The Relationship between Migration and Criminality in Marseille, 1825-1880

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Cissie Fairchilds


France, Rural-to-urban migration, Customary norms, Rural communities, Uprooting theory, Socio-economic status

Subject Categories



Since the nineteenth century many social commentators in both America and Europe have held that migrants from the countryside to the cities commit a disproportionate share of crimes because they have escaped the close collective surveillance of individual behavior and strict enforcement of customary norms associated with small, tight-knit rural communities. A quantitative analysis of court records from one fast-growing and industrializing city, Marseille from 1825 to 1880, shows that this "uprooting" theory of crime in part held true. In general, migrants committed a disproportionate share of crimes in the city, just as they did in the rest of France.

But our statistics also show that the relationship between migration and criminality was far more complex than the traditional proponents of the "uprooting" theory of crime would have us believe. For one thing, there were often sharp differentials in the crime rates and patterns of criminality of different provincial and national groups in nineteenth century Marseille. In this respect, the most crucial factor was type of migration, not migration per se. Those groups of migrants (like the Corsicans and the Provencaux) who were most characterized by stability of employment and residence, and who came to the city more because of the opportunities it offered them than because of desperate poverty in their home regions, did not have abnormally high crime rates. Conversely, those groups (like the Italians and the people from the French Alps) who came to the city primarily because of "push" rather than "pull", who were nomadic in their residential patterns and who gravitated towards the lowliest and most unstable trades, had high crime rates. Moreover, the "uprooting" theory of crime can not explain why certain migrant groups were prominent in only certain categories of crime (e.g. property crimes, white collar crimes, violent crimes, etc.). In such cases, the most important factors were the group's socio-economic circumstances and its own criminal traditions. Therefore our crime statistics have shown that the relationship between migration and criminality in nineteenth century Marseille was very complex and many-sided, and can not be explained by any monocausal theory.


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