The ETEMIC perspective - a new way of understanding vulnerability of a Gypsy/Travelling community
Authors: Heaslip, V.
Start date: 23 July 2015
Purpose: 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 nursing 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 paper shall present a PhD research study conducted in the United Kingdom (UK) which sought to address this gap in the evidence base by exploring the lived experience of vulnerability of a Gypsy/Travelling community. Methods: The study consisted of two phases (a breadth phase followed by a depth phase) inspired by the work of Todres and Galvin (2005). The breadth phase included narrative interviews, and the depth phase utilised descriptive phenomenology (Giorgi 2009). Results: The breadth phase identified facets of vulnerability related to about the individual’s experiences of feeling vulnerable related to travelling, health and fear of the future, being an outsider and being part of a cultural group whose identity was under threat. This last facet of vulnerability linked to their experience of being part of a cultural group with threatened cultural identity and heritage was incredibly evocative. As such, it was the phenomenon that was explored further in the second phase (depth phase).
Conclusion: The findings of this study on the lived experience of vulnerability (emic) presents a different perspective on vulnerability than what is already known from the literature (etic). This new knowledge develops our understanding of the concept of vulnerability itself, which in turn can enhance nurses’ professional skills and knowledge when working with people who may be experiencing feeling vulnerable. In addition, this oral presentation will illuminate a light on experiences of vulnerability of Gypsies and Travellers, a largely hidden group within society and presents their voice to be heard alongside the academic discourse. The paper shall conclude by presenting a new, novel theory to understand vulnerability, referred to as “Etemic”; a fusion between the emic and etic. It shall argue 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.