The Organisation of Hunger Strikes and Established-Outsider Relations

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 11:30
Oral Presentation
Stephen VERTIGANS, Robert Gordon University, United Kingdom
Paddy DOLAN, Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland
John CONNOLLY, Dublin City University, Ireland
Hunger strikes have a long history within struggles to address power imbalances and perceived injustices. Over the last 100 years or so, people have become involved from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds ranging from British suffragettes, Gandhi's fasts in South Africa and India, younger generations imprisoned in West Germany and to Palestinians recently protesting political conditions in Israeli jails.

Such organised self-starvation is adopted as a political tactic to try offset the group's asymmetrical relationship with governments and state related agencies. Hunger strikes are intended to raise awareness about issues such as oppression, injustice and prison conditions to try shift power dynamics resulting in increased support for the strikers and growing pressure on governments to concede. That today hunger strikers tend to be associated with prisons is symptomatic of the exaggerated power imbalance that incarceration causes through the removal of individual liberties and the severe restrictions placed upon participating in wider figurations.

In this paper we argue that the likelihood of people becoming involved in hunger strikes and the level of support they arouse will depend in part upon the habitus that group members share and the intensity of we/I identifications and how far they can resonate beyond the prison walls. Through comparing a range of hunger strikes with very different outcomes such as those involving Irish republicans and loyalists associated with the conflict on the island of Ireland, the Red Army Faction in 1970s and 1980s West Germany and contemporary Palestinians, attention is drawn to the discursive influences, levels of collective identification and insecurities that shape established–outsider relations, and attitudes to life and death. Broader social processes are instrumental in the adoption of self-starvation as a tactic, willingness to volunteer and persevere and the likelihood that the strikes will mobilise wider support that help reduce the established–outsider power ratio.