This is a brief introduction to my PhD research “Subjectivity, Political Education, and Resistance: An Oral History of Irish Republican prisoners since 1971” that I recently submitted at the Department of History & Civilization, European University Institute.
This PhD thesis is an oral history project with former Irish Republican prisoners in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. It discusses the relationship between three themes, those of political subjectivity, political education, and collective resistance. Based on extensive life-story interviews with 34 ex-prisoners, I examine the evolution of their subjective understandings of self and identity at the intersection of informal education in the prisons and collective resistance. Using the recent conflict in Ireland as a case study, I provide insight into the role of political prisoners in ending armed conflicts, and into the personal and political development of radical activists during their imprisonment.
Of the many groups supporting the Northern Irish peace process in the 1990s, one of the most remarkable is that of the former inmates of internment camps and prisons. What makes this group so noteworthy is the fact that it was formed of collectives of political prisoners who were almost entirely self-educated. It is this aspect that this PhD thesis focuses on: that is, that due to their self-education the Republican internees and prisoners could influence political developments outside the prisons from within their organisations.
I argue that the key to the process of (political) subjectivity, the becoming of a subject inside and outside the prisons, is political education. It was, namely, the self-organised lectures and debates that formed the subject politically and strengthened the inmates’ identity as ‘Prisoners of War’. This subjectivity enabled them to stage acts of resistance in defence of their developed identity. In other words, the self-awareness gained through self-education of young, politically inexperienced subjects empowered the individual prisoners to resist as a collective in the total institution that was the Irish and British prison system during the Northern Irish conflict. In essence, the aim of this thesis is to analyse the role Republican activists in the internment camps and prisons played, as well as their interaction with the outside Irish Republican movement beyond the high-profile hunger strikes of 1980/81. Consequently, the work contributes to the modern history of Britain and Ireland by throwing light on one of the key factors that facilitated the peace process in the 1990s.
The PhD project is supervised by Laura Lee Downs and Alexander Etkind; additionally, my examination board includes Seán Brady (Birkbeck, University of London) and Robert W. White (IUPUI).