Le vagabondage, ou la police des existences irrégulières et incertaines  : sens et usages d’un délit (France, 1815-1850)

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January 1, 2017

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Pierre Gaume, « Le vagabondage, ou la police des existences irrégulières et incertaines  : sens et usages d’un délit (France, 1815-1850) », Crime, Histoire & Sociétés, ID : 10.4000/chs.1718


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Inscrit dans le Code pénal de 1810, le vagabondage fut un élément important du maintien de l’ordre en France au XIXe siècle. Cet article se propose d’en préciser le sens et les usages entre 1815 et 1850, au lendemain de sa codification. Incriminant l’incapacité à répondre d’un ancrage positif dans la société et l’ordre légal, il fut d’abord le contrepoint de l’effort d’encadrement réglementaire des circulations et des populations pauvres, permettant d’en ressaisir les échappés. Au-delà, le délit ouvrait aussi la voie à une police des existences irrégulières, incertaines, recouvrant un large spectre de comportements et de situations sociales. Cette police devait s’avérer complexe : le degré de suspicion, le contexte politique ou économique, les logiques propres à chaque appareil (police, administration, justice) déterminaient des traitements différenciés, relevant encore très largement de pratiques infra et extrajudiciaires.

In nineteenth-century France, vagrancy constituted a significant aspect of public order maintenance that was written into the Penal Code of 1810. The purpose of this article is to identify the meaning and application of the law between 1815 and 1850, during the first decades when vagrancy was first included in the Penal Code. The legislation on vagrancy, which criminalised the inability to prove stable attachment to a local community and failure to register as required by law, served above all as a matrix of regulations to keep track of moving populations and the poor in order to identify those who remained unregistered. Furthermore, when vagrancy became a misdemeanour, this created great scope for policing individuals who lived in irregular and precarious conditions by intervening against a broad spectrum of behaviours and social situations. Policing the vagrant proved to be highly complex. It included an evaluation of the degree to which an individual should be regarded as suspicious as well as assessment of the general political and economic context. Policing was also shaped by the internal logic of each of the agencies (police, public authorities, and courts) who determined the individualised treatment, sometimes on the basis of the law, but very often also operating according to extra-judicial practices.

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