|Abstract as per original application
During the long nineteenth century, two developments occurred simultaneously. First, the British Empire dramatically expanded across the globe. Second, the structure of British law and governance was dramatically reformed, across many areas. While both of these developments have been widely observed, their close interrelationship has not been adequately explored to date. My research aims to address this shortcoming.
In particular, my past and ongoing research focuses on the evolution of public order laws and institutions in Britain and the British Empire over the course of the long nineteenth century. Work I have already done has explored the manner in which colonial legality evolved out of emergency law regimes, leading to the incorporation of various aspects of exceptional legality into everyday legal contexts (Roberts, 2019), as well as the manner in which the repressive tools of the British state expanded dramatically in response to progressive activism in the late eighteenth century (Roberts, 2020). Currently, I am exploring the manner in which approaches to public order governance developed between 1800 and 1900 in Britain, including through the development of a more modern, professionalized police service, as well as through new laws governing and penalizing ‘vagrancy’ and similar categories.
My proposed new project will build on this past work. In particular, the aim of the project is to explore the manner in which the vagrancy law model that developed in England was exported to the British colonial world, how the model changed over time, and how developments in the colonial context reflected back on experiences in Britain in turn. In that context, the research will explore the implementation of vagrancy laws in the Caribbean and Mauritius, Ceylon, Ireland, India, the Cape Colony, the Straits Settlements, the East African Protectorate, Northern Nigeria, and Hong Kong. As well as examining similarities and differences amongst these laws, their aims and modes of enforcement, and the manner in which approaches to ‘vagrancy' evolved over time, the research will also consider the connections between those laws and the development of key public order institutions, including the police in particular, as well as exploring the different ideologies relied upon to justify those laws. Ultimately, the aim is both to produce scholarship that will reframe debates about the nature of public order law and the role of the colonial experience in the shaping of that law, as well as to contribute to contemporary efforts towards progressive legal reform.