Tag Archives: Agamben

Food For Thought 1: Ferguson, Missouri

In this blog, I will talk about the events surrounding Ferguson, Missouri and how I can apply the ideas of Ericson and Agamben to this situation. On August 9 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer. Protests have erupted as a response to Brown’s death. Most of these demonstrations started out peacefully but escalated to a point where people started vandalizing and looting stores. This resulted in the police responding by firing tear gas and rubberized bullets at people and arresting dozens of them. It doesn’t help that the racial tensions were getting high as the dominant black community had to answer to a majority white police force. Although some of these police measures have caused most demonstrations to simmer down, there are still a small pocket of demonstrations happening. There are many that have criticized the way the police have handled the situation, seeing that they have begun to be more militarized. The use of the military to enforce civilian law requires congressional approval, but what happens when the police become so militarized that you can no longer distinguish between military forces and police forces?Though Ferguson has already been under an unofficial state of martial law, there is no more debate. The militarized police state is not technically the military, but now it can not be denied. Ferguson is under martial law” (Garrison, 2014). Missouri Governor Nixon had declared Ferguson a state of emergency and deploying national guards in anticipation to the results of the grand jury that would determine whether or not Darren Wilson is guilty.

Due to the increasing civil unrest within Ferguson, it has led to Gov. Nixon to enter Missouri into a state of emergency and imposing a curfew and deploying the National Guard fearing the result of the grand jury’s decision. A state of exception is where a persons right is temporarily suspended. In this state of emergency, we can see how the rights of these citizens are being suspended as a form of national safety in case the decision of the grand jury upsets the citizens. The events surrounding Ferguson Missouri have been one of the most televised in media and has been a powerful way of framing the position of the government on this whole situation. Due to current state of Ferguson where there are some protestors that actively loot and vandalize properties, it was deemed that Ferguson was in need of reinforcements. However, are heavily armed soldiers that have sniper trained on protestors really necessary? According to Ericson, we are now relying on the state to reduce our fear by creating environmental and political initiatives to change our perceptions of the world around us. Even though much of our fears embedded through the use of different tactics by the state (Ericson, 2007). Society is shown via the media that they are under some sort of dangerous threat by the state that can lead to irrational fear and the only way to deal with this is by letting the state handle it by using their own initiatives. Sometimes It can be good that society is preparing for the unknown danger ahead but can it be justified? According to Ericson, Counter law takes on two forms. Law against law and surveillant assemblages are where “new laws are enacted and new uses of existing laws are invented to erode or eliminate traditional principles, standards and procedures of criminal law that get in the way of preempting imagined sources of harm (Ericson, 2007). According to Agamben, he characterizes the West as a totalitarian, in which exceptional measures have become normal, so that states of exception are more or less models for their governance (Pavlich, 2011, p.158). Agamben goes on to say how normal legal principles, standards and procedures are suspended because of a state of emergency. It becomes a slippery slope when legal order is broken in order to preserve social order. Agamben fears how the state of exception is no longer an exception but is now a normal state (Agamben, 2005). We can see how this has being introduced to our society be it post 9/11 America where counter law is used to manage terrorism risks. One could say that by issuing Martial Law it could be used as a preventive measure if the people were to riot after the decisions are released. However, the people of Ferguson have their rights essentially stripped away from them as a preventive measure for riots if the decision of the grand jury prove to be unfavourable.


  1. Garrison, D., (2014). It’s Official! Martial Law in Ferguson: Governor Brings in National Guard taken from: http://www.dcclothesline.com/2014/08/18/governor-brings-national-guard-ferguson-now-officially-martial-law/
  2. Pavlich, G. (2011). Law and society redefined. Don Mills, Canada: Oxford University Press.
  3. Ericson, R. V. (2007). Crime in an insecure world. Cambridge: Polity.
  4. Agamben, G. (2005). State of exception. Nova srpska politička misao, (1-4), 135-145.

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Food for Thought: Law, Necessity, and Exceptions

This week’s class focused on legal scholarship concerned with ‘states of exception’, with a particular emphasis on the work of Giorgio Agamben. A portion of our discussion focused on the application of this body of scholarship to cases involving claims of ‘national security’. I would like to continue this discussion here, on our blog.

You have two options:

Food for thought 1:

Write a post that briefly describes the current situation in Ferguson, Missouri, and draws on the ideas of Agamben and Ericson to explain the socio-legal dimensions of this situation. Your post should draw on relevant sources. Be sure to address the nature and implications of the state of emergency.

Food for thought 2:

In response to an event that has been officially deemed an act of terrorism, a government decides that there is an urgent need to create and implement new security powers. The government initially considers two options: 1. Officially declare that a state of emergency is in effect, per the Emergencies Act, and invoke the powers provided for under that Act, or; 2. Draft and rush through Parliament a security bill that provides for expanded powers for police and security services.

Write a post that:

  • Outlines the advantages and disadvantages of each option, both from the perspective of the government and from the perspective of members of the public.
  • Explains which option you believe our government would adopt given this scenario, and why.
  • Describes and discusses a third option.

Your post should engage with Pavlich (2011) and Ericson (2007). You are encouraged to draw on additional sources (to provide examples, support for your arguments, etc.).

Posts prepared in response to either of these questions must be submitted before class on Nov. 25. This gives you one week (only) to prepare your post.

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Law, Sovereign Power, and States of Exception

The case study I have will review that provides the invocation of a state of exception is the 9/11 terrorists attack on the United States. On September 11, 2001 a terrorist group hijacked four planes, two of which they flew into two skyscrapers in New York City, another plane into the Pentagon destroying a part of it, and the fourth plan crashed in Pennsylvania. The death toll amounted to nearly 3,000 people in the 9/11 attacks. The President of the United States at the time of attack was George W. Bush and as a result Bush declared a state of emergency, “Now, therefore, I, George W. Bush, President of the United States of American, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the law of the United States, I hereby declare that the national emergency has existed since September 11, 2001” (Washington’s Blog, 2010).

This historical case of a state of emergency declared by the President of the United States demonstrates the exercise of sovereign power and the creation of a state of exception firstly by the public’s understanding that once President Bush proclaimed a national emergency he active some 500 dormant legal provisions, including those allowing him to impose censorship and martial law. These provisions include enough authority to rule the country without reference to normal constitutional processes, enabling the President to “assign military forces abroad; institute martial law; restrict travel; and in a plethora of particular ways, control the lives of all American Citizens” (Washington’s Blog, 2010).

President Bush launched the war on terrorism on September 20, 2001; he launched 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan to deal with terrorist groups Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The President also established an office of Homeland Security within the presidential Executive Office, leading to Homeland Security creating a Terrorism Screening Center to “consolidate the Government’s approach to terrorism screening.” As a result the No Fly List has been increasing with names of people preventing them from flying because they are now on the Terrorist Watch List, primarily due to having an Arabic sounding name. Homeland Security has also increased the security screenings ongoing at the airport, and there have been multiple expensive additions to ensure the likes of 9/11 do not repeat. I strongly believe that since the President has the power to decide on an exception, such as declaring a state of emergency, I argue that the President either intentionally or unintentionally created international racism towards Muslims, Sikhs, Hindu’s, and other South Asian races. This was executed by declaring publicly that Muslim faith was directly associated and valued by the terrorists, on international television about Muslim belief’s, and how these terrorists were believers of Allah, but besmirched Allah. The President did state that Muslim religion was respected and practiced amongst many in the world including the United States, but this created tension moreover solving the issue and placed blame and slandered the religion and it’s followers. This is a display of sovereign power, starting from George Bush and leading to mass incarcerations of Muslim’s, new stereotypes being created, innocent people placed on no fly lists, and the general society around the entire world gaining a new negative perception of Muslim’s and people who they believed are of Muslim faith. It would never be possible to generalize a certain race on such harsh assumptions until a sovereign declared so, thus leading to the term terrorist and Muslim becoming synonymous around the world after this state of emergency was declared.

Through this exercise of sovereign power and creation of a state of exception the President created a United States military prison, referred to as Guantanamo Bay, located in Cuba that was established to detain dangerous prisoners, interrogate them and prosecute prisoners for war crimes. A prison run by the United States placed in Cuba by state of exception by the President of the United States. This prison was also a forefront of punishment to captives believed to be associated with terrorists groups, they were detained, stripped of their bare life; homo sacer essentially losing all their rights. Detainee’s could be held indefinitely, they had lost their status, basically creating a legal black hole where the detainee’s had no choice but to do as they were told by the United States government officials, until they had enough information to release these individuals.

This sovereign power was justified rhetorically through an appeal of necessity, from the President at the time George W. Bush stating “I can hear you, the rest of the world can hear you and the people who knocked these building down will hear all of us soon.” On September 11, 2001 George Bush was told “American is under attack,” and Bush said he then thought “They had declared war on us, and I made up my mind at that moment that we were going to war” (Walsh, 2008). This sole sentence portrays sovereign power, one individual waging war against terrorism and immediately initiating tactics such as sending U.S. troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, and approving harsh interrogation techniques.

In a conference broadcasted around the world, I have provided a YouTube link for the speech where President Bush states to the Taliban publically to deliver to the United States authorities, all the leaders of Al Qaeda who hide in their land and to also hand over every terrorist and in their support structure to the appropriate authorities. President Bush states “America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people,” (Patriotic quotes, 2001) I enjoy this quote because it clearly depicts the issue of declaring a state of emergency and the simplicity of declaring a war on terror by Mr. Bush himself in comparison to a permission slip, that elementary students get filled out by their parents to go on a field trip, this comparison is directly linked to George Bush as sovereign power and does not need to seek permission, he can do as he pleases simply by stating national emergency for U.S. troops and sending them on a “field trip” to Afghanistan and Iraq.

YouTube links:





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Food for Thought: Law, Sovereign Power, and States of Exception

We dedicated this week’s class to an exploration of the complicated and troubling questions about the relationship between legality, legitimacy, and power that emerge from the work of Giorgio Agamben and other theorists of exceptionality.

For our final ‘food for thought’ exercise for the term, I would like to offer two options. You may choose to respond to either of these questions (but not both!).

1. Regarding the rhetoric of exceptionality

During my presentation on this topic, I suggested that, in the context of late modernity, the invocation of a state of exception involves two related moments or actions:

  1. The sovereign decision, as discussed by Agamben. This involves the opening-up of a zone of exceptionality in relation to an individual (on the basis of a deemed status), a space, or a period of time, and;
  2. A discursive act whereby the sovereign decision – the exercise of sovereign power – is explained and rationalized through an appeal to necessity / crisis / emergency

A great deal of socio-legal research focuses on the first moment / act, but it is important to note that those able to exercise sovereign power generally seem to be compelled to give an account of their decisions that justifies the state of exception while simultaneously affirming a commitment to legality.

For this food for though question, I would like you to select an example or case study that fits the definition of a state of exception. This can be from any historical period, and any location. Your post should:

  1. Provide an introduction to the case study / example
  2. Explain how this case study / example demonstrates the exercise of sovereign power and the creation of a state of exception (drawing on concepts from Pavlich’s chapter)
  3. Explain how this exercise of sovereign power was justified rhetorically through an appeal to necessity

For part 3, I am particularly interested in primary source documents or direct quotes from politicians or government officials. Please provide links and excerpts.

2. Regarding bare life and resistance

To be the denizen of a camp or normalized state of exception is, according to Agamben, to be reduced to the status of bare life – life excluded from law / politics. In explaining this, I referred to Arendt’s important comment about “the right to have rights” (a right that one cannot claim as homo sacer or bare life). This raises some interesting and important questions, especially when we consider it in light of Foucault’s claim that all exercises of power necessarily imply resistance:

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? 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 your response, write a post that reflects on one or more of these questions. You should respond to the question and provide examples to support your position.

Posts written in response to either of these questions should be submitted before next week’s class.



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Larsen’s theorization of the of the Kingston Immigration Holding Center vs Agamben’s theory of the camp.

Larsen’s theorization of the of the Kingston Immigration Holding Center  and Agamben ‘s theory of the camp have similar and different view of the effects that a state can do when an emergency occurs. Firstly, Agamben’s theorization of the camp is a theory of normalized exceptionality. For Agamben the camp is the place that is created when the state of exception begins to become the rule. Moreover the state, can achieve all this through sovereign power. Additionally, the concept of the camp can explicate the legal space created by normalized exceptionality. The theorization of KIHC presented by Larsen and Piche in their Canadian Journal of Law and Society article states that the KIHC can be understood as spaces of normalized exceptionality. In addition, the main difference between the theorization of KIHC presented Larsen and Piche are the zones and the spaces of the prisons. Exceptional practices and organizational mandates are discussed by Larsen and Piche because sovereign power and counter law allow extraordinary actions. Both authors mentioned that legal exception harm individuals and violate their rights. These individuals are not treated as they are supposed to be treated because of the power giving to these organizations by the government. In addition, Larsen uses the theory to assimilated to modern times and to explicate the legal exceptions and the power that the State has during emergencies. On the other hand, Agamben demonstrated that people live in a society where the state is constantly on emergency and utilizes the law as an instrument to manipulate individuals (Pavlich, 2011). Additionally, Larsen explicates that exception happen because when the state is under danger, exceptions arise.  However, Agamben argued that the government always had the power to control individuals through different ways.

Both Larsen and Piche, were not in favour of the security certificates for their purpose to punish individuals. The government of Canada authorized the Ministers of Public Safety and Citizenship and Immigration to sign a document that allows detaining an individual without Canadian citizenship status. That person would be inadmissible to Canada; the person would be detained and expulsed. Moreover, the state exception takes the form of counter-law – laws against law or rules about exception to rules. The key tenet is that precautionary logic demands acts intended to ward off imagined source of harm (Pavlich, 2011). However, when individuals are detained harm is performed to them. These organizations are distorted by states of exception. The author mentioned “what begins as an exercise in (in) security problem solving can, overtime, evolve into a set of “best practices, stable partnerships and even new institutions” (Larsen, 2013). Certainly, I agree with his views that sometimes certain legislations arise due to certain emergencies. Some violate individual’s rights but at the same time it is necessary to have new legislation; new crimes are emerging into society and it is necessary to have people decide what type of measures should be taken because the state cannot detain individuals for no reason and have them incarcerated to a long time and at the same time violating their rights.

References :

CRIM 3305-Law and Society Handout-Mike Larsen

Lecture CRIM 3305-Law and Society October 23th 2012- Mike Larsen

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

Larsen, M. and Justin Piché. Exceptional State, Pragmatic Bureaucracy, and Indefinite Detention: The Case of the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre.

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The State of Exception: just or unjust?

The theorization of KIHC presented by Larsen and Piché in their Canadian Journal of Law and Society differs from Agamben’s theorization of the camp in a following manner: while Agamben notes the state of exception to be normalized, Larsen and Piché believe the state of exception to be institutionalized. That is, for Agamben, the individuals detained have the status of a bare life. In brief, the subjects are classified as bandits. Bandits are explained as “…subjects deposited (banned) in a netherworld that is neither ‘animal’ nor ‘man’…[t]hese subjects are both banned and abandoned by law as excluded entities” (Pavlich, 2011, p.158). For example, Abu Ghraib, twenty miles west of Baghdad, was one of the world’s most notorious prisons, with torture, weekly executions, and vile living conditions” (Hersh, 2004). Conversely, Larsen and Piché contend that there is “…blurring of mandates [and] the blending of authority…”(Larsen, 2012).

In addition, other theorists such as Butler and Ericson view state of exception in a different manner. On one hand, Butler views the state of exception to be governmentalized; on the other hand, Ericson perceives the state of exception to be legalized. For example, Butler notes that there is not one dictator but different government officials (also referred to as petty sovereigns) who make the decision of whom to detain. However, Ericson brings forward the concept of ‘counter law’ which gives the government the ability to use one type of law to circumvent another law. For instance, there is extensive security at the airport to prevent any unlawful activities from occurring.

Also, in the article, “Exceptional State, Pragmatic Bureaucracy, and Indefinite Detention” by Larsen and Piché, the authors make a normative argument in opposition to the KIHC and to security certificates more generally. The nature of their normative argument is as follows: the authors view security certificate to be problematic for it produces unlawful results. That is, security certificate deals with the concept of indefinite detention. Provided that the detainees are neither charged nor have the right to be brought to trial, it can be said without doubt that using the security certificate in the context of indefinite sentence is indeed problematic. For instance, in Criminology 3305 lecture, it was explained that security certificate allows the arrest to take place basis on the material that the detainee will never see the proof against him or herself. This once again clearly explains how the detainee’s rights get infringed. The question I would like to raise at this point is as such: is it correct to believe that Canadian government protects its residents once we become familiar of the cases discussed under ‘the secret trial five’ which mirrors the negative view of the government. For instance, Hassan Almrei “had been in custody since October 2001, after CSIS accused him of links to al-Qaeda. He was freed to a strict house arrest in January 2009” (CBC, 2009). From becoming familiar with the above mentioned information, I am compelled to believe that society is living in a mere illusion that government protects its resident. As a matter of fact, the truth is that “[o]rganizations are distorted by states of exception carried out under the politics of security” (Larsen, Handout). In addition, I would like to note that I agree with Larsen and Piché’s argument as they are successfully able to prove that security certificate is indeed unlawful. As noted, “[d]etention without trial in Canada is a serious matter, and KIHC warrants explanation-and problematization-on its own terms”(Larsen and Piché, 2009, p.204) .


CBC (2009).  Security certificates and secret evidence. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2009/08/21/f-security-certificates.html

Hersh, S.M. (2004).  Annals of National Security: Torture at Abu Ghraib. The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2004/05/10/040510fa_fact

Larsen, M. , & Piché, J. (2009).  Exceptional State, Pragmatic Bureaucracy, and Indefinite Detention: The Case of the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre. Canadian Journal of Law and Society, 24 (2), pp.203-229.

Larsen, M. (2012, Fall). Larsen: Exceptional State, Pragmatic Bureaucracy [CRIM 3305-Law and Society –Class Handout]. Surrey, Canada: Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

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

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National Security vs. Human Rights: Bureaucratic Pragmatism & Legal Exceptions

“Human rights are praised more than ever—and violated as much as ever but accepted in states of emergencies”

Agamben’s theory of the camp and Larsen’s (2012) theorization of the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre (KIHC) do not differ in regards to explaining the effects produced by the sovereign’s legal exceptions and suspension of law within states of emergencies. Instead Larsen expands on Agamben’s theory in a more contemporary context. Both individuals understand that such sovereign legal exceptions completely violate the rights and freedoms of certain people and leave them outside the realm of law and its main purpose of protection.  It leaves the sovereign unaccountable. They don’t differ on the injustice and wrongs that legal exceptions or the KICH mandate both produce per se, but rather on the views of sovereign reign.  They differ because Larsen (2012) has a more modernist perspective in regards to sovereign power and legal exceptions.  Agamben’s theory generalizes overall that we live within a rule of legal exceptions and constantly in a state of emergency where the sovereign manifests itself as totalitarian and uses law as its tool (Pavlich, 2011).  However, Larsen (2012) explains that this is not the case; exceptions do exist, however, they are subtle in comparison to Agamben’s pessimistic view of the state. Legal exceptions tend to come to effect when there are substantial threats to national security. Usually, national security threats mostly arise from some form of terrorism or a war on terror. Now, people may have different views on what constitutes as terrorism (e.g. ETA in Spain, Al Qaeda, unjust USA wars), but it is still a paradigm that establishes a serious threat. Larsen (2012) views these legal exceptions as ad hoc situations but does not rationalize that it is the norm overall. Agamben views sovereign rule from an older perspective where government was fully centralized within a state instead of noting that government sovereignty has expanded among various governmental management regimes nowadays (e.g. CBSA, CSIS, CSC, CIC). Larsen (2012) views the KIHC issue as a way to emphasize how modern inter-departmental agencies or government can  counteract the law or their own agency’s legal powers to enhance legal exceptions in order to solve problems pre-emptively case by case (Larsen & Piche, 2009).  Consequently, we can lean towards Larsen’s (2012) point of view more often as society is not within a realm of continuous state of emergency at the moment but it is important to realize that both Larsen and Agamben hint at the repercussions that can occur if legal exceptions do take over. We see it already with Guantanamo Bay, the Patriot Act, security certificates and memorandums of understandings that tend to be in secret and which are not restrained by the law. With frequent suspensions of the rule of law as Butler (2004) suggests “a new version of ‘unaccountable’ sovereign power [can emerge]” (as cited in Pavlich, 2011, p. 160) which can be detrimental to human rights and freedoms (e.g. Patriot Act).

The nature of Larsen and Piché’s (2009) argument against the KIHC and security certificates is basically about how vital and unjust it is for governments to impose mandates or agreements in the form of bureaucratic absolutism, which sustain legal exceptions (which violate human rights)and are used for the sake of national security (Larsen & Piché, 2009). They argue that the bureaucratic pragmatism process of creating counter law to circumvent law itself is at the heart of the security certificate paradigm and that adopting such counter laws is clinically masked to depict the government(s) as being “pre-emptive” as opposed to “reactive” in cases of national security (Larsen & Piché, 2009). Furthermore, their argument takes the tone of claiming how security certificates operate as legal tools of normalized exceptionality yet they agree that this mechanism does not suspend the whole Canadian rule of law itself like Agamben believed it would.

Consequently, I agree with the authors’ argument in respect to outlining the injustice and lawlessness that the security certificates produce in the name of suspicion and pre-emptive action in responses to national security; however, at the moment if we abolish such a practice, there will be no way that the citizens of Canada can wholly play a role in developing legislation that effectively balances threats to national security and violation of rights. Taking the parliament way and democratically developing provisions or laws to combat national security threats is very complex and can eventually  reach a point where we’ll have to make a serious choice of violating rights in the end. Although I don’t like the precedents that counter laws can leave behind in regards to enabling exceptional detention or giving agencies the power to circumvent their legal mandates, I still would rather accept such subtle, case by case suspension of certain legislation for managing national security. Having it as a case by case basis and amending certain legislation proficiently is better than completely suspending the rule of law entirely and ending up with chilling legislation such as USA’s Patriot Act that affects all citizens—not just immigrants or refugees.


Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. New York: Oxford University Press. 152-166

Larsen, M., & Piché, J. (2009).Exceptional State, Pragmatic Bureaucracy, and Indefinite Detention: The Case of the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre. Canadian Journal of Law and Society, 24(2), 203-229.

Larsen, M. (2012, April). Kingston Immigration Holding Centre Closes, Legacy Remains. Prism Magazine. Retrieved from http://prism-magazine.com/2012/04/kingston-immigration-holding-centre-closes-legacy-remains/.

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