Dr Niall Ó Dochartaigh - NUI Galway and Visiting Research Fellow, Senator George J. Mitchell Institute
Old Staff Common Room, Lanyon Building
The hunger strike is a widely used and frequently successful protest tactic employed by activists across the political spectrum in varying political contexts, in one-party states and authoritarian regimes as well as in liberal democracies. Despite this there is very little sustained analysis of this tactic and we have little understanding of why it is chosen and why it frequently succeeds.
Contrary to the existing literature on hunger strikes which strongly emphasises culture, tradition and emotion, this paper argues that the hunger strike is closely connected to the logics of modernity. The hunger strike allows weak actors to set deadlines for complex bureaucracies that derive much of their power from deferral and delay. It is a particularly concentrated and intense deployment of time pressure in the pursuit of political goals. Time rather than emotion is the key to the power of a hunger strike
This paper analyses the political dynamics of two closely-related hunger strikes by Irish Republican prisoners in 1980 and 1981 in which ten men died, drawing on extensive interviews and primary documentation from both official and private papers. It analyses the temporal dimensions of the hunger strike tactic, focusing on the way in which bargaining moves are intensely concentrated in the final hours. It examines the intertwined temporalities of three crucial aspects of the negotiation process: information, communication and biological processes. The conclusion highlights the distinctive temporal dynamics of hunger strikes, draws out the implications for our understanding of the use of time pressure in political protest more generally and sets out a number of avenues for further research on the use of time pressure to secure the political goals of protestors.
Hunger Strikes Protest Political