State of exception

A state of exception can be understood as an, increase of power in government in supposed times of crisis. Agamben states that the ruling government body that allows the rule of law to be dismissed imposes a state of exception. This exemption occurs when there is a state of emergency such as a war or political unrest and in some cases when the government wants to impose laws for other means. (e.g., Nazi Laws) Within these times of crisis Agamben addresses how this prolonged state of exception operates to deprive and reject individuals of their citizenship, and individual rights. In a state of exception the government has extended levels of power and authority than the past. With this new level of extended authority there is a blurred distinction between what is legal and illegal, public and private.

States of exception comes into being when there is an increase in government power in supposed times of crisis. In order to enact a state of exemption one person or government must make a case to the public that this has to happen. The citizens of the state are told that this extension of power beyond where the law had existed in the past is vital to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the state and the citizens that reside in it. A Canadian example of a state of exemption being used is the War Measures Act during the October Crisis during 1970 in Quebec. With the enactment of the War Measures Act through the Pubic Orders Regulations citizens were subjected to; being detained or arrested in roundups and publications, media, and photographs were censored and under the control of the government. In a state of exception citizens no longer have individual rights or civil liberties.

The subjects living in a state of exception do not have any legal status, as stated by Agamben they are, seen just as living human beings and not a legal being. Individuals are not only deprived of their citizenship but also denied in making their own decisions regarding their life. Citizens in a state of exception are much like prisoners, the parallel can be seen in both circumstances where someone of a greater authority is regulating their lives. Citizens are told that these changes in power and authority must be made for their own good, although in most circumstances the individual or body of government is exempt from their own laws.


Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.


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One response to “State of exception

  1. Good overview of the points made by Pavlich (2011).

    What do you make of Agamben’s argument that the state of exception has become a paradigm of government?