Eric Hobsbawm’s thesis of ‘social banditry’ has stimulated a great deal of discussion about the nature of bandit activity. This discussion has shed much light not just upon banditry as a historical problem, but on its capacity to offer wider insights into social structures. This article seeks to contribute to the ongoing discussion by bringing to bear the hitherto largely ignored Scottish evidence. Assessing the origins and nature of Highland banditry in its seventeenth-century ‘heyday’, the article contends that brigandage, in this case, should be understood less as a structural issue and more as a form of individual social marginality. From that basis, the article suggests that banditry, both in Scotland and more generally, can be understood as a ‘stress test’ of the society around it, helping to delineate the boundaries of social acceptability while also shedding light on the way early modern societies handled and accommodated the problem of deviance.
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