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Post Hurricane Katrina: State of Emergency

Post Hurricane Katrina is a great example of State of Exception. After the hurricane occurred in 2005, there was in a state of emergency and New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Compass ordered the local police, U.S Army National Guards, and Deputy U.S Marshals to go into homes and take away fire arms because they did not want anyone to be armed. After the hurricane, the residents of where New Orleans were vulnerable and it was decided that people being armed during the state of vulnerability would not be the greatest idea. There was controversy over confiscating the weapons because many people used their weapons as protection for life and property whereas the people that had their weapons confiscated were left to defend themselves. It was thought that taking away the legally owned weapons would reduce the “near anarchy” in the city and proposed the policy of “only law enforcement are allowed to carry weapons” (Liberman, 2007). It was thought that confiscating the weapons would decrease violence and civil disobedience. The seizures of the weapons were done without a warrant and in some cases with excessive force. The Louisiana legislator Steve Scalise introduced the Louisiana House Bill 760 which prohibited confiscation of firearms in a state of emergency unless the seizure is pursuant to the investigation of a crime, or if the seizure is necessary to prevent immediate harm to the officer or another individual. President Bush signed the Bill into law on October 9, 2006.

Post Hurricane Katrina relates to the State of Exception because as the German theorist Carl Schmitt proposed that “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception” by which he means that sovereign is able to decide the case of exception and here the exception of confiscating weapons without a warrant is due to the state of emergency. In terms of “the state of exception is normalized”, Hurricane Katrina relates to Agamben’s policy of it being “normal” because the “modern governments claim – and exercise – the power to displace the rule of law in order to resolve certain problems, generally security” (Larsen, 2010) because the purpose of confiscating the firearms without a warrant was for the security of other individuals (perhaps the people who didn’t have firearms) because under those conditions, some people may have been emotionally unstable and/or could have been paranoid, for example, if someone were to come to their house they could have gotten scared and mistakenly shot. Hurricane Katrina result of confiscating weapons to reduce violence and civil disobedience is also an example of Ericson’s policy of how counter-laws involve the enactment of new laws “to erode or eliminate traditional principles, standards, and procedures of criminal law that get in the way of pre-empting imagined sources of harm” (Pavlich, 2007: 24). This applies in terms of the Louisiana House Bill-760 being signed after the controversy occurring because people felt that they could not protect themselves and their were being violated. The controversy caused quite a ruckus which resulted in the U.S District Courts order to return all the seized arms.

The exercise of sovereign power is justified by the officials while they state that it is not something they want to be doing, walking the streets of the U.S and confiscating weapons without a warrant, but it is something that has to be done in order to keep everyone safe. The following short link shows officials having to confiscate the weapons of the neighbourhoods that haven’t even been flooded because of the safety of the ones that are vulnerable to go to those areas; even wealthy neighbourhoods that weren’t flooded had their guns confiscated that he had to protect themselves for the same reasons. In the second video that I have attached shows Superintendent Eddie Compass explaining that the police department is under extreme stress, many officers have died, quit, and/or have not been accounted for yet, but the ones that have been accounted for are considered to be heroes because they have “secured” the areas [by taking away the firearms]. Superintendent Compass also justifies the actions by explaining how they don’t have the necessities to do the things they are expected to do in quick manners. For example, they didn’t have food, water, electricity, they didn’t even have working radio system to communicate with each other. So really, not only was confiscating the firearms a good thing for the residents that were affected but it was also a reasonable thing to do for the officials because, as talked about in the second video, even with firearms confiscated, there were still shooting wars happening which put the public in danger. If the guns weren’t confiscated it is possible that there would have been more gun wars and more deaths occurring.



Larsen, Mike. (2013). Handout “Agamben: Bare Life, The Camp, and States of Exception”.

Class of November 27, 2013.

Liberman, David. (2007). “Big Sandys Comin’- Lessons from Katrina”. Retrieved on December

4, 2013 from

Pavlich, G. (2007). Law and Society. Don Millis, ON: Oxford University Press.



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Embedding of Fear – State of Exception

An example that fits the definition of a state of exception is September 11th and its aftermath.  On September 11th there were multiple attacks on the United States of America which were believed to be coordinated by Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, an Islamic terrorist group.  President George W. Bush employed his presidential powers by announcing a state of emergency two days after the September 11th attacks.  Subsequently the “War on Terror” in America began.  This war would eventually influence national security policies and American civil liberties.

After the attacks of September 11th there was constant media attention that replayed several videos and images of two planes flying into the two towers of the World Trade Center.  In addition, the eventual collapse of the World Trade Centers and the several visuals displaying the firefighters and on-looking survivors created an emotional response by the public.   These images displayed the reality of the attack, and generated the potential threat of another attack.

Moreover, as there was a constant notion of an endless threat created by both the President of the United states and the media, the American population was placed in a vulnerable state of fear.  This threat was reiterated several times by the president as he stated that “The world has changed after September 11th, it’s has changed because we are no longer safe”. (George W. Bush address to the nation) This notion of safety and the consistent threat of further attacks put Americans in a situation where they were concerned with their security.  As a result, it was understood that Americans were put in a situation where they would give up some of their rights, in order to preserve their safety.

The Bush administration pressed for “tools” to fight terrorism, and one of these tools was the Patriot Act.  The Patriot Act was passed by congress and signed by President Bush on October 26 2001.  The USA Patriot Act stands for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”.  What this Act entails is the right for the government the rights to search homes and offices without notice, us wiretaps to listen in on conversation, monitor computer and email messages and look into medical and financial records.  (George W. Bush, Executive Order Disposition Tables, 2001)  This surveillance on the general population is rationalized on the grounds that individuals in the past, present or future might be involved in terrorist activity.

As the War on Terror progressed, and a military campaign was held in Afghanistan, the United States transferred several hundred individuals who were expected as terrorists to Guantanamo Bay.  Guantanamo Bay is a 45 square mile naval base, located in Cuba.  This base was designed to interrogate suspects by using means of torture, water boarding and long periods of solitary confinement. (Johns, 2005) In addition, these individuals were denied Habeas corpus, as they were not brought before a judge, and this was rationalized as they were in a different country.  This relates to Agamben definition of a camp which “provides a kind of model by which to understand this degraded life form that is excluded from the operation of law, and where a sovereign ban is exercised over such bare life without the protection of law” (Pavlich, 2011, 158).

This exercise of sovereign power was justified through the constant notion of fear.  This constant notion of fear was embedded in the American population through the continuous reminder of an endless threat.  Bush indicated that “Our nation, this generation, will lift a dark threat of violence from our people and our future” (George W. Bush, Address to the Nation, video below) Furthermore, if considerable measures were not taken, the security of the American people would be endangered.  This appeal was maintained through the continuing and immediate threat and future attacks on the United States.  Bush also stated  that “Freedom and fear are at war… the advance of human freedom, the great achievement of our time…now depends on us”.  This indication by the Bush recognised the potential endangerment and the loss of freedom which was a fundamental principle of America.

Bush also spoke about the Guantanamo Bay, directly indicating that it is essential for this state of exception to exist.  “It is been Necessary to move these individuals to an environment where they can be held secretly.  Questioned by experts and when appropriate prosecuted for terrorist attacks.” (George Bush address to the nation)  Bush rationalized the existence of Guantanamo Bay by indicating that the persons captured were not common criminals but were “suspected bomb makers, terrorist trainers, recruiters and facilitators and potential suicide bombers.” (George Bush address to the Nation)  Again, Bush indicated that these individuals were dangerous and were a threat to the national welfare of America.  Moreover, Bush states that these individuals “are in our custody, so they cannot murder our people”. (George Bush Address, Video Below) Bush reiterates that if these individuals were not captured and interrogated, they could cause mass murder.  Therefore, the actions taken by the American government and the Bush administration were justified and rationalized, as there was a known threat to the safety and security of the United States of America.


Johns, F. (2005).  Guantanamo Bay and the annihilation of exception.  The European Journal of International Law, 16, 613-635.

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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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Barely there- Bare life

An interesting example of Agamben’s bare life- life excluded from law/ politics is the situation that is occurring in modern day United Arab Emirate (U.A.E). The U.A.E is glamorized for its grandiose lifestyle and opulent infrastructure which towers over the desert for miles. In stark contrast, migrant workers and the maltreatment they receive is hidden from the world. Workers live in deplorable, overcrowded rooms, their passports are stripped from them and wages are not paid. Migrant workers in Dubai are more like modern day slaves who are subject to exclusion from the legal and political spheres.

In my opinion, Dubai is a perfect example of corporate corruption at its best. Companies that provide housing for the migrant worker cut costs so as to provide bare minimum necessities. In the documentary ‘Slaves of Dubai’ (2009), the bathroom facilities of one housing camp were so overrun with human sewage and water that workers created a stepping stone pathway to access their sleeping quarters; these two areas were right next to one another. Furthermore, the blame for the deplorable living conditions is cast down to individual workers themselves as the company’s contend that because the migrant workers come from developing countries, they bring with them unhygienic practices.

What is appalling is that the migrant workers are afraid to publically speak out against these deplorable conditions because the companies that have hired camp site managers who do not allow outsiders into the camp. According to Foucault, this is would be the use of disciplinary power whereby, employees are constantly monitored and they are kept silent by the fear of losing their liberties; in this case the liberties they may lose are their freedom, their wages and jobs. There is resistance to the atrocious working and living conditions migrant workers are subject to. In 2006 migrant workers, working on the Burj Dubai protested their living conditions and mistreatment by company officials. Workers smashed cars and offices at the project site. The protest was quickly dispelled by the police and the migrant workers went back to work. In 2006, presumably after the protest the U.A.E government said that they would allow for unionization of labourers. It would seem far-fetched that the U.A.E would implement unions especially when other rules/regulations are not adhered to. For example, there was a rule that construction workers would not be permitted to work if temperatures reached fifty degrees; ironically, officially that year the temperature never reached that high.

The Kafala sponsorship programme “allocates disproportionate power to sponsors and employers in determining the legal residence of workers…employers are given almost total control over migrant workers’ pay, living conditions, nutrition, capacity to change employment and their ability to return home”. Essentially companies take the passports of migrant workers when they arrive to Dubai so that migrant workers will pay back debt which is owed to the company. However, with a wage of U.S $175-220 per month, workers are not able to repay their debt or go home.

Adding to the notion that migrant workers are homo sacer is that migrant workers cannot properly access the legal system in the U.A.E. The court proceedings are conducted in the native Arab language which many migrant workers do not know how to speak. Furthermore, because many of the migrant workers are poor they cannot afford proper representation.

I believe that it is extremely unlikely that migrant workers will be able to leave the current state of suppression they are in because they do not have the means or the support to do so. Furthermore, the monarch’s main job is to make Dubai a tourist destination, as Dubai is the richest country. Therefore, I do not believe that the government would invest in fair labour wages for migrant workers given their goal. Without legislation that makes companies comply to basic human rights, I don’t see the conditions of migrant workers improving. Complicating the situation is the fact that there are many people in Asian countries that lack  jobs therefore there is no job security for those workers who stand up against the construction companies and protest the atrocious conditions they live in.

Emirates Centre. Migrant workers in the united arab emirates.

Pavlich.G. (2011). Law and Society Redefined. Canada. Oxford University Press

Riyasbabu, Baik, E.A. (2006). Burj dubai workers who protested may be sued. Khaleej Time

Anderson, B. (2009). Slaves in Dubai


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Sovereign Power, State of Exception & Resistance

It would be difficult in my perspective to be able to live a life where you were born with rights, and at any moment can be stripped of those bare rights. Having any kind of accessibility to rights signifies your existence, your right to be human, whether you are an offender or ordinary citizen. As we look back in history, we can look at the concept of the way people lived. You could essentially look into the whole concept of being exiled or banished to exemplify what it would feel like to have your basic rights taken away. In Agamben’s perspective of “bare life,” it leaves you with nothing with being forced in some notion to follow a sovereign that does not recognize these individuals as beings because of their lack of status; I would not blame these people if they decided to form a resistance against the sovereign power.

For those people who have the status of “homo sacer,” there are various possibilities for acts of resisting against the sovereign that is controlling them because their overall limitation under homo sacer, deprives them from bare essentials as people. If a governmental power declared a state of exception in a crisis situation, it would be an appropriate measure to carry out considering that the government and society is at stake. Society would have to obey to this order in a crisis situation or else it will lead to resistance. A nation is supposed to look out for the public’s safety, but in reality the main purpose of declaring a state of exception is to control the public so that the government is not threatened or harmed by its people; in this reaction by the state, it leads to society being stripped out of the ordinary sphere of ‘normal legality’ to resist sovereign power. One can only imagine what it could be like in such a situation where you could not use any form of legal protection that you would normally use when you are being deprived of freedom. I would not blame these individuals to find a loop hole in a sovereign’s state of exception if they are putting them in danger.

When sovereigns declare a state of exception for instance, they should be aware that people will resort to means of violence to get what is rightfully theirs if the state of exception is not justified. According to the thoughts of Walter Benjamin, there are two types of violence that are experienced in order to gain some kind of legal status from the sovereign powers by the people (Palvich). The first kind of violence that he talks about is that law is always creating violence; when you are depriving the right to have rights, you get a group of citizens who would fight back in gaining that right back; For example, the right to travel freely between two nations with a borderline being the barrier.

I came across an article that provides a very interesting analysis of sovereign authority at the borders of two sovereign states, India and Bangladesh. The article further goes into interviewing some residents from both nations who cross the border frequently. Among them was a woman (Moushumi) who worked as a servant for a wealthy Bangladesh family, and would travel quietly in the night to visit her son in a neighboring village in India. Prior to the 1947 partition that took place in India, her sons’ village used to be in the same territorial land and the short trip was simple. However, the impact of the new sovereign states drew a line between her village and her sons. Should the acts of this woman be depicted as a criminal act because she violated the laws of both India and Bangladesh? Or is it due to her poor status of not being able to understand the concept of state sovereignty, or is she part of the resistance that contests the borders that divide the world into territorial defined states? We see this woman being deprived basic rights to freely enter another sovereign to see her son when the cause of this was the consequences of sovereignty (Jones, 2011). I came across an image of a woman who stares back at the borderline fence between India and Bangladesh and find it a great image that might resemble to how Moushumi sees this line barrier between the two sovereigns that used to be on one territorial land.

Moreover, the sovereign gains authority not by creating and enforcing laws in a given area, but rather through the deployment of that state of exception, a time and space where people in that area have to follow laws, but the sovereign power can operate outside the typical legal system if it perceives a threat to its authority (Agamben). There are various examples across the globe where people are living under divided sovereign powers that used to be under one territorial regime. The partition in 1947 India showed a great deal of people being divided into new sovereign nations. Muslims, who lived in India at the time, had to leave their ties in India and move to their new state of Pakistan. Many of these people had grown up and established a living from generations with lots of territorial land that belonged to them and this partition led to them losing everything they had and were essentially forced to move to their belonging new sovereign power.

This is another great example among many that I find strips people of their right to live where they want. We can really see how state politics harms the citizens by making them abide by what they say or else they turn into a threat to the nation. The partition in India also brought a lot of rebellion by the citizens who did not want to leave their current land. A resistance against the sovereign’s power was definitely portrayed during this time, but in the end after thousands were killed, the partition happened. It is interesting how the land you live on belongs to different sovereigns and if a state of exception occurs or evens a divide in powers, it really doesn’t matter anymore.

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by | December 5, 2013 · 2:44 am

Law, Sovereign Power, and States of Exception

What possibilities for resistance exist for those whose status is that of homo sacer?  Put differently, is it possible for those who are subject to a state of exception and therefore cast outside of the sphere of ‘normal legality’ to resist sovereign power? If so, how?

Yes in answering the question of whether or not the homo sacer (basically someone who is banned, has no rights etc.) can resist sovereign power the answer would be yes. I do believe it is possible for the homo sacer to resist, however it depends on the situation and on the type of regime/government this individual (homo sacer) is under. For example last week in class, we talked about the men that were held in Canada in a jail for terrorism. I don’t remember the exact reasons why they were held, but in relation to this particular issue the individuals went on a hunger strike and basically said they were not going to eat until their case was resolved (these men were being held in jail without a charge and they could not know why they were being held or on what grounds). So this would be an example of a case where the homo sacer was able to resist sovereign power (through the means of a hunger strike which eventually made the government take action).

However I must say I do not feel that normally there is much of a chance for the homo sacer to resist. I believe most of the time where sovereign power problems like this occur, they occur in an undemocratic country. Because of this there is really no motivation for government to comply because the citizens already do not have a voice. In relation to what happened in Canada initially no one really protested the unjust locking up of these individuals without charges laid against them. This had to do with the moral panic that resulted from 9/11 and widespread fear of terrorism. So when these individual were held on supposed grounds of terrorism, no one really questioned the legitimacy until years after 9/11 had occurred and the hype had died down.

On a related note, if it is the exercise of sovereign power that creates the juridico-political space of the camp and places people into this space, how can people exit the camp? Is it possible for persons to move from the status of homo sacer to a ‘legal’ status, despite the decision of the sovereign? If so, what kind of power are they exercising?

For this twofold question I would answer no for both of them. To argue my point I am going to bring up the historical example of the Nazi concentrations camps. I would argue that it is impossible to exit the camp unless the sovereign is overthrown or changes the laws that make the individual a homo sacer (person without right). Again for the homo sacer, I do not believe it is possible for him to move from his current position into a legal status. In relation to exiting the camp I would think this would be highly unlikely. Again, only if the sovereign decided to change the laws keeping these people in the camp. If one is talking about exiting the camp if form of escape, this would possibly be possible. However even this is unlikely. Two summers ago I went on a holiday to Europe, while I was there I got to visit one of the old concentration camps from world war 2 (Dachau). During the tour, the question was brought up about why the prisoners did not rise up and try fight their way out. There were a number of reasons, torture, psychological abuse, and of course armed guards. One has to remember in relation to the concentration camps, these prisoners were exposed to (either directly or witnessed) brutal beatings, tortures, and the constant smell of ovens burning the bodies of those prisoners who died.  This all served as psychological means to keep these prisoners in check.

So basically, I do not see how it is possible to think it is possible for people to exit the camp, nor do I believe that they can get legal status, unless somehow the sovereign creates laws that define what exactly makes a homo sacer. Then I guess it can be argued that in some aspect they have legal status, in the sense that they are legally recognized as people with no rights.


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


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The Inescapable Sovereign Powers in a State of Exception

This week’s blog asks a question ” is it possible for those who are subject to a state of exception and therefore cast outside of the sphere of normal legality to resist sovereign power?”  In short, I think, it is and it is not possible for those who are subjects to a state of exception to cast outside of the sphere of normal legality to resist sovereign power for many reasons. However, in the interest of time,  I will take one stance and argue why it is not possible to flee sovereignty in a state of exception. To begin with, the state of exception is not the norm and therefore what happens in a state of exception can be very different from what would otherwise be. It should not be forgotten that, “according to opinions which are very common, the state of exception [ makes] a point of imbalance between public law and politics which, like civil war, insurrection and resistance, is located in an ambiguous zone at the border between the juridical and the political” [European Graduate School, 2003].In a state of exception “ one who has been accused of committing a crime, within the legal system, loses the ability to use his voice and represent themselves. The individual can not only be deprived of their citizenship, but also of any form of agency over their own life” [ Wikipedia, 2013]. I can seldom see this happening in a normal state. In a state of exception, decisions strictly stay in the hands of the sovereign. Furthermore, in Schmitt’s words ” sovereign is he who decides on the exception” and the sovereign state decides the laws. The only exception from the law is the sovereign state itself. Since that is the case, it is ” is thereby ensured of remaining anchored in the legal order” [ European Graduate School, 2003]. The sovereign state is much too powerful for one person to exist outside of it successfully.  As stated by Pavlich that Agamben describes political environments that have sovereigns creating bandits that is neither ‘ animal’ or ‘man’ included nor excluded – they live within the law but as outlaws and treated accordingly, They have not fled sovereignty. They have simply attempted to resist sovereign power and failed.  As Pavlich says, it can be possible that “law [can] now operate as a force, but without the key elements that one usually associates with the rule of law. It [can] be stripped of its normative (justice-based) content and simply exercise force, becoming a force of law without content”[ 2011, p. 159]. In this kind of state, Pavlich explains that subjects according to law are outlaws and fall prey to a kind of law that emphasizes guilt and enforces itself without justice and any ethics. Pavlich goes on to say that It allows the sovereign to preserve his natural right to do anything to anyone[ 2011, p. 159]. Since sovereign powers are so centered during a state of exception it would be rather difficult to live outside of it. People attempting to live outside sovereignty in a state of exception is a thought that should be reconsidered since during this time, “the sovereign remains exterior to the normally valid legal order, and nevertheless belongs to it . . . ” [ European Graduate School, 2003].

In my concluding thoughts, it would be a difficult task to live outside of sovereignty in a state of exception since sovereignty can do what it likes and then defend its actions by saying it is in the best interest of the state and society for it to be that way.

Work Cited

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

Giorgio Agamben. State of Exception. (2003).In The European Graduate School: Graduate and Postgraduate Studies. Retrieved from

Giorgio Agamben.(2013). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from


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