The Escape?

As talked about in class, and as well from the handout received in class, Agamben creates his idea of a camp (Larsen, 2013). This camp being more of a metaphor in modern times, and not an actual confined space. Our world could be looked at as a macro style camp, being subjected to sovereign power. It is possible for people in today’s society to leave this camp? How would one leave? Is it as simple as leaving the country? Or would that only put you into the camp of a different nation?

One way to leave the camp appears to be the Freeman-on-the-land movement. These people “believe that all statute law is contractual. They further believe that law only governs them if they choose or consent to be governed. By implication, they believe that, by not consenting, they hold themselves independent of government jurisdiction” (Law Society of BC, 2012). Essential, these people are rejecting the sovereign power of the state, and removing themselves from the control of it, and therefore, the metaphor of the camp. As the class handout says (Larsen, 2013), Carl Schmitt says that “sovereign is he who decides on the exception.” These Freemen are therefore deciding on their own exception, and in this sense, acting as the sovereign power for themselves, effectively escaping the camp of the traditional sovereign.

On the flip side, is it possible for someone to go from homo sacer to ‘legal’ status? I don’t want to give a definitive no, but a highly unlikely, especially with some of the examples that are to follow. Two examples of people unable to move from the outcast status to the inside are people undergoing an indefinite detention, as well as many Indian child prostitutes as described by Dr. Ross Pink of Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Sociology department.

Firstly, look at the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay. These people are non legal subjects. They have no rights, no escape back to the legal world. Prisoners taken their by the US government are not even on US soil, so they lack any US constitutional rights, and are therefore, held in a legal type of limbo (Mohamoud, 2011). Prisoners here, fit into what Pavlich has to say about the bandit: “they live within the law, but as outlaws, as neither ‘man nor beast. These subjects are both banned and abandoned by law as excluded entities; they are named by law as outlaws, and treated accordingly” (Pavlich, 2011, pg158).

Child prostitutes working in brothels can be put in the category of outlaw as well. These girls have no means to enter back into a legitimate legal realm. As was described by Dr. Pink, these girls are abducted, or even sold at a very young age to the brothel owners. These owners hold the amount paid for the girls as a debt to be paid for by the girls. They also have to pay for room and board while staying/being held against their will at these brothels. The total owed keeps rising everyday, making these girls unable to ever repay. Now, these girls have had sovereign power applied to them, but not in the normal sense by a government, but by an illegitimate business owner. These owners are deciding on the exceptions applied to these girls, making them disappear from the legal world, unable to re-enter under their own will.

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Canada: Oxford University Press.

Law Society of BC. (2012). The Freeman-on-the-land Movement. Retrieved November 29th, 2013 from

Nasro Mohamoud. (2011). State of Exception, Bio-Political power, Homo Sacer: Camps Sovereign and Indefinite Detention. Retrieved November 29th from


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One response to “The Escape?

  1. Your discussion of the Freemen on the Land movement is interesting. The whole idea lends itself to analysis using Agamben and other theorists of sovereign power. Pavlich’s comments about ‘contested sovereignties’ are particularly applicable, as the movement is grounded in an assertion that members are ‘sovereign citizens’ as opposed to legal subjects within a sovereign state. However, I am not sure about your conclusion that the Freemen are ‘deciding’ or ‘escaping the camp’. It is worth noting that their attempts to assert sovereignty and withdraw from state controls are consistently unsuccessful (though they do create quite a mess in the legal system). Schmitt’s observation about sovereignty being exemplified by the authority and capacity to decide on exceptions is instructive – anyone can attempt to decide on an exception, but sovereign power is associated with the ability to decide and ‘make it so’.