Resistance in the State of Exception

With Homo Sacer and State of Exception, Agamben highlights the sovereign’s power over an individual. In the state of exception, the sovereign has a type of totalitarian power. Pavlich used the War Measures Act as an example. In October 1970, the Canadian Government deployed the army in Quebec seriously restricting the civil rights of the citizens (Pavlich, 2011). This was a direct response to the activities of the FLQ (Front de liberation du Quebec), which included kidnapping British Trade Commissioner James Cross (Pavlich, 2011). Agamben’s notion of the Soverign Power doesn’t seem to completely eliminate the possibility of resistance against the state but there does not seem to be much room for rebellious acts of any kind. Resistance in time of state of exception would be more individualized. Usually when you think of resistance, you immediately think of groups but in a state of exception, it would be the individual. Described as “weapons of the weak”, resistance during this time would be things like sabotage, deception or passive noncompliance (Scott, 1985). Unlike resistance during normal times, resistance during a state of exception would be geared towards achieving short-term goals verses systemic change on a large scale.

I believe that it would be difficult for those who were subject to the Soverigns power to participate in some type of resistance. It would be those who were not of normal staus. Migrants like refugees may be a good example of individuals who may be able to offer some resistance during a time like a state of exception. Resistance is something of rarity. We only see it during times of extreme desperation. Think of recent demonstrations in places like the middle-east. People were made extremely desperate to better their situation to become and form a unified resistance. This is done when the individual or members of the groups have nothing left to lose. With the citizens of a country, a social contract of sorts still remains. You elect a state that makes executive decisions for you. John Lock talks about how with illegal migrants, this is not the case. A social contract like that does not exist, therefore the state-alien relationship operates outside the bounds of the social contract.  How the state gets the citizens to abide but he rules is another thing entirely.

In all, resistance can exist during a State of Exception. You probably will not see it arise in large groups or even among people who don’t have much to lose by not resisting. If it does arise, it will be more individualised and arise in people that are desperate for achieving a short term solution.

Works Cited

Pavlich, G. (2011). Contested Sovereignties, Violence, and Law. In G. Pavlich, Law & Society Redefined (pp. 152-165). Don Mills: Oxford University Press.

Scott, J. C. (1985). Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven, CT, United States of America: Yale University Press.

Locke, J. (1764). Two Treatises of Government. London, UK, A. Millar et al.


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One response to “Resistance in the State of Exception

  1. Interesting post. In terms of the distinction between individualized and organized resistance by those reduced to the status of bare life, it is worth looking into the use of hunger strikes by detainees. Hunger striking – which involves the politicization of the body itself – can be an individual or collective mode of resistance. It is something that we have recently seen in the context of Guantanamo detentions, but it has a long history.