Food for Thought: Making Sense of States of Exception

Promising Justice: The Becoming of Law and Society – Contested Sovereignties, Violence, and Law

This is a two-part lecture. In our first class, we will explore the relationship between sovereign power, law, and states of exception. We will consider the social and political processes associated with the suspension of laws and the declaration of emergencies. Case studies will include the Canadian War Measures Act, the operation of Nazi concentration camps, and the biopolitical – and necropolitical – dimensions of the US response to Hurricane Katrina.

Food for Thought:

This is a multi-part question, intended to facilitate clarification regarding the work of Agamben.

  1. What is the state of exception?
  2. How do states of exception come into being?
  3. What is the legal status of the subjects of a state of exception?

Explain, in your own words (you may draw on additional resources, but I’m looking for clear explanations that reflect understanding). Use examples to illustrate your response.

Note that one of the readings for this week is

Giroux, Henry A. (2006). “Reading Hurricane Katrina: Race, Class, and the Biopolitics of Disposability”, College Literature 33(3): 171-196.

You can find this reading through the Kwantlen e-journal database.

Giroux offers an excellent application of Agamben’s theory, and a compelling discussion of the ‘politics of disposability’. This is a good article to supplement Pavlich’s overview of Agamben.


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