From Suffragists to Refugees: Prison Hunger Strikes and the Fight for Government Accountability

The hunger strike reveals the ultimate contest between the state and the prisoner, that of life and death. What the hunger strike does is bring death into uneasy proximity to the living. Death on hunger strike is rare. It is greatly feared, it is anticipated, but it is not the common outcome.

Lecture Description

Women fighting for the vote and free speech, Japanese Americans protesting detention with charge, conscientious objectors challenging racial segregation and refugees from Haiti, Guatemala and India protesting their indefinite detention have all wielded the hunger strike across the 20th and 21st century. This presentation grapples with what it means to go the edge of human endurance for one’s cause and conscience. What compels the use of this last resort personal power? How is the hidden protest communicated across prison barricades? Why does the physicians’ response compound the crisis aggravating the crisis of government accountability and spotlight the hazards to prisoner care and dignity? Taking seriously the decision-making of hunger strikes, the presentation revolves around a core of moral, practical, and political questions that hunger strikers raise and investigating what it takes to resist and oppose state power.


Crime, Violence, Incarceration Human Rights

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