Racial and Social Dimensions of Antiziganism

The Representation of "Gypsies" in Political Theory

  • Laura Soréna Tittel
Keywords: antiziganism, history of ideas, Kant, Marx, police work, racism


Within antiziganism research, the usage of the term “gypsy” is subject of an ongoing debate. Especially in the context of police work, historians suggest that until the 1920s the image of “gypsies” mainly referred to a social status, whereas today the image is highly racialized. This article challenges the idea of a strict separation of the social and racial dimensions and takes a closer look at the different argumentations of how to rule the interrelated groups of “gypsies” and “vagabonds” in the history of ideas. For this reason, it examines Kant’s statements on “gypsies” in the context of his problematic race theory as well as Marx’s treatment of vagabondage as a social issue, arising with the beginning of manufacturing. With this, the article connects two major discourses in political theory and the history of ideas, one on barbarism/civilization and another on poverty, with the topic of antiziganism and explores the connection of an antiziganist racialization with socioeconomic structures. Moreover, it examines the empirical side of antiziganism in the context of policing until the eighteenth century, looking at English and German legislative sources, and provides an outlook on the underlying social and racial argumentation in current debates on so-called ‘poverty migration’.