State of Exception – Laws, Rights and Social-History.

States of exception are discussed and how they interact with persons by recreating them as bare life, a mere biological identity rather then a legal one.  Such examples may included internment and concentration camps.  Aside from defining such an area, it is also shown how these states came into existence.  Like the World War, the October Crisis of 1970 and contemporary Guantanamo Bay.  The legal status of the exception people bleeds into the issue.  Like what, if any did they have?  How where they seen?  Received?  Why?

States of exception are exactly as they sound, an exception from the rule.  These can be a mixture of a physical space and/or temporal space.  Meaning that it can be linked to a geographical area like Guantanamo Bay, or just be installed temporarily like internment camps.  In it a person is stripped of their rights as a citizen and re-catalogued as a biological identity.  As Agamben describes it, a person is involved in two spheres.  A biological sphere containing their domestic life and their so aptly named political sphere (Pavlich 2011).  These people there have no rights under the law, although they are people the courts, cannot or will not identify them as being a particular type of person.  Be it citizen, foreigner, etc.  To do such would have to apply rules of interaction and association with them.  Such as citizen, to not be under indefinite dentation, to not be tortured or otherwise abused.

How these states came into existence is mainly through sovereign power and legislation.  As to sovereign power it is the rulers who decide what will be the exception in so far as to when to suspend law and when to create the areas of exception from law.  But mostly it sprouts from necessity.  Marshal Law and War Measures Act are some legal responses to such a perceived  necessity.  During World War II, internment camps. where created for those of enemy descent.  Meaning those who were determined to be of the same heritage of those of which the war was against, like Japanese and German.  Both mobilized the military as an occupying identity, suspended civil rights and the lines between police and the military blur as military authority was enhanced allowing the police to investigate. The mobilization of war production (tanks, military, guns).  By doing this it allowed normalizing means of enforcement in the streets and the rounding up of those believed to be enemy emigrants.  Also allowing guards at doors and public areas, censorship of the media through the rationale of jeopardize of state secrets and home moral (personal communication November 16, 2012, Law and Society Crim 3305).  This is important because by suspending rights and having means of war production on the streets enforces the authority of arresting officers.  Those opposed to this would have little to no recourse depending on their legal status.  Labelling theory also applies here.  By further interacting with a particular group of people it serves to re-enforce the idea that the people they are detaining are criminals.  This helps the public to other the detained people by associating with a criminal element.  By censoring the press the amount of information about the existence and of how they were treated.  Like the scandal with Guantanamo Bay.  Although there is proof of erogenous acts committed this is a publication ban on the remaining pictures that had not been circulated.

Why these states of exception come into being are usually to degrade, isolate and sometimes get rid of a person all together, like a concentration camp.  These camps where created to house, what many saw only as biological identities.  They striped German citizens of any and all legal standing before the courts and created an exception within the camps.  This is usually the case of isolating the person in preparation of doing ‘crime’ to that person.  As the person is stripped of their rights they are not people under the law, they have no standing in law.  This creates a unique space for them.  As they are described as ‘animals’.  Because as animals, they cannot commit crime and inversely crime cannot be committed against them.  For instance, tiger mauls a person.  The tiger is not put on trial for assault.  A person mauls a rights-stripped biological identity, they are not brought against the law, because the person is not recognized under the law.  As to sovereign power involvement, it is they who decide what will be the exception in so far as to when to suspend law and when to create areas of exemption form the law.  As well as how the excepted are dealt with.  But as Prof. Larsen states, “these states of exception are not places of lawlessness”.  No, they are just the opposite.  “Steeped in law” (personal communication November 16, 2012, Law and Society Crim 3305).

States of exception are born out of a perceived necessity, a response to an ‘emergency’ situation.  And are used as a warehouse to store biological identities, those stripped down to bare life.  Inside these areas they are not recognized as people by law and through law.


Pavlich, G. (2011). Michel Foucault: The Power of Law and Society. In Law & society redefined (pp. 136-151). Don Mills, Ont: Oxford University Press.


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One response to “State of Exception – Laws, Rights and Social-History.

  1. Interesting post.
    You write that “But as Prof. Larsen states, “these states of exception are not places of lawlessness”.  No, they are just the opposite.  “Steeped in law” (personal communication November 16, 2012, Law and Society Crim 3305).”
    What does this mean? How does it differ from Agamben’s theorization of the space of the camp? We will review this during this week’s class.