Sovereign Power and Counter-Law: Larsen and Piché compared to Agamben

Larsen and Piche’s article explains the exceptional state, pragmatic bureaucracy, and indefinite Detention within Kingston Immigration Holding Center, as compared to Agambens’ theories relating to emergency powers a state has during times of crisis. Agamben focuses on a general version of normalized states of exception, whereas Larsen and Piche focus on specific circumstances which give rise to institutionalized policy and counter-law.

Larsen and Piche in their Canadian Journal of Law and Society article differ from Agamben’s theorization of the idea of “Camp.” Agamben’s “Camp” refers to the imagery of World War II Nazi concentration camps, which is used as a key view point to examine exceptional states.  Agamben tries to analyze the rules of law surrounding the conduct and manner in which persons are maintained within these concentration camps.  Agamben tries to show that how physical nature can be manipulated and laws of unfavorable or unrealistic ideals before can easily change within an instance. The highlight of Agamben’s camp shows that sovereign power can oppose law and create a new environment which tries to justify its own actions. These sorts of sovereign regimes take power and create states of exceptions when in power to counteract laws which they find unnecessary or useless to themselves.

Larsen and Piche focused their research on the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre (KIHC).  Inmates who were placed in KIHC were those who were deemed a threat to national security; these individuals would have security certificates which were only issued to non-citizens. Those who were held under security certificates had lost almost or all of their fundamental rights. This sort of idea relates to that of  Guantanamo Bay, in which persons of high risk to national security would be held with no rights, and no way of being able to defend themselves by having a fair trial. The idea of this exceptional power which denies the basic rights and freedoms to those being held is an example of a government power as a counter law to deny the regulation of law to apply to those being held in these situations.  “While security certificates themselves allow immigration law to be used in place of criminal law in order to facilitate precautionary national-security policy, the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre MOU uses a legal contract to circumvent the correctional and criminal-justice aspects of CSC’s mandate in order to facilitate preventive detention (Larsen and Piché, 2009, p. 210).”

The idea studied by both parties is to examine the law behind the surrounding of how something like the KIHC and Nazi camps were conducted and allowed within. I agree with the nature of the argument due to the fact that it looks deeper into what the root cause that is plaguing the system while trying to gather information on what caused the issue to unfold in this manner.


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One response to “Sovereign Power and Counter-Law: Larsen and Piché compared to Agamben

  1. Good post.

    I would note that both texts – Agamben and our CJLS article – utilize the concept of the camp, and that both are ultimately concerned about the nature and implications of spaces and practices of normalized exceptionality.

    In terms of differences, our article on KIHC is informed by the ideas of Butler (on petty sovereigns) and Ericson (on counter-law, which concerns ‘laws against law’ employed according to a precautionary logic). Where it really differs is in its focus on the intersection of ‘exceptional states’ and existing or ‘normal’ bureaucracies and institutions.