Mean fields : New Age Travellers, the English countryside and Thatcherism
High crime rates and disorder are often thought typical of vagrant groups. But is this because of their greater criminal activity and propensity for anarchy, or is it because their marginal position makes them vulnerable to selective processing by the authorities. Differences which can be readily observed are important in the examination of a group's alleged deviance, and often lead to their being held responsible for social ills. Such folk devils are characteristic of many societies, and those who most effectively fill the role are often among most culturally remote from the ideals of the group holding power. This thesis is concerned with the so-called New Age Travellers, and examines how between 1984 and 1994 they filled the role of folk devils in Britain. Their differing behaviour, practices, appearance and mobility were in opposition to the ideals of the Thatcher government, and their high visibility and ease of identification assisted their processing and labelling as deviants. By publicly vilifying them, the government could justify harsh measures against them, and order was seen to be maintained. The locus of most Traveller incidents in the countryside of the southern England, a bedrock of conservative values, intensified pressure on the primary site of the ideals of Thatcherism and its conception of England. The type and extent of measures taken against the Travellers is shown to be related to the 'authoritarian populism' of the Thatcher government. The Travellers were a heterogeneous group, and their composition evolved steadily during the research period, yet they remained among the most marginal, powerless and least able to mobilise popular support in society. But despite the frequent hardships, being 'on the road' was found to provide a functional alternative to previously existing circumstances, and offered the potential for change in the lives of those concerned.