Becoming stronger by becoming weaker: the hunger strike as a mode of doing politics
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Drawing on Judith Butler’s work and a series of studies associated with actor–network theory (ANT), this paper engages with political agency through the concept of performativity. Based on the empirical analysis of a hunger strike that took place in Brussels in 2012 and involved 23 illegal immigrants, we aim to achieve three things. First, we foreground physical bodies as political entities caught up in multiple modes of doing politics. Second, we show how such modes relate to one another, reinforcing citizenship, activism and party politics as specific performances of agency associated with liberal democracy. Finally, we argue that the Brussels hunger strike also challenges these performances by failing to meet certain expectations about what it is to be political/act politically. As the European refugee crisis is generating louder and louder voices, hunger strikes sensitise us to modes of doing that work by becoming passive, silent, weak and vulnerable. Such processes, we suggest, expand the standard repertoire of modes of doing and may refigure our understanding of the interaction between transnational and liberal democratic politics—in International Relations, ANT and beyond.
KeywordsActor–network theory Brussels Hunger strike Modes of doing Performativity Refugee crisis
Earlier versions of this paper were presented at various workshops and conferences in Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London (CRESC), Torun (EASST) and Trier (DGS). We are grateful to the organisers and the participants of those events, as well as Benjamin Braun, Sebastian Schindler and Tobias Wille, the editors of this special issue, and three anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and suggestions. Special thanks to Rita Vanobberghen for her generous help throughout our research.
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