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Taking liberty's: Suffragettes and the public sphere: 1905-1914

Parkins, Wendy (1996) Taking liberty's: Suffragettes and the public sphere: 1905-1914. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis examines women's bodies in public spaces, as represented in texts produced by and about British suffragettes active in the militant campaign for women's enfranchisement (1905- 14). The texts under discussion here include suffragette fiction, autobiography, history and journalism.

This thesis argues that these suffragette representations, in which the specificities of women's bodies are central, constitute not only a contestation of the political domain but a reconfiguration of the public sphere. Drawing on the work of Jurgen Habermas and recent feminist critiques of liberal political theory, it is further argued that the emphasis on bodily performance in suffragette tactics implicitly critiqued the grounding assumptions of the modern liberal state such as the privileging of disembodied reason.

This thesis also proposes that, concomitant with this refiguring of the political domain, the performative tactics of the suffragette campaign constructed a distinctive suffragette subjectivity. Drawing on the notion of Michel Foucault that subjectivity is located in specific discursive practices, it is argued that the suffragette performances of dissent need to be understood as acts of self-formation by suffragettes. Through a range of practices where the emphasis was consistently on political agency and bodily specificity (from fashion and processions to arson and hunger-striking), suffragette protest constituted the women as subjects within "the sphere of political communication" (Habermas 1989 8). In suffragette texts, it will be seen, representations of protesting suffragette bodies are central to this construction of a suffragette subjectivity, but are also sites of struggle, as the issue of whether this subjectivity is located in peformance or interiority is explored.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Humanities
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): McGuire, Ann
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