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Title: Access, agency, assimilation : exploring literacy among adult Gypsies and travellers in three authorities in Southern England
Author: McCaffery, Juliet D.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2723 0308
Awarding Body: University of Sussex
Current Institution: University of Sussex
Date of Award: 2012
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This thesis explored Gypsies' and Travellers' perceptions of the value and importance of literacy to themselves and their communities. It examined the political and social factors that affected the extent and availability of literacy provision for adult Gypsies and Travellers and their level of participation. It focused on how Gypsies' and Travellers' levels of literacy impacted on their ability to engage effectively with authority. The research focused on two rural and one urban authority in the South of England but also drew on information from neighbouring authorities and Ireland. A qualitative constructivist epistemology was adopted in which ethnography was the main research tool. The data were collected through in-depth interviews and informal conversations with Gypsies and Travellers, public officials and local politicians, a survey of adult education providers, observation of sundry national and local meetings, participant observation and analysis of the discourse and dialogue of two official forums and data from a variety of sources including television programmes and press reports. The research found that Gypsies and Travellers attached little value to textual literacy, did not view literacy as important to economic success and did not perceive the ability to read and write as contributing to their status or self esteem. Other skills were valued more highly. These attitudes challenge dominant education and development discourses which perceive textual literacy as essential to economic achievement, self esteem and status. The research also highlighted a vacuum in literacy and education policy and provision for adult Gypsies and Travellers who were largely invisible in post-school policy documents, even in those purporting to address equality issues. There was no targeted provision in the three authorities, only a few short term projects elsewhere and little interest among providers. Although mainstream provision was available to Gypsy and Travellers as to all adults, those who wished to learn preferred to teach themselves or be taught by friends and family. The research drew on current theories of discourse, power and control. Primary and secondary Discourses impacted on two areas, the absence of educational opportunities for adult Gypsies and Travellers and on their communicative practices and agency. The lack of targeted literacy provision for Gypsies and Travellers was not accidental but a result of deep seated negative attitudes constructed and maintained through the secondary Discourses of dominant groups and bureaucratic institutions. Interviews and observations revealed that language and discourse was more important to Gypsies and Travellers than the ability to read and write, particularly when communicating privately or publicly with authorities. In these contexts, their own primary discourses, learned through home and community practices, were insufficient. The Gypsies and Travellers who were formally educated and were bi-discoursal were able to operate within secondary institutional Discourses. Though others had life experiences which gave them some understanding of the Discourses of power and bureaucracy, they were not able to communicate or challenge as effectively. The research critiques current models of literacy provision for adults. Though aspects of the models can address specific literacy requirements in specific situations, none of the models including New Literacy Studies and critical literacies, sufficiently address the need to become bi-discoursal or develop the agency to affect decisions controlling their lives. Gypsies and Travellers fear formal education will lead to loss of identity, acculturation and assimilation, but without it they may lose what they seek to preserve. Different communities have different aspirations and face different tensions in different circumstances and each will make decisions accordingly. This research on Gypsies' and Travellers' perceptions and uses of literacy provides new insights into complex tensions and contradictions at both an empirical and theoretical level.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: LC0149 Literacy. Illiteracy ; LC3503 Romanies. Gypsies