The art of hunger : self-starvation in the Red Army Faction

Leith Passmore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


The founding generation of the Red Army Faction (RAF), a West German terrorist group, spent two frenzied years in the underground followed by five years in prison, culminating with the suicides of the group's leaders in 1976 and 1977. This paper examines the prison hunger strikes of the RAF as structured acts of communication that together with accompanying texts were central to a sustained media campaign run from within prison. It examines the internal and external prison communication networks established to enable the coordination of the strikes as well as the discursive functions of the self-starvation of the RAF members. Within the prison system hunger was constructed as ‘holy’ and ascribed a pseudo-religious function used to support a group identity and maintain an internal group discipline. In the texts produced for publication beyond the prison walls, however, hunger became a central element in the RAF strategy to counter what it saw as a mainstream medicalization of terrorism. This, in turn, was the tool employed to repackage the group's established rhetoric, as self-starvation allowed RAF prisoners to literally embody their long-standing ‘anti-fascism’ and ‘anti-imperialism’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-59
JournalGerman History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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