Conference: The “Dangerous Classes” in the Middle East and North Africa

Conference: The “Dangerous Classes” in the Middle East and North Africa

Thursday, 26 January 2017 - 9:30am to 5:30pm
Investcorp Lecture Theatre, St Antony's College

Convened by Stephanie Cronin, Roshan Institute Visiting Research Fellow 
Supported by Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute and the Gerda Henkel Foundation

The concept of the “dangerous classes” was born in mid-nineteenth century Europe and became famous after the publication in 1872 in New York of a book with the same title by the American social reformer Charles Loring Brace. The “dangerous classes,” the lumpenproletariat of Marx and Engels, described all those who had fallen out of the working classes into the lower depths of the new industrial and urban social environments, and survived there by their wits and by various amoral, disreputable or criminal strategies. They included beggars and vagrants, gypsies, pickpockets and burglars, prostitutes and courtesans, discharged soldiers, ex-prisoners, tricksters, drug-dealers; the unemployed or unemployable, indeed every type of the criminal and marginal, and were drawn from among women as well as men, and juveniles as well as adults. Such representatives of the “dangerous classes” were well-represented in literature, notably by Zola, Dickens and Victor Hugo in the nineteenth century and Brecht in the twentieth, and in popular culture of all kinds.

The “dangerous classes,” sometimes barely distinguishable from the new working class recently concentrated in the urban industrial centres, were a constant preoccupation of the emerging bourgeoisie. Fear of both permeated social policy, including among reformers, and was central to the establishment of new methods of control, policing and judicial, and even medical and psychiatric systems. Although the term fell into disuse in the twentieth century West, it is often argued that the concept remains embedded in elite discourses of connections between propertylessness, poverty, immorality, criminality and the “underclass.”

This conference takes as its central theme this notion of the “dangerous classes” and invites abstracts examining its explanatory power when applied to the Middle East and North Africa in the period from around 1800 to the present. Topics include but are not limited to: narratives of the lives of members of the “dangerous classes”; the social conditions in which they emerged; their relationship with “respectable” society and especially with the police; their political inclinations and potential; the attitudes towards them of elites; their role in shaping elite formulations of systems and institutions of discipline and control, legal/judicial, prison/asylum, medical; notions of the biological basis of criminality; their representation in literature and in popular culture. Abstracts which examine both collectivities (eg lutis or baltagiya) as well as individual strategies, and colonial/imperial as well as indigenous discourses and policies are welcome.

Attendance is free – please register to attend here:

For enquiries please contact the convenor, Stephanie Cronin. <>

You can view the conference programme below.