David Briscoe (Trinity College Dublin) and Will Clement (Oxford University)
19th c France, Urban Poverty, Poor Relief
Over the course of the long nineteenth century, both the act of and need for discrimination between legitimate and illegitimate need acquired a new importance within French urban relief systems. A renewed preoccupation with the social utility and political economy of poor relief exacerbated concerns that the negative effects of misdirected aid could be calamitous for poor individuals and society as a whole. Municipal officials and private citizens not only feared encouraging idleness and disincentivising labour through indiscriminate aid, but also undermining the claims of ‘deserving’ poverty by encouraging its fraudulent imitation, thereby paralysing welfare programmes and philanthropic initiatives through what the baron de Gérando termed ‘la crainte de mal donner’. Efforts to assuage these concerns through an intensified scrutiny of both recipients and forms of aid were complicated by the upheavals of the period. The rapid growth in both older cities as well as newer industrial hubs transformed not only the urban fabric but also the spatial framework of social relations. As successive revolutions throughout the century tore apart the fabric of cities -- with barricades blocking streets and the Commune’s seizure and desecration of religious buildings -- these questions about urban inequalities and the role of the state and private individuals in dispensing charity intensified, and the moralising distinction between les classes laborieuses’ and ‘les classes dangereuses’ became more pronounced.
This panel explores the efforts of municipal governments and indigent urban residents to describe this new changing society and establish the reality and legitimacy of socio-economic deprivation. It brings together studies examining the interplay between administrative frameworks and lived experience across a broad chronological and geographic range, facilitating the comparison of these themes across this period. By including the perspective of welfare claimants, this panel also addresses the ways in which these new poverty discourses failed to adequately represent the intersectional nature of deprivation for marginalised groups.
Coquins and Citoyens: Negotiating Community in Petitions for Aid in Revolutionary Bordeaux, 1791-1795
David Briscoe (Trinity College Dublin)
French Revolution, Petitions, Poor relief
This paper charts the moral and conceptual boundaries of community in Revolutionary Bordeaux by means of an analysis of the rhetorical and administrative frameworks through which claims for government aid were made and adjudicated. The nationalisation of poor relief envisaged by successive Revolutionary administrations represented a profound transformation of the organisation and conceptualisation of society. For all that the central government appreciated the need to develop new frameworks of social knowledge to ensure relief could be uniformly regulated across the country as a whole, in practice their local representatives and agents relied on practices of gathering and ordering information about their communities that relied on tacit local knowledge.
To explore the tensions and cross-pollination of Revolutionary and ancien régime ideas of urban community and civic responsibility, this paper draws upon petitions from the first half of the Revolutionary decade, written by or on behalf of a cross section of Bordelais society and addressed to an equally broad range of officials, ranging from municipal officers to representatives on mission. By combining these vivid accounts of poverty with the reports of municipal officials charged with their verification, this paper provides an overview of both the lived experiences of poverty in Revolutionary Bordeaux and the attempts of both officials and claimants to describe the substance and chart the boundaries of community membership.
Public Health and Private Space: the First Housing Inspectors in France, 1850-70
Will Clement (Oxford University)
French Second Republic, Public Health, Housing
On 13 April 1850, the French National Assembly passed landmark legislation that would enable the state, under the auspices of public health, to enter the private dwellings of the poorest in society. This ‘loi sur les logements insalubres’ and the municipal commissions which were formed as a result of it were designed to identify poor quality housing, to uncover the causes behind insalubrity, and to recommend the changes which landlords had to make to avoid their property being rendered legally uninhabitable.
On the surface, this law can be seen as emerging from a mixed context of the limited social welfare programmes of the French Second Republic with the growing influence of early social Catholicism. This law should have placed the state between the helpless poor and the exploitative landlord and thereby solved many of the pressing issues of urban poverty in mid-century France. However, as this paper shall explore, different commissions at the local level were subject to pressure from prominent local landlords, from workers’ failure to report issues, and from their own prejudices about working-class domestic morality. The paper will explore the differing fortunes of two commissions -- in Roubaix and in Lyon -- to reveal how the working-class home was such a crucial spatial nexus for class-relations, moralisation, and the state’s tentative steps towards welfare policies.
Pronatalism’s Peripheries: Housing Poor Women in Early Third Republic Paris, 1880 – 1912
Olivia Cocking (Emory University)
French Third Republic, Public housing, Gendered poverty
This paper examines poor women’s experiences of housing in Paris leading up to and following the 1912 Bonnevay Law, which provided for the creation of municipal subsidized housing (“Habitations à bon marché”) offices. Drawing on the records of philanthropic organizations and Paris’ public housing office, as well as newspapers and periodicals, this paper approaches its subject at the intersection of policy and everyday lived experience. Although urbanization and turn-of-the-century gender relations have each separately received significant attention from historians, they have been discussed together only through a narrow framework. On the whole, this scholarship has not examined how gendered assumptions in the built and policy environments shaped everyday experiences of the city.
This paper argues that poor women’s vulnerability to homelessness—as demonstrated by the demand for women’s shelters—attests to the ways gaps in private, and subsequently public, housing initiatives compounded the effects of women’s limited economic rights. As a result, housing insecurity represented a daily fact of city life for many poor single women. Furthermore, by considering women’s experiences of housing prior to, and following, the creation of municipal housing offices, this paper seeks to identify the role of ideas about gender in Paris’ early housing policy. In so doing, this paper offers an alternative perspective on the claim that early French public welfare legislation created new opportunities for women to make claims on a state which was especially concerned with their well-being.