social banditry

social banditry

a form of individual or group lawlessness and robbery in which those concerned are not regarded as simply criminals by public opinion.

A bandit, according to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, is ‘one who is proscribed or outlawed; hence, a lawless desperate marauder’. But Hobsbawm (1969) has drawn a sharp distinction between criminal outlaws and social bandits. He claims that social banditry flourished in precapitalist agrarian societies. In these societies it was a primitive type of social protest by peasants against oppression and exploitation. The rural poor regarded social bandits as class heroes and as avengers of social injustice who robbed the rich to give to the poor. In return the bandits expected protection and support.

However, Hobsbawm's notion of the social bandit and the heroic claims made on its behalf have come in for criticism by Blok (1974). On the basis of his research in western Sicily, Blok argues that, far from being a simple form of peasant protest, banditry can just as easily be manipulated by ruling groups in order to extend their power. He rejects the concept of social banditry as being rooted in myth and legend.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
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