Sovereign Exception: Notes on the Thought of Giorgio Agamben

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Key Concept Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, the first book of his multi-​volume Homo Sacer project, urges a reconsideration of theories of sovereignty as put forward ‘from Hobbes to Rousseau’ (1998: 109). The theory of sovereign power offered by the book is based on the state of exception (as in Schmitt[1]) and the production of a bare, human life caught in the sovereign ban, which constitutes the threshold of the political community. Responding to Foucault’s theory of biopolitics, in which human life becomes the target of the organisational power of the State, Agamben argues that there exists a ‘hidden tie’ between sovereign power and biopolitics, forged in the exceptional basis of State sovereignty. Sovereign Power and Law Sovereign power,…

On Destroying What Destroys You: An Interview with Thomas Nail

Hostis

Thomas Nail is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Denver and author of The Figure of the Migrant (Stanford University Press, 2015) and Returning to Revolution: Deleuze, Guattari, and Zapatismo (Edinburgh University Press, 2012). His publications can be accessed at: udenver​.academia​.edu/​T​h​o​m​a​s​N​ail One may see the aims of Hostis* and feel a tinge of moral discomfort when it begins to ask questions regarding the status of migrants, of refugees, and of exiles,[1] if only for the very reason that there remains some commitment on our part to the idea that to be content with a politics of recognition and a strategy of representation perpetuates the illusion of emancipation when all that can be achieved is Statist inclusion. In other words, once recognition…

The Greeks Deserve Better from Europe

OXI

Greek Prime Minister Alex Tspiras announced a July 5th Referendum on whether Greece should accept the Troika’s final demand that Greece accept additional austerity measures in exchange for further loans. Countering the ‘shock and awe’ tactics of the Troika, the Greek leaders have drawn a ‘red line’ in the sand: democracy, not neoliberal hegemony, will decide whether Greece will accept further austerity or cut loose from a dysfunctional European monetary system that was still born in 1992.[1] As Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis stated: The Eurogroup Meeting of 27th June 2015 will not go down as a proud moment in Europe’s history. Ministers turned down the Greek government’s request that the Greek people should be granted a single week during which to deliver a Yes or No answer…

‘The Republic of Love’

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Almost a month has passed since the verdict of ‘Yes For Love’ was returned in the same-​sex marriage referendum in Ireland. For the people who drove the campaign; for those who canvassed during the hard emotional slog of its last month in particular; for all those who told their stories of hurt, of lives lived in closeted fear and repression in newspapers, on TV, across social media, to family and friends; for the LGBTQ young people who had not before witnessed the extent and depth of homophobia written in to longstanding norms as to what and who constitutes the ‘nation’; for those who had to face the harsh truth of homophobic discursive violence enacted under the guise of ‘democracy’ and ‘balanced…

The In/​determinacy of Human Rights: A Response to O’Connell

Paul O’Connell recently argued that human rights are not a trap for emancipatory and radical projects. They can be productively placed with different discourses like anti-​capitalism, anti-​racism or queer politics, generating productive moments of resistance. He argues against what he calls a ‘monolingual’ idea of struggle where movements can only engage with one discourse at a time. We can escape the dominant rendering found in international human rights law, and instead engage with an ‘emancipatory multilingualism’ where rights are joined with other counter-​hegemonic ideas. Wendy Brown is his foil here: Brown… argue[s] that in light of the renewed vigour of American imperialism, perhaps instead of human rights support for indigenous movements in post-​colonial societies,… other narratives would be more efficacious in resisting the…

Turkey Joins the Purple Wave in Europe: Striving for Democracy Amidst Hostility and Violence

Co-leaders of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP)

The aspirations for greater freedom and democracy with the onset of the Gezi movement in 2013 had given way to despair in the face of increasing state repression and the absence of rule of law, that have by and large suffocated freedom of expression in the country. Indicating a clear move away from democratization efforts towards a form of competitive authoritarianism, many have questioned whether there was any room left for oppositional politics anymore in the Turkish political landscape. In timely fashion, the recent elections have reinvigorated hope and a sense of solidarity for those seeking an alternative future. In what has been considered as the most important elections in recent history, Turkish voters have expressed their discontent with the authoritarian tendencies pursued by…

Big Oil’s Ethical Violence

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International attention has once again turned to the murky record of BP’s oil operations in Colombia. The High Court in London is to hear a case against BP, filed on behalf of Gilberto Torres, a former trade unionist who was kidnapped and tortured by state-​linked paramilitaries in 2002. In a trial in Colombia, the kidnappers said that they took direct orders from pipeline operator Ocensa, in which BP had a 15% stake. They stated that Ocensa paid them an extra $40,000 for the job. Legal cases such as this are vital: they aim to hold corporations to account and to contest systematic impunity. Torres’s London-​based lawyers hope the lawsuit will open the way to hundreds of other cases on behalf of community leaders, activists and…

Human Rights: Contesting the Displacement Thesis

As a general rule, the precise significance of historical shifts, developments or movements can take a long time to reveal themselves. This is no doubt also true for human rights. For good or ill, and in many ways that remains to be seen, the language of human rights has become ubiquitous in moral, philosophical and political discourse over at least the last thirty years. Over this period we can point to instances where the language of human rights has been used to mobilise support for political prisoners, to prevent evictions of shack dwellers and to advance the cause of same sex marriage. By the same token, there are numerous episodes where the language of rights has been used to consolidate corporate power…

Reforming the Welfare State for Saving Capitalism

[Given the recent success of Free Education movements and higher eductaion trades unions in blocking the ‘Teach Higher’ work casualisations proposals at the University of Warwick, we thought the below missive from Wildcat Germany was appropriate grounds for a pause. It’s a little old (1999) but a goody, particularly because it makes clear that the wage is but one side of the of worker’s role in capitalism, the other being that worker’s role in production. The argument runs in part that anti-​casualisation battles, which specifically focus on equal pay for equal work, separate the wage issue from the issue of control of the production process. From the perspective of production ‘casualisation’ is meaningless; what is happening is that labour is being organised in…

Gay Rights in Russia 

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Homosexuality is not a criminal offence in Russia — since 1993. In 1999 it ceased to be regarded as a mental illness. Indeed, Russian history has many famous homosexuals — the poet Alexei Apukhtin; Sergei Diaghilev, the founder of the Ballets Russes; and of course the composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The younger brother of Tsar Alexander III, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich Romanov, was famous for his homosexual exploits while serving as Governor of Moscow from 1891 to 1905. Homosexuality was legalised following the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. But in 1933, under Stalin, Article 121 of the Criminal Code made male homosexuality a crime punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment with hard labour. This anti-​gay law, like the prohibition of abortion at the same time, was strongly supported by…

More than “the icing on the cake”: Can conservative Christians legitimately refuse to create pro-​gay messages?

A Chronicle of England — Marriage of Henry V and Katherine of France

The legal drama over conservative Christian refusal to provide gay people with a printed or iced message has been seen as a political dispute between gay equality, on the one hand, and religious freedom or rights of expression on the other. This post argues for a different approach, focusing on the extent to which religious beliefs provide a legitimate ground for avoiding alienation. That people do work which is destructive, meaningless, insulting or exploitative should be of huge concern. However, equality’s terrain, in terms of the right to discriminate, should not be the one place where problems of alienation are legally and politically accommodated. A baker in Northern Ireland has contravened equality law by refusing to ice a cake with the words: “support gay marriage”.…

Critical Bibliographies: Human Rights

We regularly get requests from students and activists looking for suggested readings on particular topics, so I thought it might be a good idea to supplement our critical concepts page with critical bibliographies on various important subjects for critical legal studies. With Ben Golder, Jessica Whyte and some really helpful crowd-​sourcing from facebook, we have put together a first and entirely partial list of critical human rights books. Apologies for the books that we have missed. Please suggest the (no doubt many) titles that we have forgotten or missed in the comments. At some stage in the future I will revisit the page and consolidate and update, but I’m afraid it wont be very regularly. Finally, if you are interested, there are a few haphazard…

Solidarity, Labour, Law: Between Greece and Europe

Alain Supiot and Emilios Christodoulidis discuss the questions of solidarity and the protection of work in Greece. Emilios Christodoulidis holds the Chair of Jurisprudence at the University of Glasgow. Alain Supiot holds the Chair ‘Etat social et mondialisation: analyse juridique des solidarités’ at the Collège de France. Emilios Christodoulidis* (‘EC’): Alain, thank you for joining me in this discussion over the urgent questions that Greece faces today, with special reference to the questions of solidarity and the protection of work. It is often repeated now that Greece has run out of options and it is painfully clear that in “negotiating” its future with its partners it is running out of road. The EU’s unyielding stance in its collision course with…

I’m a feminist, could that make me an extremist? Yes, according to Theresa May’s new definition

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Unfortunately it is still the case that some people, for whatever reason, are yet to catch onto the monumental importance of feminism. That being said, I’ve found that it’s extremely rare, in the course of serious conversation, to encounter any expectation that I should keep my feminist views to myself. I’ve always chalked this up to the fact that it is one of the principal goals of any self-​professed liberal society to protect the freedom to express such views. Observing Tory tactics with regards to counter-​terrorism in the last few years, however, I’ve begun to feel a bit on edge as a feminist. I know I live in a society where our recently re-​elected Prime Minister has stated that Britain ‘will never give up free speech’. However,…

The Militarization of Care: the Military-​Medical Gaze and the US-​Mexico Border

A view of the US-Mexico border in San Ysidro, California 2008.

The immigration crisis of summer 2014 made national news once more in February of 2015 when a federal judge granted an injunction on behalf of Central American mothers and children which ordered a stoppage to the Obama administration’s policy of detaining women and children refugees as a method of deterrence. The Department of Homeland Security argued that, because such refugees entered the country illegally, such refugees “…have extremely limited, if any, due process rights” in determining their custody and removal. Stating unequivocally that “(T)he Government is mistaken”[1], the court’s opinion held that the detention-​as-​deterrence policy – which includes a mandate for 34,000 beds for immigrant detainees — was “likely unlawful” and caused “irreparable damage”[2] to vulnerable populations who were being “…detained for the sake of sending a message of…

Left Thoughts from Podemos: Fear, Identity and Social change

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A short while ago I spent a week in the United Kingdom, presenting Podemos in various cities, where I was able to discuss matters of major importance to Britain’s political tradition, such as the relation between parties and unions. The debate also got us involved in analysing the link between Podemos and social movements, and, above all, how the spreading and intensity of the crisis influenced the irruption of Podemos. In this context, one of the most repeated ideas was that in UK there had not been the same level of social mobilisation reached as had been achieved in Spain and Greece. They cited the general strikes and demonstrations, and they partly blamed this lack on the fact that the British left — both the Labour…

Why Muslims Can’t Trust the Legal System: The Lutfur Rahman Judgement and Institutional Racism

Richard Mawrey, QC, Deputy High Court Judge

Institutional racism: “The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.” (The Macpherson report, para. 6.34). “Let justice be done though the heavens fall”, Deputy High Court Judge, Richard Mawrey declared as he delivered a recent ruling which voided Lutfur Rahman’s reelection as Mayor of Tower Hamlets on 22 May 2014. Almost 37,000 people voted for Rahman in an election which saw a record turnout. In a 200 page judgement, Mawrey found Rahman guilty of a series of corrupt and illegal practices. But this…

The foodbank dilemma (part 2 of 2)

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Read Part 1 here. A Last Resort While there are endless subtle varieties in the way different foodbanks operate, there is one fundamental similarity in the reasons why people use them. Professor Dowler and her colleagues, in their report to DEFRA, found that people turned to food aid as “a strategy of last resort”, when they have exhausted all other possibilities, including cutting back on food and turning to family and friends. No one I met used a foodbank lightly. Louise had been skipping dinners for months before she went to Coventry Foodbank. She finally attended so she could feed her children during the school holiday. Others displayed the emotional and physical efforts of their visits in a variety of different ways. In Edinburgh,…

The Foodbank Dilemma (part 1 of 2)

A food package, Lucie Stoddart

When I think1 about foodbanks now, more than anything else, I think about Louise.2 Louise was the first person I ever met who talked to me about her experiences of using a foodbank. Six months later, it is still my meeting with Louise I return to time and again. As if making sense of that meeting can somehow help me unravel all the issues that I have wrestled with in the months that have followed, as I have visited foodbanks, talked to the people who run and use them, interviewed food experts, and read books, reports and articles, trying to understand the foodbank phenomenon. I’m having lunch in the Hope Centre Café in Hillfields, a deprived area of North Coventry. The sun is streaming through the glass frontage…