The Age of the Crowd in Europe

The nineteenth-century internal mass migrations in Europe created what were seen as the ‘classes dangereuses’, the canaille sans phrase of the nineteenth century (Chevalier 1958). This was the period of pioneering industrialization when even women and children were employed en masse in ‘Satan’s mills’, and Karl Marx’s good friend and comrade, Friedrick Engels (1975 [1845]), could write one of the very first sociological tracts of modernity describing the masses of workers huddled in the filthy, overcrowded, and unsanitary quarters of Manchester. Soon, as we know, the poor Irish men and women who were leaving their land after the potato famine started seeking solace from their condition not only going eastward but also across the Atlantic, in a process which, during the second half of the nineteenth century, would bring millions of Irish people to the United States.

In the last few decades ofthe nineteenth century and in the period just before the First World War, however, two different processes started unravelling in Europe, reinforcing each other. On the one hand, the enormous ‘surplus population’ caused by an ‘industrial revolution’ that swept, one after the other, all European countries, found an outflow in emigration toward Northern and Southern America (especially the largest countries of Southern America, such as Argentina and Brazil). On the other hand, the conditions of the working class started to improve markedly and, together with such conditions, eventually the working class’s capacity for organizing and therefore attaining basic rights (about the length of the working day, the limitations to women’s and children’s work, and so on) grew. Throughout Europe, in country after country, first emigration, then the betterment in material and legal- political conditions led to an improved feeling of security and a reduction in the criminalization processes, developments that, in turn, reduced prison populations. The implications, for some, were clear. Italian criminologist Enrico Ferri (1979 [1884]: 93), for instance, noted that the decrease in the crime rates and imprisonment, first in Ireland and then, after 1881, also in Italy, was due to emigration, which should be listed among those tools of crime prevention that he called ‘penal substitutes’—methods of indirect social defence from crime (Ferri 2009 [1884]: 334-335). His view seems to be borne out in Figure 2, where the data of Italian imprisonment admissions are inversely related to data on emigration from Italy, especially during the main emigration periods, at the beginning of the twentieth century and after the Second World War.

However, if a connection could be established between emigration, general betterment of social conditions especially among the poorest strata of the population, and the decrease in crime and imprisonment rates, an alternative conclusion could also be drawn in Cesare Lombroso’s notation, according to which:

Recent statistics for the United States . . . document high rates of crime in states with large number of immigrants, especially from Italy and Ireland. Out of 49,000 arrests in New York, 32,000 were immigrants . . . Immigrants belong to the human category with the greatest incentives and fewest barriers to committing crime. Compared to the resident

Prison Admission Rates and Emigration Rates in Italy (1881-1965) per 100,000

Fig. 2 Prison Admission Rates and Emigration Rates in Italy (1881-1965) per 100,000

population, newcomers have greater economic need, better developed jargon, and less shame; submitted to less surveillance, they more easily escape arrest. Thieves are almost always nomads. (Lombroso 2006 [1896]-[1897]: 316-317)

Was this indeed the case? Beyond Lombroso’s volatile, temperamental, and absolutely non-politically correct attitude, his was not an isolated position. How was the network of relationships between migratory movements and processes of criminalization taking shape across the Atlantic, in the first country where, at the same time, large-scale migratory processes were taking place together with the early development of a social science deeply interested in ‘explaining’ crime and delinquency?

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >