Experience of vulnerability from a gypsy/travelling perspective: a phenomemological study.
People can experience feeling vulnerable whenever their health or usual function is compromised and can increase when they enter unfamiliar surroundings, situations or relationships. One’s experience of vulnerability can also be heightened through interaction between the individual and the society within which they live. As such, vulnerability is a dynamic concept that crosses the interface between the self and the social world. It is, therefore, a key concept for professional practice; however this complex, elusive phenomenon is ill defined within the literature. Within studies of vulnerability it is the existential (lived) experience (emic perspective) that is the most silent in comparison to normative perspectives (etic perspective). The Gypsy/Travelling community are often normatively identified by researchers and professionals as a vulnerable group due to increased morbidity and mortality (Goward et al. 2006; Parry et al. 2007) as well as their marginalised status within society (Van Cleemput 2007; McCaffery 2009). But this tells little of the experience of feeling vulnerable by the individuals themselves, and yet without their stories and experiences how can professionals ensure that service developments meet their needs. This research addresses this gap in the evidence base by exploring the lived experience of vulnerability of a Gypsy/Travelling community. The study consisted of two phases (a breadth phase followed by a depth phase), after the work of Todres and Galvin (2005). The breadth phase (Phase 1) consisted of narrative interviews with five Gypsies and Travellers exploring times in their lives when they had felt vulnerable. This identified the following: A feeling of vulnerability created by the potential or actual lack of physical travelling experience. Fear of the future and declining physical health. Being an outsider; this experience of vulnerability contained two similar but distinct variants. o Insider identity o Perception of others outside the Gypsy /Travelling community Vulnerability connected to the ambiguities of their historical, cultural and geographical identity. Phase 2 explored the experience of vulnerability related to the ambiguities of their historical, cultural and geographical identity by exploring their experience of being part of a cultural group with threatened cultural identity and heritage. The lived experience of this type of vulnerability was described by 15 participants and descriptive phenomenological analysis (Giorgi 2009) identified six constituents of the phenomenon of vulnerability: Vulnerability due to feeling defined and homogenised in a particular way Vulnerability of feeling pressurised to conform to live a particular way Vulnerability of feeling split in one’s identity Vulnerability due to feeling a loss of one’s heritage Vulnerability of feeling discriminated, persecuted and threatened Vulnerability of powerlessness The findings of this study on the lived experience of vulnerability (emic) present a different perspective to vulnerability than what is already known from the literature (etic). This develops the understanding of the concept of vulnerability itself, which can enhance professional skill and knowledge when working with people who may be experiencing feeling vulnerable. In addition, this thesis illuminates a light on experiences of vulnerability of Gypsies and Travellers, largely hidden within society. This new knowledge of their stories can be used to influence policy as well as statutory services (health, education and social care). Lastly, the thesis proposes a new, novel theory to understand vulnerability, referred to as “Etemic”; a fusion between the emic and etic. It argues that it is only through an appreciation of the Etemic that services can be developed to effectively address the needs of individuals within the Gypsy/Travelling community.