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Norma Montesino. Photo: Sandra Jeppsson.

Norma Montesino

Senior lecturer | PhD | Reader in Social Work

Norma Montesino. Photo: Sandra Jeppsson.

Zigenarfrågan : Intervention och romantik

The Gypsy Question : Intervention and Romanticism


  • Norma Montesino

Summary, in English

This thesis analyses Swedish gypsy policy between 1880 and 1970, as part of a larger sociopolitical project undertaken by the Swedish authorities to promote social order and stability. During this period, the treatment of marginalized groups was shaped by the same visions and objectives as for the population as a whole. Gypsies in Sweden have been subject to the same regulations for as other poor groups, particularly those for groups without local ties. Established ideas about gypsies are presented in this study as part of a "story" aimed at justifying state intervention. Two theoretical approaches are applied in the thesis. One explains the concepts and mechanisms that draw a dividing line between the members of a group and those outside the group, namely Simmel's idea of "the poor" and "the stranger" and Elias' and Tilly's studies on the reproduction of exclusion. The other draws on Foucault and studies inspired by Foucault, and analyses the same processes from a historical and social perspective. An important conclusion concerns the distinction made between travellers (tattare) and gypsies (zigenare). As reflected in earlier legislation, these terms were used interchangeably until the end of the 19th century. Travellers were those groups that could demonstrate a visible connection with Sweden, while gypsies were newcomers to the country. The status and treatment of travellers was addressed during the first part of the 20th century and coercive measures stipulated by the Vagrancy Law were applied. When the status of gypsies was taken into consideration in the middle of last century, coercion was no longer regarded as necessary or acceptable. Treatment and assistance were new methods to reach groups that previously had been subject to coercive measures. This study demonstrates that the state policy toward gypsies, over time, has been one of both continuity and change. Continuity insofar as groups considered part of the collective are subject to prevailing rules and regulations. Change relates to strategies and practices used to that end. Study of 20th century policy toward gypsies reveals the continuous conflict over the economic responsibility for the costs associated with poor relief. Negotiations between the state and the municipalities led in the 1960s to the state assuming responsibility for the housing of gypsies. This was part of a more general policy toward newly arrived refugees. In documentation of post-war policy, gypsies figure as an important target group for the delivery of social welfare services and were treated the same ways devised to tend to other poor. The explanation of the social situation of gypsies has always been supported by 19th century notions about this group. Those who try to understand the social marginalisation of gypsies do so by pointing to external factors, such as the historical treatment of gypsies, or internal ones, including their resistance to change.


  • School of Social Work

Publishing year





Lund Dissertation in Social Work

Document type



School of Social Work, Lund University


  • Social Work


  • Social changes
  • Gypsy Child
  • Expert Knowledge
  • Intervention
  • Immigrants
  • Undeserving Poor
  • Vagrancy Law
  • Poor Strangers
  • Gypsy Question
  • Gypsies
  • Travellers
  • theory of social work
  • Intervention
  • Sociala förändringar
  • teorier om socialt arbete




  • [unknown] [unknown]


  • ISSN: 1650-3872
  • ISBN: 91-89604-08-3
  • ISRN: LUSADG/SASW-02/1034-SE

Defence date

17 May 2002

Defence time


Defence place

School of Social Work, Lund


  • Charles Westin