Sovereign Power and Counter-Law

Agamben’s theorization of the camp summarizes the theory of normalized exceptionality by looking at the sovereign power of juridico-political space and the Nazi Camps. He describes  those who are separated from the law and lose everything as a legal subject are no longer seen as a political subject thus, cannot commit a crime or can have crimes being committed against them. He illustrates that a state of exception is a relationship between the sovereign power, life and “the state of exception exists as a potentially underpinning all relations between individuals and the state” (Larsen, 2012). The Nazi camp, as Agamben discusses is the state of exception and people in the camps lost a since of status and are branded as an ideal type to the sovereign power in which explains how it is no longer a crime to kill these people. Those people are seen as having a bare life and Agamben describes this metaphor as the biopolitical paradigm.

Agamben’s theorization of the camp differs from the theorization presented by Larsen and Piché in that they institutionalized the state of exception and focus on the sovereign power and the law authorizing these powers. They try to answer the question of how modern sovereign power can change official mandates of authority and law and how Agamben missed the issue of governmentality. Larsen and Piché answer those questions by looking at the blurred mandates and laws created by the authority and state in which the power is disordered between the two. The Kingston Immigration holding centre (KIHC) by Larsen and Piché describes how a prison was created to hold prisoners on “security certificates” under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act  and depriving innocent people from their rights (Larsen, 2012). Larsen points out 2 key points on KIHC, first how some prisoners released from the prison are still under conditional release and how the prison is seen as exceptional from of detention in Canada (Larsen, 2012).

My thoughts on the KIHC are that the conditions and purpose of the prison is very similar to Guantanamo Bay.     Both prisons violate human rights and the detained prisoners are in prison without evidence of law breaking or criminality. As discussed by Larsen, 2013, the prisons have been used to primarily detain Muslim men. Before reading this article by Larsen, I wonder why the media had not been paying attention to the KIHC and the security certificates allowing innocent people being detained.


Kingston Immigration Holding Centre Closes, Legacy Remains (Prism Magazine)

Larsen, M. (2012). Larsen: Exceptional State, Pragmatic Bureaucracy. (Class handout)


1 Comment

Filed under Musing

One response to “Sovereign Power and Counter-Law

  1. You note that the security certificate mechanism deprives innocent people of their rights.

    This is certainly a claim that can be supported, but I think that it misses out on what is really going on with certificates and other forms of counter-law.

    The notion of innocence (as in ‘innocent people’) is tied to the principles of justice and due process associated with traditional criminal law. This approach to law seeks to deter, detect, prosecute, and sanction unlawful behaviors. But counter-law is concerned with what Ericson (2007) refers to as “the criminalization of the merely suspicious”, and with precautionary, pre-emptive action. Concepts like legal guilt and innocence are anachronisms from the perspective of counter-law – leftovers from a previous legal framework.

    So, while you note that the subjects are security certificates are technically innocent (in that they have not been charged, tried, convicted, or sentenced of legal wrongdoing), it would be more accurate – and more troubling – to say that the certificate mechanism does not operate within a paradigm of guilt and innocence.

    I am not sure that the conditions or the purpose of KIHC are comparable to Guantanamo. Both are intelligible as manifestations of the camp or spaces of indefinite detention, but they really differ in the details.