Gypsy-Traveller Young People and the Spaces of Social Welfare: A Critical Ethnography Robert M. Vanderbeck

  • Robert M. Vanderbeck University of Leeds
Keywords: voluntary sector, age boundaries, institutional geography, dominant norms, assimilation, young people, social welfare


Drawing on more than three years of ethnographic research conducted within one British voluntary sector organisation, this article critically examines the nature of social welfare activities aimed at young people from Gypsy-Traveller communities. In doing so, the article engages and advances wider debates about the nature of the voluntary sector; the contestation of age boundaries and differences; and the institutional geographies of childhood and youth. Previous critical research has often expressed scepticism about the role of social welfare activities as potential tools for the assimilation, sedentarisation, and/or social control of semi-nomadic minorities, with young people often serving as primary targets of these kinds of efforts. To date, however, these discussions have often lacked a strong empirical grounding and have focused primarily on state education to the neglect of other kinds of activities, such as those provided through the voluntary sector. Drawing on evidence from fieldwork within one case study organisation that provided a range of activities and services for young GypsyTravellers, the article explores some of the continuities and discontinuities between discourse and practice within the case study organisation, and traces some of the sometimes uncertain and contradictory ways in which the organisation alternately challenged and reproduced dominant norms and practices. In the concluding section, I argue that binary distinctions between assimilationist/anti-assimilationist or sedentarist/anti-sedentarist do not necessarily capture the complexities of these social welfare contexts, where power relations are often highly entangled and agendas not always straightforwardly enacted.
How to Cite
Vanderbeck, R. (1). Gypsy-Traveller Young People and the Spaces of Social Welfare: A Critical Ethnography Robert M. Vanderbeck. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 8(2), 304-339. Retrieved from