The state’s deserving vagrants: The ambivalent extension of accommodation support in France (1959)

By Mauricio Aranda

In France, vagrancy and begging were still considered crimes until 1994, in accordance with the Napoleonic Penal Code of 1810. From 1959, however, accommodation support was made available to vagrants judged able to reintegrate into society. They could be housed on a six-month renewable basis in centers managed by community organizations, with the endorsement of the state and local authorities. Despite the expansion of the social state by way of assistance measures, the 1959 legislative revision is noteworthy, since it occurred at the same time as a drastic and continuous fall in the number of convicted vagrants and beggars. This article, supported by evidence from the archives, focuses on how vagrancy came to be viewed as a matter of public concern from the mid-1950s within multiple social spheres (politics, administration, community organizations, and law) and was eventually linked with social assistance on a legal basis on January 7, 1959. The article shows that the major shift from treating vagrancy as a criminal matter to viewing it as a social phenomenon could only be achieved by including a discretionary dimension in social welfare. Thus, this article highlights the mechanisms used by the state to renew the age-old distinction between deserving and undeserving poor in contemporary social policy.

  • vagrants
  • social support
  • reform
  • historical sociology
  • ambivalence
  • 1950s
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