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Starving for change: The hunger strike and nonviolent action, 1906–2004

Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change

ISBN: 978-1-84663-892-3, eISBN: 978-1-84663-893-0

Publication date: 17 December 2008


Hunger strikes have a long history in efforts to achieve social change but scholars have made few comparative, empirical, or theoretical contributions to understanding their dynamics and connections in the social movement and nonviolent action literature. We examine hunger strikes from 1906 to 2004 with a comparative perspective, elaborating on its use as a tactic of nonviolent change. Using data assembled from the New York Times, Keesing's Worldwide Online, and The Economist we analyze how, when, where, and why hunger strikes occur, and by whom they have been utilized to seek change. In general, findings reveal that hunger strikes over the last century have been widespread phenomena that are typically small, brief, and relatively successful tactics against the state. Several themes emerge regarding hunger strikes including their appeal to the powerless and emergence when few political opportunities exist, their significance for third-party mobilization, and the role of emotions in the protest dynamics. Taken together, the power struggle involving the hunger strike is an important example and extension of “political jiu-jitsu” as presented by Sharp (1973).


Scanlan, S.J., Cooper Stoll, L. and Lumm, K. (2008), "Starving for change: The hunger strike and nonviolent action, 1906–2004", Coy, P.G. (Ed.) Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change (Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change, Vol. 28), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 275-323.



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