Tag Archives: Agamben

Sovereign Power and Counter-Law

Agamben’s theorization of the camp summarizes the theory of normalized exceptionality by looking at the sovereign power of juridico-political space and the Nazi Camps. He describes  those who are separated from the law and lose everything as a legal subject are no longer seen as a political subject thus, cannot commit a crime or can have crimes being committed against them. He illustrates that a state of exception is a relationship between the sovereign power, life and “the state of exception exists as a potentially underpinning all relations between individuals and the state” (Larsen, 2012). The Nazi camp, as Agamben discusses is the state of exception and people in the camps lost a since of status and are branded as an ideal type to the sovereign power in which explains how it is no longer a crime to kill these people. Those people are seen as having a bare life and Agamben describes this metaphor as the biopolitical paradigm.

Agamben’s theorization of the camp differs from the theorization presented by Larsen and Piché in that they institutionalized the state of exception and focus on the sovereign power and the law authorizing these powers. They try to answer the question of how modern sovereign power can change official mandates of authority and law and how Agamben missed the issue of governmentality. Larsen and Piché answer those questions by looking at the blurred mandates and laws created by the authority and state in which the power is disordered between the two. The Kingston Immigration holding centre (KIHC) by Larsen and Piché describes how a prison was created to hold prisoners on “security certificates” under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act  and depriving innocent people from their rights (Larsen, 2012). Larsen points out 2 key points on KIHC, first how some prisoners released from the prison are still under conditional release and how the prison is seen as exceptional from of detention in Canada (Larsen, 2012).

My thoughts on the KIHC are that the conditions and purpose of the prison is very similar to Guantanamo Bay.     Both prisons violate human rights and the detained prisoners are in prison without evidence of law breaking or criminality. As discussed by Larsen, 2013, the prisons have been used to primarily detain Muslim men. Before reading this article by Larsen, I wonder why the media had not been paying attention to the KIHC and the security certificates allowing innocent people being detained.


Kingston Immigration Holding Centre Closes, Legacy Remains (Prism Magazine)

Larsen, M. (2012). Larsen: Exceptional State, Pragmatic Bureaucracy. (Class handout)


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Indefinite Detention is Un-Canadian

Canada is a nation that is renowned for promoting democracy and human rights at home and around the world. As Canadians, we hold tyranny and repression by the state profoundly repugnant to the tenets of our democracy. Therefore, in the past, it has been only under the most trying circumstances, such as war, that civil liberties and freedom have been suspended under the War Measures Act. Nonetheless, the three times the act has been enforced – during the First and Second World Wars, and during the October Crisis – the actions of the Canadian government befitted a tyrant. Perhaps most notably, during World War II, the government interned thousands of Japanese Canadians under the guise of national security. Indeed, Canada and its allies had declared war on Japan, but these loyal Canadians and their families were no different from any other Canadian, except that they happened to have been born Japanese. Although used long before World War II, the internment camp became a ___ of the war. Camps (internment, concentration, and refugee), as described by Giorgio Agamben, are places of exclusion in which the inhabitants experience the bare life, an existence characterized by having no political nor moral involvement or recognition with the outside community at large (Pavlich, p. 158). In recent years, internment camps have been replaced by refugee and illegal immigrant holding facilities – such as Kingston Immigration Holding Centre – as places where inhabitants experience the bare life.

As Mike Larsen and Justin Piché explain in their article, Exceptional State, Pragmatic Bureaucracy, and Indefinite Detention: The Case of the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre, these new holding facilities, or camps, are “the product of a series of decisions designed to functionally blur the spaces of the camp and the prison while maintaining their technical distinction.”(p. 205) While Agamben’s theorization of the camp is more akin to an internment or refugee camp, Larsen and Piché’s theorization of KIHC is more akin to a prison, where immigrants with security tickets over their heads, such as the “Secret Trial Five,” are held indefinitely.

Larsen and Piché are opposed to security certificates for their punitive nature. The government, under the direction of “the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration,” (p. 206) can issue a security certificate for any non-citizen deemed “to be ‘inadmissible’ to Canada ‘on security grounds.’” (p. 207) Those who are issued a security certificate can be detained indefinitely. Surely, indefinite detention in Canada is wrong, whether for national security concerns or not. If someone, including a non-citizen, is detained, then they should have the right to be charged and brought to trial. But to hold someone without charge and punish them like a criminal when an offence has not been committed is against their human rights and is un-Canadian.


– 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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Agamben: Bare Life, The Camp, and States of Exception

Agamben’s writings on law, politics, and power can be difficult to grasp the first time around, for a variety of reasons – not least because understanding Agamben requires an appreciation of the works that he is responding to (Schmitt, Benjamin, and Foucault in particular). In my experience, most people find it easier to engage with Agamben’s ideas by exploring the ways that they have been interpreted and applied by other theorists (Butler, Ericson, Giroux, and Welch, for example).

I have prepared a poster that offers an introduction to some of the key ideas explored by Agamben in Homo Sacer (1998) and State of Exception (2005).

You can download a PDF version of the poster here: CRIM 3305_Agamben.

Students in CRIM 3305 Law & Society can pick up an 11 x 17 copy in class this week.

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