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Rational and emotional tension balances in the organization of political hunger strikes.

Connolly, John; Dolan, Paddy; Vertigans, Stephen


John Connolly

Paddy Dolan


This paper is concerned with the relationship between the organization of political hunger strikes, rational calculations and actions and emotions. Drawing from the theoretical formulations of Norbert Elias, we examine how rational–emotional balances generated by different and intertwined tiers of social integration partly shaped the organization of political hunger strikes. Political hunger strikes are interesting because they tend to involve actions based on rational considerations and emotional charges. The empirical context includes a comparative analysis across space and time involving the organization of political hunger strikes in Ireland and (West) Germany during the 20th century. Our analysis suggests a difference between the rational–emotional tension balance exhibited by hunger strikers of the 1920s and that of hunger strikers of the 1970s and 1980s. We explain how these differences are connected to the broader social structures pertaining at the time. The main contention of the paper is that all forms of political organizing involve rational–emotional balances, and these balances are structured and shaped by social dynamics at different tiers of social integration.


CONNOLLY, J., DOLAN, P. and VERTIGANS, S. 2023. Rational and emotional tension balances in the organization of political hunger strikes. Sociological research online [online], 28(1), pages 3-20. Available from:

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 24, 2021
Online Publication Date Apr 13, 2021
Publication Date Mar 31, 2023
Deposit Date Apr 16, 2021
Publicly Available Date Apr 16, 2021
Journal Sociological Research Online
Print ISSN 1360-7804
Electronic ISSN 1360-7804
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 28
Issue 1
Pages 3-20
Keywords Elias; Emotions; Hunger strikes; Organizing; Rational
Public URL


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