The biopolitics of hunger
Malthus, Hodge and the racialisation of the poor
in The politics of hunger
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The conclusion from Malthus’ claim that Speenhamland-style payments encouraged the poor to procreate without regard for who would shoulder the cost of supporting their offspring was clear: when denied a guaranteed access to food they would no longer populate without regard for their condition. Denied the basis of anything beyond subsistence, the poor would do no more than exist. The idea was coded in the New Poor Law workhouse dietaries, exemplars of a wider shift of what Foucault labelled biopolitics, ‘new’ techniques in government that as their primary political strategy sought to administer the biological features of the human species. This chapter explores the genealogy of these intellectual and ideological understandings of bodily need and hunger. In so doing, it argues that this emergence was informed by, and a counterpart to, the racialisation of ‘the poor’, the process whereby working people, especially agricultural workers, were conceived and referred to as a distinct and decidedly animalistic race. By conceiving of the poor as a separate race, New Poor Law administrators and others were given moral consent to control the bodies of claimants, to experiment with forms of bodily control and the negation of individual agency in the making of new subjects.

The politics of hunger

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

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