Gypsy Intermediaries Guide the Stranger: Bringing Reciprocity, Some Misunderstanding, but Protection from Outsiders

Judith Okely


An independent Gypsy and policy project inspired unexpected controversy from both the Research Centre and State. Committed to ethnographic long-term fieldwork, the anthropologist eventually succeeded in living on Gypsy sites. She was guided by key individuals- here recalled, celebrated and contextualized. These Associates were all literate in a then largely non-literate culture. As intermediaries, they could point to specific challenges across the cultural divide. The future author, wherever possible, hoped to reciprocate their gifts of knowledge and know-how. Select readings of early “Gypsiologists” and pioneering anthropologists proved insightful. Countering populist stereotypes in the dominant majority society, all the Gypsies encountered in fieldwork were protectors of that young woman. This was in contrast to a few maverick outsiders, invariably from other disciplines, who seemingly resented a female intruder on “their” territory and specialism.

EDITORS' NOTE: This is a revised version of the paper following a minor editorial redaction dated 20/06/2017. 


Controversy; fieldwork; ethnography; associates; outsiders

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