The politics of hunger

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

Author: Carl J. Griffin

In the age of Malthus and the workhouse when the threat of famine and absolute biological want had supposedly been lifted from the peoples of England, hunger remained a potent political force – and problem. Yet hunger has been marginalised as an object of study by scholars of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century England: studies are either framed through famine or left to historians of early modern England. The politics of hunger represents the first systematic attempt to think through the ways in which hunger persisted as something both feared and felt, as vital to public policy innovations, and as central to the emergence of new techniques of governing and disciplining populations. Beyond analysing the languages of hunger that informed food riots, other popular protests and popular politics, the study goes on to consider how hunger was made and measured in Speenhamland-style ‘hunger’ payments and workhouse dietaries, and used in the making and disciplining of the poor as racial subjects. Conceptually rich yet empirically grounded, the study draws together work on popular protest, popular politics, the old and new poor laws, Malthus and theories of population, race, biopolitics and the colonial making of famine, as well as reframing debates in social and economic history, historical geography and famine studies more generally. Complex and yet written in an accessible style, The politics of hunger will be relevant to anyone with an interest in the histories of protest, poverty and policy: specialists, students and general readers alike.

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‘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
June 2020

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