Sovereign Power and State of Exception

As citizens of this country or any other country, we are subject to the rules and regulations of that country. These rules and regulations are what we agree to follow in order to be citizens of a country, it is somewhat like a contract that we enter into with the government in order to receive protection in exchange for things like, paying taxes, serving your country in war, being part of a jury, and obeying the laws of the country. We as Canadian citizens are fortunate enough to live under the protection of the charter of rights, however there are some individuals who are living in this country that are not citizens or considered “homo sacer” and therefore are not offered any of the rights that protect citizens. These individuals have not gained citizen statues and consist of migrants, refugees, and illegal immigrants. The government my also attempt to use it s powers to deport these individuals and use its powers to make that happens, however, these individuals are not helpless in these situations.

There are certain ways that individuals are able to exercise forms of resistance against the government in events such as deportation, for example, migrants may get rid of documents that are used as identification. By getting rid of these documents, these migrants make it more difficult for the government to carry out its deportation acts since the act of deporting an individual requires proper identifying documents. The requirement of these documents falls under the international legal order. Other forms of resistance can be: not paying taxes, and not serving the country during times of war.

The act of homo sacer does not simply exist for individuals who are not citizens of a country, citizens can also be stripped of their rights and fall under the status of homo sacer, for example if a citizen commits a crime that result in that persons rights being taken away. Another example of people who had their identities stripped were the Jewish during world war 2. Before being sent to the concentration camps, Jewish men and women were stripped of their legal rights by the government.  This suspension of rights would be referred to as a state of exception.

The state of exception is used by the government as a way to suspend the rights citizens, and gain control until that suspension is lifted. Although the government may claim that it is done for reasons of national safety, one is left to believe that it goes too far in terms of violating the basic human rights of individuals or in extreme cases using it as a tool for unethical practices such as the Nazi regime did. However, with this state of exception there is a great risk of resistance. If certain kinds of individuals or ethnic groups are having their rights violated chances are that these groups will unite and attempt to rectify this in different ways, that could ultimately result in violence.

When trying to address the ability of people to move from the status of homo sacer to a legal status without a decision from the sovereign, one is forced to believe that this is a near impossible task to do. Since it is the government that ultimately determines who is eligible to become a citizen, the chances of an individual who is an illegal immigrant, migrant, or refugee becoming a citizen are extremely low. The government needs to keep track of its citizens, and it does so through various forms of documentation, and in terms of gaining legal status without the decision of the sovereign it just does not seem likely without obtaining the proper documentation and identification. One would argue that without a decision being made from the government, then legal status is difficulty to obtain since it is the government that is responsible for granting and denying legal status, legal status granted from any other entity would simply be a meaningless title.


Ellerman, A (N/A). Undocumented Migrants and Resistance in the State of Exception. University of British Columbia. 1-25. Retrived from

Ownbey, Carolyn (2013) “The Abandonment of Modernity: Bare Life and the Camp in Homo Sacer and Hotel Rwanda,” disClosure: A Journal of Social Theory: Vol. 22, Article 5. Retrived from:

Pavlich, George (2011). Law & Society Redefined. New York: Oxford University Press.


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One response to “Sovereign Power and State of Exception

  1. In your introductory paragraph, you state that:

    “These rules and regulations are what we agree to follow in order to be citizens of a country, it is somewhat like a contract that we enter into with the government in order to receive protection in exchange for things like, paying taxes, serving your country in war, being part of a jury, and obeying the laws of the country.”

    This suggests that adherence to the rules (or contract) is a necessary condition for citizenship. I’m not sure that this is the best way to present the relationship between citizens and the state. Violating laws can lead to sanctions imposed by the state – but these violations do not technically translate into a revocation of citizenship. It might be better to describe rules and regulations as applying to persons (citizens and non-citizens) in a given jurisdiction.

    Agamben makes a point of distinguishing between the legal status of prisons / prisoners and the legal status of detention centres / detainees. Prisons are embedded in a legal framework, and prisoners retain some rights (though these rights are routinely violated). By contrast, a ‘camp’ is a zone of exceptionality, and the detainees of a camp are not able to make effective claims based on rights.

    In terms of resistance, your observation that destroying one’s identifying documents could be a means of resisting the state of exception is fascinating – and well worth thinking about further. Butler and others have noted that contemporary states of exception emerge in a context of governmentality, and governmental power is based in part on population surveillance and the management of identity. For some, obtaining identity documents is a means of claiming legal status. For others, though, the elimination of one’s ‘data double’ may function as a meaningful form of resistance.