Loïc Wacquant’s ‘Ghetto’ and Ethnic Minority Segregation in the UK: The Neglected Case of Gypsy‐Travellers


This article utilizes Loïc Wacquant’s concept of the ghetto as an analytical tool in understanding the marginal and ambivalent position of Gypsy‐Traveller populations resident on sites (or camps) in Britain. The article argues that the fruitful work of quantitative urban scholars on ethnic segregation in the UK has neglected Gypsy‐Travellers. It suggests that the theoretical concept of the ghetto can elucidate the ways in which the spatial marginality of sites serves as a weapon of ‘confinement and control’ for the dominant, and an ‘integrative and protective device’ for the stigmatized Gypsy‐Traveller population. Drawing on qualitative empirical data, key characteristics in Wacquant’s definition of the ghetto are shown to hold true for Gypsy‐Traveller sites; these include ethnic homogeneity, spatial confinement, shared cultural identity, mutual distancing and a retreat into the private sphere of the family. This comparison also reveals key differences in terms of economic function, parallel institutionalism and the relationship with the state. The article points to the potential offered by Wacquant’s theory and suggests that the dismissal of the ghetto concept within the UK ignores its power as a tool of comparison. The article suggests that qualitative and theoretical approaches should seek to complement the work of quantitative social scientists through focusing on everyday social relations and encounters between ethnic minority groups and ‘host’ populations — both within and outwith residential boundaries. It also questions the urban‐centred focus of debates on ethnic segregation.