Self-inflicted suffering as protest
Research on self-immolation poses a new theoretical puzzle: why do protesters inflict costs on themselves? That defies the logic of bargaining, exemplified by strikes and sit-ins, which is to inflict costs on recalcitrant opponents. This paradoxical phenomenon—what I call 'communicative suffering'—has escaped the attention of scholars of social movements. When Costs Are Benefits (under review) explains why it can be rational to seek arrest, welcome police brutality, march long distances, and even kill oneself. I argue that suffering can become a source of power by signalling commitment or deprivation, by evoking anger or guilt, or by creating what I call 'second-order injustice.'
To investigate this further, I have embarked on a new research project on hunger strikes in Britain and Ireland in the early twentieth century ...
Michael Biggs, Department of Sociology, University of Oxford