrawal from the workforce into the home place has led to a reduction in Traveller women’s participation in the wider society, and contributes to a decrease in female pollution taboos (Okely 1975). Yet increasing engagement by Traveller women within the educational sector has had a significant impact of the way in which Traveller women’s identity is understood and negotiated both within and between communities. Through a detailed exploration, from a distinctly gendered, cross-generational perspective, this research foregrounds the voices of mothers and daughters from an ethnographic perspective, located in Baile Lucht Siúil in the Republic of Ireland. The key finding from this research is that gender plays the most important role in shaping Traveller identity. By focussing on the disjuncture between the generations, and building on ideas of Okely (1975, 1983) and Gay y Blasco (1997, 1999) the study draws attention to the importance of ritual hygiene practices observed through embodied performances as a way of preserving and maintaining group boundaries that are understood through moral performances located at the site of the body. The changing perceptions of ethnic and national identities are ascribed moral values understood through the unique relationship between Ireland and England. I argue that evidence of familial expectations centre around a performed and enacted morality relating to deportment, behaviour and dress as evidence of female sexuality. This research offers new insights and understandings of Gypsy / Traveller women in Ireland, both by conveying their voices and by providing a context in which they could explore their feelings about their roles in a changing environment.
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