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"Den farliga underklassen": studier i fattigdom och brottslighet i 1800-talets Sverige
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts.
1983 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The thesis analyses the fear of the lower classes which manifests itself in various ways in Swedish society and it examines if it is justified. It gives four different views of the "dangerous lower classes" and illustrates the greatly differing view­points that exist.

At the national level the debate on The social question in literature, the press and the Riksdag is particularly intensive during the 1830's and 1840's. It concerns the great proletarianising and pauperising of the countryside and its' suggested consequences: criminality, vagrancy, begging, drunkenness, immorality, and ignorance.

Then the lower classes "dangerous crimes" are investigated. They consist of the offences of disorderliness and drunkenness. Crimes of violence are infrequent and committed by people from all societys' levels. Property crimes are certainly mainly practised by those in the lower strata, but they are also infrequent and give a clear impression of "crimes of necessity". Neither crimes which are a danger to society nor a revolutionary threat can be perceived.

The three parishes studied in Skåne try to close their borders against unmarried pregnant maids, unmarried mothers, "married farmhands" and those with crimi­nal records. A ban on marriages is also used against poor people. Behind this lies a fear of increased poor law expenditure. Those with power seek to carefully control lifestyles, clothing and the sale and consumption of alcoholic drinks.

Despite entry controls a concentrated poor population, the Slättafolk, arises in one of the parishes. They live at the margin and some of them, at times, resort to illegal methods in order to stay alive. Thus there is no great threat to property. Neither is drunkenness nor immorality prominent.

The analysis gives two different pictures. One occurs in the national debate and partly in the parish records and is a view from above. The lower classes consist of a lower and bad sort of person who must be controlled and discip­lined. Another picture is glimpsed at the micro level. It shows people who live in extreme poverty, sometimes genuine want, but all try, by all possible means, to improve their situation.

The lower class people have a desire for justice and equality and resist oppres­sion. There is potential violence which explodes at times. Knowledge of this causes the upper classes to be afraid of the lower, a fear strengthened by events out in Europe where, in Hobsbawms' phrase "The age of revolution" is current.


Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet , 1983. , 308 p.
Umeå studies in the humanities, ISSN 0345-0155 ; 53
Keyword [en]
Crime, Poverty, Social class, Local Government, Legal system, Social Control
National Category
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-61425ISBN: 91-7174-133-XOAI: diva2:567669
Available from: 2012-11-13 Created: 2012-11-13 Last updated: 2012-11-13Bibliographically approved

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Petersson, Birgit
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