Liverpool Law Review

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 49-63

First online:

Biopolitics and Movement: A History of Travellers and the Law

  • Matthew StoneAffiliated withFaculty of Law, Governance and International Relations, London Metropolitan University Email author 

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This article will briefly trace the travellers’ legal position in Britain from their sixteenth century emergence as a tangible (although imprecise) identity until now. It will be argued that although the position of the law has changed considerably in its waning severity, travellers’ legal status continues to be conditioned by enduring and shifting concerns around norms of labour and residence. Moreover, it is overly-simplistic to interpret their changing predicament as simply a more humane and multicultural relaxation of previously Draconian measures. Using Michel Foucault’s writings on discipline and ‘biopolitics’, it will be proposed that those extreme legal sanctions—which during certain periods included the death penalty—have been replaced by a much more nuanced matrix of regulation and control that seeks to assimilate traveller lifestyles into a mainstream understanding of human life and society.


Travellers Foucault Vagrancy acts Planning law Historical context