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Bodies at their Limits: Rethinking Political Violence Through Women’s Hunger Strikes



Change log


Mackereth, Kerry 


Hunger strikers operate in a liminal space between the active political subject and the passive object of violence that underpin many theories of political violence. Through a feminist and anti-racist analysis of two women’s hunger strikes in the United Kingdom – the hunger strikes conducted by members of the British suffragette movement between 1909-1914 and the 2018 hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) – this thesis makes three arguments regarding how women’s hunger strikes challenge theories of political violence centred around the liberal humanist subject. First, in response to approaches that frame hunger strikes as a form of political speech, this thesis argues that gender and race shape how the pained body speaks. Second, it insists that an analysis of what the hunger-striking body says must also include an interrogation of what the hunger striking body does. Consequently, this thesis examines the performative qualities of the hunger strikes in the suffragette movement and at Yarl’s Wood, showing how the significance and the effects of these hunger strikes extended beyond their rhetorical effects. Third, this thesis argues that hunger strikes have the potential to undermine the liberal humanist figure at the centre of many theories of political violence. It notes that the suffragettes’ use of hunger strikes in the service of an imperialist political agenda demonstrates how hunger striking in and of itself does not necessarily disrupt this liberal humanist ideal. However, it also contends that the Yarl’s Wood hunger strike shows how hunger striking can challenge the division between the liberal humanist subject and its inhuman ‘others’. Together, these three arguments lay the foundations for rethinking certain concepts of political violence, in particular how political violence produces the human and its inhuman counterparts, and how self-destructive political protests may disrupt this distinction.





Wydra, Harald


Feminism, Political Violence, Race, Hunger Strikes, Prisons, Protest


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Gates Cambridge Foundation