The Conworldology of Vagrancy

Discussions about constructed worlds, cultures and any topics related to constructed societies.
Post Reply
User avatar
Torco
sinic
sinic
Posts: 279
Joined: 14 Oct 2010 08:36

The Conworldology of Vagrancy

Post by Torco »

so homelessness, huh? we have a lot of feelings about it, that's for sure, but when you're aiming for a naturalistic conworld we don't want to just import random stuff from your own culture into it without thinking about it, we call those nooblangs when it comes to naturalistic conlangs. So if you think about it, homelessness is a pretty natural thing: it's actually the default state of humans, since homes aren't a part of our bodies or anything. Sure, humans have built homes since about half a million years ago, apparently, but it's easy to imagine we were doing it before and we've just not found any examples: wood doesn't keep that long. Anyway, sure, homes are old, but the human animal doesn't typically spend its entire life down in once place: people travel. and besides, sometimes your house burns down, or someone owns it and says you kicks you out, or maybe you just live in some way that's transhumant: maybe you have a herd of animals you need to have graze around, or maybe you're good at something that people don't need that often, like building buildings even! throughout history, we should logically expect these factors to entail that there's always been people who, for some or all of their lives, don't have homes.

And to be honest why should they? tents work relatively well as shelters, and can be moved around conveniently if needed: almost any human culture that's decently technically is going to have the ability to build a tent, even if they don't need to: in many of the world's climates there are seasons where you can just sleep outside, if you blanket up decently. Plus a decent vehicle can work as a shelter, and the only technology you need is two-by-fours -any plank, really- and nails and the wheel, which isn't thaaat much of a stretch. Hell, there's even recreational homelessness, it's called camping. I've done it, it's fun -for a while. your conworld probably has people who sleep wherever they can whether you know it or you don't.

So if homelessness is so natural, and such an integral part of the human experience, why is it almost universally illegal? that's the interesting sociological question about homelessness, isn't it? almost everywhere it's actually illegal to just -be there-: very specifically, to sleep. This, daresay, is not unrelated to the fact that when people are sleeping, they're not working. In sociology there are very few more or less agreed upon truths, and sociologists for some reason don't like to point them out to laypeople as "facts of sociology" or "laws of history" or such, but for all intents and purposes are, i.e. anyone knowledgeable in the field of the sociology, anthropology or history of vagrancy would know that they're true. I would know, I went to university for social science: By this small introduction let me introduce a one of those pseudo-laws (or mistaken doctrines, as it were): the prohibition of homelessness appears and is probably caused by the existence of widespread institutional systems of social control. In our current society, that role is fulfilled by capitalism, and it is obviously in the interest of capitalism -and it's steward class, the capitalist- that vagrancy be forbidden: private property is based on the idea that you can just own a place, whether you live there or you don't, and that if you do you can, among other thing, kick people out: but even in public places such as streets or parks it interferes with people working, and work is a lot of the portion of human action that the system can capture, work is one of the things that keeps capitalism (and any other system of control: feudalism, slavery, inca-style labour levies, whatever) functioning.

so your conworld probably has vagrancy laws: I wouldn't say it's impossible for an advanced civilization to not criminalize homelessness, but if an advanced society doesn't have vagrancy laws it's probably because it a) provides temporary homes for *all* people who are homeless, be it because of poverty, travel or other reasons people are homeless or b) deploys enormous violence against homeless people, such that they're dead or have to flee to neighbouring regions, which is a going to be a whole thing, or c) is just tolerant of vagrancy, such that people don't think it's a big deal to have random folks just sleeping -and eventually settling- random bits of space in populated areas. the question is what do the people in your conworld do when there are strangers around and night falls.

It's also interesting to think, when coming up with cultures, about these things: after all, functionally, this is one of the problems a civilization has to solve: just like we like to think about agriculture as a technology of food production (which it is), not just as a traditional thing people do (which it also is), it's fecund to give a whirl to how a conculture would deal with this, in that it gives one a lot of ideas about what the rest of the culture is like too: what's the underbelly of a society like is as part of it as what the lords and nobles and warriors and priests do and say -i.e. politics and religion, two things conworlders definitely devote a lot of time to. it can give a lot of realism to a culture too.

for example, I have a culture called the Pianar, they're like iron-age agriculturalists expanding into a vast area previously inhabited by a large diversity of people groups: they're 'primitive' and that might suggest that they can just deal with homelessness by sending them into an uninhabited piece of land, but in reality population densities are generally what they are for good reasons, and so there aren't a lot of free bits of land around that no one has claimed or used: they're not extremely hierarchical, in the sense that there's no vast tracts of land owned by aristocrats so that they can play golf or anything but almost everywhere that's decently productive is controlled by a small bunch of families, a clan, and they aren't into having random people just setting up shop in their turf.

one way they deal with this is hospitality traditions: it turns a vagrant into a guest, which is an appealing role to the stranger, but it also imposes very specific duties and responsibilities on the part of both parties, and so helps keep things orderly -and provides conventional ways to ask people to leave, as well as specific, not-onerous obligations on the hosts: you don't have to take in every john and susan who comes by.

another is with traditions of vagrancy itself: it is conventional, for example, to wear specific clothing, refrain from when one is moving large distances for specific purposes: vagabonds and migrant workers generally wear white cloaks, which require significant effort to keep clean and well dyed, which various symbols embroidered which indicate their profession. travelers are required by custom to not wear weapons bigger than a small knife, and 'bandits' (i.e. anyone carrying weapons outside their clan's turf, which includes any non-Pianar person trying to hunt) are immediately considered a threat by the locals (as in they'll organize a couple dozen men from the neighbouring clans). this serves to force non-pianar in their territory to assimilate into the economic systems of clans-with-their-turfs, generally in the subservient position of tenants under the tutelage of the clans: of course, sometimes clans break apart when tenants either kill, outlive or subjugate their former overlords, but since tenancy is at the clan's discretion by the time this happens the new bosses just begin calling themselves a clan (or pretend they're the same clan).

I don't know what they'll do when they start having big cities, but they'll probably extend this system of tenancy into a sort of aristocracy where a significant portion of the town will count as tenants or servants of some rich, important family, but this can be a somewhat unstable arrangement: in another of my cultures, the first state was a sort of revolution against a similar type of aristocracy, indeed such aristocracies are common in premodern societies: indeed it established housing laws such that people can request a small plot of land to the governor, a sort of representative of their king-thing, and land, population and agriculture is administered politically: this is not as weird or modern as you might think, a lot of new dynasties in ancient China, for example, began their reigns with extensive land reform: class warfare -while I wouldn't go as far as saying is the *engine* of history- is not a modern concept either.

so how does your conworld deal with strangers when night comes.
User avatar
eldin raigmore
korean
korean
Posts: 5989
Joined: 14 Aug 2010 19:38
Location: SouthEast Michigan

Re: The Conworldology of Vagrancy

Post by eldin raigmore »

Many animals build homes.
Many animals find homes.
Humans who didn’t build homes could find them in e.g. caves etc. They still can and still do.
….
So much for homelessness to be our natural state!
But the rest of your post was good to read.
Salmoneus
MVP
MVP
Posts: 2497
Joined: 19 Sep 2011 19:37

Re: The Conworldology of Vagrancy

Post by Salmoneus »

I think you're conflating some very different phenomena - vagrancy, homelessness, houselessness, transhumance, mendicancy, nomadism. Following cattle does't mean you don't have a home, or even that you don't have a house (just that you don't sleep in the same house all the time).

Historically, 'vagrancy' was never an issue of homelessness, in any case: vagrancy laws didn't criminalise homelessness, they criminalised unemployment. They generally presupposed non-homelessness, because one of the main penalties for vagrancy was being compelled to go to your home - indeed, in the early modern period England had a system to actively physically return vagrants to their homes, across the whole of the country if need be. This is because, in feudal and post-feudal systems, everyone has a home.

Indeed, vagrancy laws developed in Europe exactly as serfdom was in decline, and can be seen as an attempt to maintain the fundamental social system of serfdom even as the more brutal means of direct enforcement were being eliminated. Under serfdom, there is no need for vagrancy laws, because every vagrant by definition is in violation of serfdom laws (which tie you to your home and forbid you from leaving).

Vagrancy - unemployment - was considered a crime for three reasons:
- by leaving your home, you deprived your home community of your labour
- by chosing to be unemployed, you parasitically drained the limited resources of your host community
- by avoiding the bonds of land, employment or family, you effectively put yourself outside of the ability of the state to regulate your behaviour by non-violent means

This idea of unemployment as a criminal act is bizarre in a capitalist context. But we have to remember that in a pre-capitalist context, Europe (like most of the world) was in a continual labour shortage: the limiting factor in production was not the availability of land, but the availability of labour to work it. The assumption was that an extra capable hand at harvest-time would always be welcomed (if you were not a capable hand you wouldn't last long anyway, but there were generally at least theoretical welfare payments to the elderly or evidently disabled, who were considered a different category from vagrants, even when they were houseless and begging). There was therefore great concern that labour would leave the estate, making it unable to produce enough food - a concern for the community, for the landlords, and also for the national government (because the town relied on the food grown in the countryside - if the number living in the town increased while the number working on the farm decreased, it became harder to feed everybody). Hence, serfdom compelled farm workers to stay put. And as formal serfdom was eroded, vagrancy laws were erected as a replacement: now you could leave if you had a job offer elsewhere, but you couldn't leave to speculatively seek other work unless you had the permission of the local lord (this was phrased not as 'permission', but as a sort of testimonial to your virtuousness, but the effect and purpose were the same).


The other thing to bear in mind is that vagrancy was very rare in Europe, prior to the early modern period (other than as a temporary response to a bad famine, of course). In England, it was only in the late elizabethan period that it arose as a persistent problem (when there were said to be several hundred vagrants per shire), and then through the 17th and 18th centuries; it was closely tied to the spread of enclosure. Although enclosure is conceived of as the consolidation of small farm plots into larger ones, it could also be seen as the reduction in the number of people with legal claim to land (from 'almost everyone' to 'hardly anyone'). This meant that people could now genuinely in some cases not live in their home community anymore, which forced them to seek work elsewhere. However, this caused confusion, as everyone was still thought of as having a home to return to. It was only in the 19th century, when migration to the towns (and population growth) were so huge as to totally overwhelm previous ideas of place and identity, that it instead came to be seen as a problem of homelessness. This enabled it to transition from being seen as an immoral choice (which could sometimes be expanded beyond unemployment - 'consorting with prostitutes' was sometimes considered legally a form of vagrancy) to being, first, the product of immoral choices, and then simply as a misfortune. As a result, government responses transitioned from punishment (historically, execution) to forced assistance (labour houses) to voluntary assistance (welfare payments, social housing, etc).
User avatar
Creyeditor
MVP
MVP
Posts: 4436
Joined: 14 Aug 2012 19:32

Re: The Conworldology of Vagrancy

Post by Creyeditor »

Didn't pre-modern wars also cause vagrancy?
Creyeditor
"Thoughts are free."
Produce, Analyze, Manipulate
1 :deu: 2 :eng: 3 :idn: 4 :fra: 4 :esp:
:con: Ook & Omlűt & Nautli languages & Sperenjas
[<3] Papuan languages, Morphophonology, Lexical Semantics [<3]
User avatar
Reyzadren
greek
greek
Posts: 581
Joined: 14 May 2017 10:39
Contact:

Re: The Conworldology of Vagrancy

Post by Reyzadren »

There are no such vagrancy laws in my conworld.

The world is one's home.
Image griuskant thread | Image conlang summary
Salmoneus
MVP
MVP
Posts: 2497
Joined: 19 Sep 2011 19:37

Re: The Conworldology of Vagrancy

Post by Salmoneus »

Creyeditor wrote: 07 Nov 2021 22:48 Didn't pre-modern wars also cause vagrancy?
I suppose they must have done, at least on the small scale - if someone burns down your house and salts your fields, you kind of have to move. But it doesn't seem to have caused any large-scale issues, even during things like the Wars of the Roses or the Hundred Years War.

I think maybe the most important thing to bear in mind here is that for most of history there has simple been no point to turn to vagrancy in anything but the most exceptionally extreme circumstance. For most of history, towns and cities have been small, with few opportunities for employment (mostly government positions or guild-controlled skilled occupations). The economy, meanwhile, was primarily food-focused. If you were so poor that you couldn't buy any food from your family and the friends of your family in a farming village that mostly just made food, then you had no reason to imagine that leaving the food-producing region filled with your friends and family and travelling to a distant town that produced no food, where food prices were in fact generally higher, and where nobody knew you or had any reason to give you any food, would be a better way to find food. I'm sure there were local exceptions - maybe you know the nearby city is building a cathedral and are in the market for some stone-haulers, maybe you know the bishop there has a reputation for charity - but generally towns offered little hope to the impoverished. Which is probably one reason why vagrants were typically assumed to be violent offenders on the run - if you decided the town was a better bet than your own village, you must have done something really bad to have pissed off everybody at home!

I've mentioned above about how Enclosure drove people out of farming villages by breaking their ties to the land (a push factor), but it's also probably important to see the development of vagrancy as in part a result of towns starting to flourish in their own right (a pull factor). It's only as food surpluses grow and more and more relatively low-skilled jobs are created in towns - and as an urban middle class develops that is capable of charity (because again, if you're a mediaeval peasant looking for a rich person to give you money, you go beg on the doorstep of the local manor, you don't go to a town, where nobody has any money to spare) - that the idea of towns as a potential improvement for the rural poor develops, and you get vagrancy...

[the other thing I'd say is that pre-modern war was often very small-scale. Armies were small, kind of like small slugs crawling across very large gunnera leaves - they could leave a devastating track of destruction, sometimes, but it was only a small line on a very large canvass. And indeed, often armies didn't even do that much damage - they wanted to maintain public support not only for political reasons but because a bunch of farmers could actually be enough to defeat a small royal army.*]



*there's a nice account in the memoirs of Commyne, talking about Edward's invasion of France/Burgundy. The amy was intimidatingly large and his rivals didn't dare give battle... but his army continually bled men because every night the stragglers would be murdered by the local peasantry and their corpses left in the ditches lining the roads. There's a real sense in Commynes that royal and military affairs are just going on on the surface, and fundamentally are a minor irritation to the farmers whose fields the battles happen in. There's also a real sense of the nobility being absolutely terrified of the public turning on them. Civil wars hinge on the who the citizens of Paris, or London, happen to let in the gates, and every so often such-and-such a town has an uprising where the local nobility, or the king's ambassadors, are just suddenly lynched one day and their corpses literally eaten by the local burghers as a show of unrest. At one point the Duke of Burgundy and the King of France attempt to have a peace treaty, but instead both parties are nearly murdered in the same night by some random townsfolk...
User avatar
Torco
sinic
sinic
Posts: 279
Joined: 14 Oct 2010 08:36

Re: The Conworldology of Vagrancy

Post by Torco »

Humans who didn’t build homes could find them in e.g. caves etc. They still can and still do.
….
So much for homelessness to be our natural state!
I mean, sure, in a way, but also: people who live in the way early cave-dwellers lived, for example, would need special legal accomodation under capitalism in order to exist

@Sal: I mean, yeah, true enough on the premodern labor shortage and the function of vagrancy laws as an incentive to work or else, but modern criminalization of homelessness functions much in the same way: it's not illegal to be homeless, for example, if you're always staying in hotels and airbnbs: but this costs money, which you generally don't get if you don't work. unemployment in capitalism may not be outright illegal, but if you're unemployed you don't have money, which means you can't pay rent, which means you're going to have to sleep on the street (simply cause, well, where else), and that is, in many places, either illegal or persecuted anyways: cops will destroy your things, make you move your camp, etcetera. In this sense, it doesn't seem that different.
I think maybe the most important thing to bear in mind here is that for most of history there has simple been no point to turn to vagrancy in anything but the most exceptionally extreme circumstance.
I think this is naive: it suposes, for example, that humans are the kind of perfectly rational utility maximizers economists like to imagine, and this is of course false. It ignores the realities of mental illness, trauma, disability, social maladaption, substance abuse, general marginalization, life crisis, family drama and all sorts of other things that lead people to be homeless now and which probably were common to, say, medieval beggars... and other marginalized premodern people, i guess. Also, I don't think homelessness was a purely urban thing in premodern times either: sure, most accounts of them in documents are in towns or cities but most writing was there too, so there's a bias in sampling, and a lot of stories of scary old men living under bridges in the middle of the countryside, or of a scary magical lady that curses you if you don't give her some alms sound, well, like homeless people I've talked to lmao.
Post Reply