The politics of hunger

Protest, poverty and policy in England, c. 1750-c. 1840

By Carl J. Griffin

The politics of hunger


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  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-6703-3
  • Pages: 280
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £25.00
  • Published Date: October 2022
  • BIC Category: History, Modern History, Social & cultural history, POLITICAL SCIENCE / History & Theory, HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain, HISTORY / Social History, Poverty & Unemployment, Humanities / Modern history to 20th century: c 1700 to c 1900, Humanities / British & Irish history, Humanities / Social & cultural history


The 1840s witnessed widespread hunger and malnutrition at home and mass starvation in Ireland. And yet the aptly named 'Hungry 40s' came amidst claims that, notwithstanding Malthusian prophecies, absolute biological want had been eliminated in England. The eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were supposedly the period in which the threat of famine lifted for the peoples of England. But hunger remained, in the words of Marx, an 'unremitted pressure'. The politics of hunger offers the first systematic analysis of the ways in which hunger continued to be experienced and feared, both as a lived and constant spectral presence. It also examines how hunger was increasingly used as a disciplining device in new modes of governing the population. Drawing upon a rich archive, this innovative and conceptually-sophisticated study throws new light on how hunger persisted as a political and biological force.


'The Politics of Hunger is a deeply learned and humane book, rich in archival detail and judiciously deployed anecdotes about the real lives of those who faced food scarcity as their primary, quotidian reality. [.] Malthus argued 'a satisfactory history of this kind, of one people, and of one period, would require the constant and minute attention of an observing mind during a long life.' Griffin's is such a mind and The Politics of Hunger is such a book.'
Journal of Historical Geography

Francis Bacon once observed that "rebellions of the belly are the worst." This highly original monograph explores how "hunger politics" operated in the 18th and 19th centuries as a weapon of protest wielded by the undernourished urban and rural populations of England. The fierce suppression of the food rioters of the 1790s led to new forms of protest: incendiarism, cattle maiming, and threatening letters. By 1800 wages had replaced the price of food as the "critical component in working families' living standards." Griffin (Univ. of Sussex, UK) challenges the conventional idea that the "Hungry Forties" witnessed the rediscovery of hunger. Instead, he shows how the "twin discourses" of hunger and starvation survived from 1801 into the 1840s. A close-grained study of broadsides, ballads, letters, and speeches provides the evidence. Griffin also explores the effects of dubious local and national policies, such as the Speenhamland system for supplementing the wages of workers, which led to their impoverishment as farmers underpaid their workers, knowing that public assistance would make up the difference. English theorists reduced the poor to a "distinct and decidedly animalistic race." As Griffin concludes, "hunger defined popular protest and popular politics.'
--D. R. Bisson, Belmont University
Summing Up: Highly recommended.
Reprinted with permission from Choice Reviews. All rights reserved. Copyright by the American Library Association.

'The politics of hunger is a timely and welcome contribution to ongoing debates surrounding food security,
protest, and governmental policy in Britain. [...] This is a pertinent, well-researched, and compassionate
book that should become required reading for students of hunger, protest, politics, and public policy in modern Britain. In every chapter, Griffin combines studious archival research with acute theoretical insights to reveal how the discourses of hunger and starvation became engrained into the fabric of everyday life, governance and resistance. [...] The politics of hunger will stand as a foundational text for a promising vein of future research.'
Leonard Baker, Agricultural History Review

The politics of hunger is a pioneering study that examines the concept of hunger including the ways in which policy makers and the poor constructed meaning about hunger. [.] It provides an excellent foundation for those who want to rethink the history of families and communities through the lens of hunger.'
Family & Community History


Introduction: 'the unremitted pressure': on hunger politics
Part I: Protesting hunger
1 Food riots and the languages of hunger
2The persistence of the discourse of starvation in the protests of the poor
Part II: Hunger policies
3 Measuring need: Speenhamland, hunger and universal pauperism
4 Dietaries and the less eligibility workhouse: or, the making of the poor as biological subjects
Part III: Theorising hunger
5 The biopolitics of hunger: Malthus, Hodge and the racialisation of the poor
6 Telling the hunger of 'distant' others


Carl J. Griffin is Professor in Historical Geography at the University of Sussex

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