Food riots and the languages of hunger
in The politics of hunger
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Rather than questioning the nutritional deficiencies of subsistence protestors or asking what hungry people do, this chapter asks how hunger as an idea, a discourse, was mobilised by poor and the rulers of Britain alike. Hunger, it suggests, was a constant spectral presence, something mortally feared by the poor who wondered how they might feed their families and by the rich as the possible trigger for disorder and sedition. This complex interplay – much like E.P. Thompson’s ‘moral economy’ – was understood by both sides. The poor mobilised the fear of hunger as likely to have mortal consequences not only for themselves but also for the rich in threatening letters and as threats made during food riots; the rulers of local communities acted preemptively in the emergence of relief funds and in developing new forms of surveillance.

The politics of hunger

Protest, poverty and policy in England, c. 1750–c. 1850

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