April, 2012

Bandit Heroes: Mythical, Social, or Rational?

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Bandits steal from their fellow men. Yet they are regularly subjects of folk songs, novels and movies. In these outlets they are presented as folk heroes despite their crimes. Sociological explanations for this phenomenon based upon Eric Hobsbawm’s concept of the ‘social bandit’ and psychological explanations based upon myth building have been brought forth to explain the seeming contradiction. We propose an alternative explanation for the bandit hero phenomenon. We argue that bandits, acting solely in their own self-interest, unintentionally provide valuable services to societies under the rule of a predatory government. We identify three separate mechanisms by which bandits benefit society that do not necessarily hinge upon class struggles or historical dialectics. The social benefits that bandits generate form the foundation for their positive reception.

Find article at Wiley Online Library.