Wandering men? Mobility among convicted vagrants in Belgium (1870-1914/30)

Rik Vercammen, Anne Winter

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This paper investigates the mobility patterns of men convicted for vagrancy
in Belgium between 1870-1914/30 on the basis of a representative sample of
851 prisoners’ files from the Belgian State Benevolent Colonies. By demonstrating
the existence of various degrees of mobility in our sample, we
question the oft-made equation between vagrancy and mobility. The vague
legal definition of vagrancy left ample room for different interpretations
according to distinct preoccupations, from urban authorities removing local
‘nuisances’ to destitute men presenting themselves at the gates of the
Colonies. Rather than a direct reflection of growing numbers of ‘wandering
men’, therefore, the burgeoning vagrancy convictions in the Belle Epoque
appear to have served as a passe-partout in complex responses to the
challenges and vulnerabilities of the time’s ‘social question’.
Translated title of the contributionWandering men? Mobility among convicted vagrants in Belgium (1870-1914/30)
Original languageDutch
Pages (from-to)51-75
Number of pages25
JournalTijdschrift voor Sociale en Economische Geschiedenis
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • vagrancy
  • Social Policy
  • Migration History


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