Starving strikers and the limits of the “humanitarian discovery of hunger” in late Victorian Britain

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    By the late nineteenth century, the hungry increasingly found themselves constructed as objects of compassion. However, there were real limits to the “humanitarian discovery of hunger”. Not every famished body was understood as deserving of sympathy. Compassionate citizens were particularly troubled by the mass distress that often accompanied lengthy strikes. How should they respond to such hunger? A study of newspaper representations of strike-induced hunger reveals that a gendered discourse evolved which repeatedly concentrated attention on the starving “innocents”: the wives and children of male strikers. The discourse was apparently apolitical but, in truth, it was nothing of the sort. It adjudged the “innocents” worthy recipients of food aid, whilst frequently ignoring the hunger of the striking male and denying him support. Labour leaders had to choose their words carefully if they were to get his suffering recognized.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)103 - 131
    Number of pages28
    JournalInternational Review of Social History
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2011


    • hunger (representations of)
    • labour history
    • strikes and industrial disputes


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