Sims, B. (2018) “Constituting Self-Violent Resistance: Materiality, Embodiment, and Speech Acts.” Journal of Resistance Studies, Volume 4, Issue 2.

Abstract: Dramatic self-violent acts, such as self-immolations and hunger strikes, often draw attention, but do not interpret or constitute themselves. In this article, theories of embodiment, materiality, and speech acts clarify the constitution of self-violent resistance as a concept for academics and activists. A novel typology is introduced to situate self-imposed suffering among other forms of resistance, such as armed conflict, nonviolent action, and suicide attacks. An original discourse analysis of self-violence across India from 2011-2016 provides empirical examples of the power dynamics involved in constituting self-violent resistance. The analysis reveals how government officials may successfully frame self-violent resistance as personal desperation driven by mental disturbance, and how social movements use the bodies, objects, and physical spaces involved to declare a seemingly personal act as public resistance. This article contributes to the field of resistance studies by moving beyond generalized references to cultural frames in explaining selfviolent resistance, clarifying the contested status of self-violence in relation to the usual violence/nonviolence dichotomy, and demonstrating how theories of embodiment and materiality reveal the differing logics behind self-violent, violent, and nonviolent tactics. Exploring what gets counted as self-violent resistance and who becomes authorized to conduct self-violent resistance is important not only as an exercise in concept formation but also for understanding how individual embodied practices become sites of wider struggle.