The Carceral Geography Working Group is delighted to announce the winner of our inaugural Postgraduate Paper Prize:
Lauren Jade Powell: “The Militant Suffragettes and the Politics of Self-Destruction”
Lauren’s paper focuses on the imprisonment, hunger strike and forcible feeding of UK women’s suffrage campaigners during the Edwardian period, employing critical discourse analysis of archival documents to examine the politics of self-destruction and the weaponization of life within carceral space. The paper is based on Lauren’s MRes Dissertation in Geography, at the University of Exeter. She is currently applying for a PhD to continue her research into self-destructive politics and protest within carceral systems.
The selection panel were particularly impressed with Lauren’s conceptualisation of hunger striking as a politics of self-destruction, her analysis of suffragette protest and use of archival sources and engagement with a range of scholarship on corporeal politics, bio-sovereignty, and discipline.
Congratulations to Lauren on an outstanding paper, and to all entrants to the Prize for their insightful, rigorous and engaging research.
You can read Lauren’s paper and abstract below:
This paper, utilising archival documentation, aims to examine the Edwardian women’s suffrage movement (1904-1014), exploring the relationship between the politics of self-destruction (namely hunger strikes) and the weaponization of life within carceral space. It discusses the findings of a critical discourse analysis focusing on digital documents – predominantly, newspaper articles and government/medical reports – found within the ‘Women of the National Archives’ collection. The analysis discusses how modalities of self-destruction (namely hunger strikes) transform and weaponize the corporeal body – predominantly by embodying the principles of martyrdom and self-sacrifice; and through weaponizing the societal ideas of sex hierarchy. Additionally, a theoretical framework – coined bio-sovereignty by Bhat (2019) – is used to examine the ways in which the state, in turn, weaponizes the corporeal body through violence and disciplinary mechanisms within Holloway Prison, in order to delegitimise the women’s suffrage movement. Forcible feeding, as a response to self-destructive politics within carceral landscapes, employs  various modalities of scientific knowledge; and  a biopolitical hierarchisation of populations to justify, and legitimise, both corporeal violence and disciplinary-based mechanisms – serving to preserve the lives of protestors in the name of humanitarian action, while concealing and justifying the inhuman nature of its methods.
This paper concludes that both self-destructive politics (namely hunger strikes) and forcible feeding both weaponize the corporeal body – serving to transfer the power of life and death between various political parties through embodied protest and government response. As such, self-destructive politics (and the weaponization of life) raise future questions regarding political legitimacy – what kind of life is allowed to be political within carceral institutions?
Key words: women’s suffrage movement, carceral geographies, self-destructive politics, hunger strikes, bio- sovereignty, political legitimacy, weaponization of life.