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State of Exception: Nazi Germany and September 11

Food for Thought:
This is a multi-part question, intended to facilitate clarification regarding the work of Agamben.
1. What is the state of exception?
2. How do states of exception come into being?
3. What is the legal status of the subjects of a state of exception?

The state of exception is drawn from earlier work of Carl Schmitt which was called prior the state of emergency. It is based on a higher power that surpasses the rule of law to come to a level of all good for the public and interests. The state of emergency was first used as a way to change people into believing that something is changing for the good. It was also used to take away people’s  human rights and freedoms even though they were supposed to be protected under the constitution. This was implemented for emergencies that were manmade or for during periods of civil uproar (Zartaloudis, 2010). Agamben responded to Carl Schmitt’s state of emergency and discussed the definition of sovereignty as the power to claim the exception (Zartaloudis, 2010).

As stated earlier the state of exception much like the state of emergency was looked at as a way to use government bodies to take full control even when it meant taking over the rights of people (Dickinson, 2011). In addition this government control could even be seen in one person who had the power and authority to rule over all. An example of a state of exception is Nazi Germany when Hitler was in power and Germany’s “Third Reich” (Calarco & DeCaroli, 2007). The elimination of human rights and citizenship from the Jews during the Holocaust was a plan superseded the time before Hitler. The original plan years ago in the early 1900’s were Germany’s plan was to move all the Jews to the island of Madagascar (About, 2012). However, they did not have enough money for the transportation due to the fact that it would take almost 4 years to move all Jews to the island. Thus, because of the lack of money, millions of Jews were exterminated (About, 2012). The sovereign that operated during the time of the holocaust was so powerful that not only were the citizens forced to listen to one being ( that of Hitler), they were stripped of their human rights and eventually sentenced to death because they could not be integrated into the political system (Calarco & DeCaroli, 2007). Agamben also discusses that that while this occurs in the time of crisis, that sometimes this can become a prolonged state of being (Dickinson, 2011). Thus, resulting in a long ruling of the elimination human rights and citizenship.

Another example of a state of exception is the war on terror in relation to September 11. According to Mark Danner, an American writer, and journalist, “We are living in the State of Exception. We don’t know when it will end, as we don’t know when the War on Terror will end” (Danner, 2011). What Danner is trying to convey is that since September 11 the American people have been living a different life. He discusses that since the September 11 tragedy, American people have lived for  10 years in this new way of living. Danner (2011) says “Call it, then, the state of exception: these years during which, in the name of security, some of our accustomed rights and freedoms are circumscribed or set aside, the years during which we live in a different time”. This suggests that after a certain period of time, normalization kicks in and this becomes the norm even when it takes away individuals status and rights. Finally, when this state of exception comes into power, it erases any legal status of the individual which in Agamben’s words “producing a legally unnameable and unclassifiable being” (Calarco & DeCaroli, 2007).
Calarco, Matthew and Steven DeCaroli, eds. Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and Life. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007.
Dickinson, Colby. Agamben and Theology. London and New York: T&T Clark International, 2011.
Zartaloudis, Thanos. Giorgio Agamben: Power, Law and the Uses of Criticism. London and New York: Routledge, 2010


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Foucault: Power is Everywhere

Foucault recognizes three major forms of power, based on sovereignty, discipline, and governmentality. He regards power as a constitutive force, in that power creates subjectivities (ways of thinking and being).
For this week’s food for thought question,
1. Provide a short overview of disciplinary power (in your own words);
2. Explain how disciplinary techniques create ‘disciplinary subjects’, and;
3. Describe an example of how you have been subjected to disciplinary power.
4. (Bonus) – describe how you have resisted disciplinary mechanisms.

Disciplinary power is a form of social discipline in that one who holds power can ultimately rein and rule over all existing bodies. Disciplinary power can take different forms especially seen in the prison system. By using discipline, people can soon be controlled. Foucault believed that power was everywhere. Foucault challenges the idea that power is wielded by people or groups by way of episodic or sovereign acts of domination or coercion, seeing it instead as dispersed and pervasive. Power is everywhere and comes from everywhere so in this sense is neither an agency nor a structure (Foucault, 1998). He also recognized that power was not always negative and that it does not always repress us and forces us to do things we do not want to do. He states that it can also be necessary, productive and positive force in society (Gaventa, 2003). Foucault also suggests that a major source of social discipline and conformity is power and that disciplinary power could be observed in the administrative systems and social services such as prisons, schools and hospitals. This form of surveillance and assessment did not require force or violence. Instead people learned to discipline themselves and behave in expected ways ( Foucault, 1998).

For an example Disciplinary punishment gives professionals like parole officers power over the prisoner and the judgment lies within the professionals (Foucault, 1998). His argues that with the right discipline people will inevitably discipline themselves. He calls this form of power discipline in that soldiers could be made rather than just picked. Finally, Foucault (1993) claims that ‘disciplinary power’ is exercised by those more powerful than their subordinates in order to make their subordinates behave in ways in which the ones in power wish them to.

An example of disciplinary structure is how we are managed at work. For most people when they are hired for a job they go through extensive test to make sure they are right for the job. When they are hired, they are told they must follow or obey the rules that are listed out by the company. We are informed that if we break the rules then there are punishments like suspension or even worse being let go. When we follow the rules of the work place we try to enforce the rules upon others as well. A lot of times we do not have to even brush up or read the rules because some are just known for us to follow or what we call common sense. We know it is expected behavior and when someone does not follow the rules we see this as abnormal. We also follow the rules because we feel like we are always being watched and do not want to get into trouble.

The only time I have resisted disciplinary mechanisms is at work. We started this new system where we are supposed to write every shift we start with what are goals are and the questions seem so ridiculous. It was a mandatory system implemented and when I was asked why I had not been doing the questions, I simply stated that I will not subject myself to childish questions when my work should not be based on how I answer repetitive questions they should be based on my work ethic. I believe at times when given the power of control to the wrong person, they can use it either for good or for evil. In this specific case we are asked to write down ridiculous answers because someone who is higher up with power thinks this is effective.


Foucault, Michel (1998) The History of Sexuality: The Will to Knowledge, London, Penguin.
Gaventa, John (2003) Power after Lukes: a review of the literature, Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.
Macey, David. The Lives of Michel Foucault (London: Hutchison, 1993)—This is the most detailed biography of Foucault.

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Durkheim: The Normality of Crime

Food for Thought:
Durkheim’s sociology of law proposes that crime is a normal part of society, and that it is necessary and indispensable. What does this mean? Is Durkheim correct? Discuss, with reference to contemporary examples

It is hard to imagine a world crime free and even harder to imagine a world that accepts crime as a normal part of society. Durkheim regarded law as a social fact that concretely embodies a society’s morals and norms – a visible symbol of social solidarity (Pavlich, 2011). Thus, Durkheim approached crime through discussions of mechanical solidarity (Pavlich, 2011). This theory was the foundation in which Durkheim based all his findings in societies. In addition, when behaviors deemed unacceptable have increased, so does the amount of society (Hamlin, 2009). Thus, if society operates at a normal level then the rate of deviance should minimally change. However, if deviance rates drop or increase, this suggests that there is a sickness in the organism (Hamlin, 2009). He also suggests crime will never disappear; in fact, it changes its form (Hamlin, 2009). I think of a society of all morally good people. This society would be crime free made up of perfect individuals. However, each person may have expectations of what good would be. Thus, society would collectively come up with laws to which abide. This would lead to punishment if laws were broken leading to a society with crime. Durkheim, then suggests that crime is necessary because it is part of the fundamental conditions of social life (Pavlich, 2011). He says that crime is useful because these conditions themselves are indispensable to the normal evolution of morality and law (Pavlich, 2011). This mean crime plays a huge role in evolution. Criminals are no longer looked at as a defective, parasitic element of society or the outlaw. These criminals play a huge role in social life (Durkheim, 1893). He argues that crime is not pathological at all and therefore punishment cannot cure it. In his book The Division of Labor in Society (1893) Durkheim purposes that primal societies face less crime because most people are at equal value. He adds that without political and economic hierarchy, most people maintain social order (Durkheim, 1893). In his book Durkheim discusses the term Anomie which means social disorder. He says that in a society where it is unknown what expected behavior is, criminal activity results due to lack of knowledge or expectations in these societies crime and behavior are increased (Durkheim, 1893). Finally, crime will always exist because people are always born into crime. There will always be a hierarchy of status in life. Looking at socioeconomic status plays a huge role in how people will grow up. An example is seen in auto theft. There will always be people wanting things in life. Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory states that if individuals don’t have the means to get to these goals they will do illegitimate things to get it; an example would be stealing. Some people break into cars and as Durkheim suggests that crime does not disappear it simply changes form. So, criminals learn newer and better ways to commit crime.


Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.

Hamlin, J. (2009) The Normality of Crime. Durkheim and Erikson, Department of Sociology and Anthropology.UMD

Durkheim, Emile.. 1893 [1984]. The Division of Labor in Society.Translated by W. D. Halls. New York: Free Press.


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Could China’s one-child Policy change?

Pinyin or “policy of birth planning” is the policy that was created by the Chinese Government and introduced in 1978 which stated that Chinese couples would be restricted to only having one child. (People’s Daily, 2011). This policy was created to alleviate social, economic, and environmental problems in China (Coale, 1981) Chinese authorities have claimed that since this act had been put in place that the birth rate started to decline. Especially since there has been an imbalance in the Chinese population due to an increase in boys born. In China, having boys is preferred for the reason that they hold the family name, enjoy social prestige and can take care of their parents once they are older (Wesemann,2012) It is now more of an epidemic where Chinese girls are being aborted since there is a one child policy per family ( Wesemann et. Al.) Several months ago a Chinese woman named Feng Jianmel was illegally detained and forced to have an abortion at 7 months into her pregnancy. The couple already had one child and according to the Chinese government had broken the law by deciding to have another child ( CNN, 2012). Stories much the Jianmel family cases happen at a rapid rate in China however, Fengs family posted pictures of the 7 month old child on social media sites which prompted a national debate on the “one child law” ( CNN, 2012). There are constant debates on whether this law is immoral and unjust. Especially going the extreme as to abort a child that is already developed at 7months old. Is killing children a way to help us as humans flourish and fulfil our life? John Finnis a scholar and philosopher states that “ morality can’t be inferred from human nature, but can only be understood through a particular type of practical reasoning that is unique to human beings” (Pavlich, 2011). Finnis further offers his seven forms of human flourishing that are essential to life. Having the one child policy in China already interferes with the first point Finnis makes by saying that the value and procreation of human life is essential for humans to flourish (Pavlich, 2011). By stopping the Chinese population from procreating, they are stopping life. This by no means is following Finnis ‘ work in that aborting that 7 month old child put a strain not only on the population of China, but caused an outcry from the public all around the world. This interferes with respecting the basic value of individuals and society. Another point in Finnis’ work is his point about religion or the value of spiritual experience. Although not many Chinese are catholic, Catholics are raised to pro create and do not believe in contraceptives. Thus, there are an abundance of Catholics with more than 2 children. Another point would be sociability and friendship. Since the law is one child per family, many children grow up alone and end up being spoiled and labelled “the little emperor syndrome”. Andrew Marshall, a journalist based in south East Asia discusses this saying that many children get spoiled by their family especially boys. They grow stronger with age and soon become the head of the family. This Marshall says will soon lead to a “behavioural time bomb: (Marshall, 2012) this stops the social factor within communities and even friendships. This creates further a separation in communities and society. However, Lon Fuller another philosopher offered a natural law theory that focused explicitly on the rational dimensions of law making as a craft (Pavlich, 2011). In his book “The Morality of Law”, he identified eight elements of law which have been recognized as necessary for a society aspiring to institute the rule of law. Firstly Fuller says that “laws must exist and those laws should be obeyed by all”. However, although this rule is in place not all people in China follow this rule as noted above in the case of the young woman Feng who was on her 7 month of pregnancy. Another element would be that “law must not command the impossible”.  It is impossible for the Chinese government to regulate the amount f children being born. Creation of a child is the way of life and stopping people from having children is stopping the impossible. Finally, “law must stay constant through time […] also must allow for timely revision […] circumstances have changed” (Pavlich, 2011). China has now brought out the debate once again for the rule of two children per family since times have changed.  However, the question now is will this stop the killings of unborn children once the 2 children per family policy is changed?


Ansley J. Coale, Population Trends, Population Policy, and Population Studies in China. Population Development Review. March ( 1981). Vol. 7. No. 1. pp-85-97. ( Retrieved Sept.21.2012 )  ( Retrieved Sept.21.2012 ) ( Retrieved Sept. 21.2012 ) Author: Dorette Wesemann, Edited by: Ragnar Müller ( Retrieved Sept.21.2012 ) ( Retrieved Sept.21.2012 )

Law and Society written by George Pavlich 2011



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