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Marikana: From Foucault’s ‘bio-power’ to Agamben’s ‘Homo Sacer’

Readers of Michel Foucault will know that when he turned to Greek and (especially) Roman antiquity in his genealogical investigation of human sexuality, he found there admirable personal ethical practices, conducive to a high degree of autonomy under the rubric of “the care of the self”. In earlier genealogical studies, however, the picture that emerged of the modern world in Discipline and Punish, as well as in Volume I of The History of Sexuality, was indeed bleak.

In the former work, on the history of modes of punishment — where the spectacular punitive practices of pre-modernity are contrasted with the “gentler” (but more effective) punishments of modernity — Foucault uncovered a prison-like world (ours) in which individuals are reduced to “docile bodies” through various disciplinary techniques. In the first volume on sexuality he amplified this austere social landscape by detailing the inescapable hold that “bio-power” has on individuals and populations through strategies of what he called the “anatomo-politics of the body” (for example the pedagogical control of children’s sex, and the social control of reproduction — both of which are well-known to us) and the “bio-politics of populations” (for example population control).

Confirming Foucault’s diagnosis of “modern societies of control” (a phrase used by Gilles Deleuze), Giorgio Agamben (in the Introduction to Homo Sacer, Stanford University Press, 1998) remarked that the development of capitalism, in particular, would not have been possible without the “disciplinary control” achieved by the advent of bio-power, which was responsible for the creation of the requisite “docile bodies” by means of a range of appropriate technologies. Not content to leave Foucault’s work at that, Agamben went further along a similar path of investigation, and produced what must surely count as an even more sobering, appalling, or shocking ( all of which are understatements) account of modern society than Foucault’s — one that unmasks it by means of the heuristic of the paradoxical (and puzzling) determination, in Roman law, that someone condemned to death was “sacred” and could not be sacrificed, although such a person could be killed or executed.

In Agamben’s words (in Homo Sacer):

“The sovereign sphere is the sphere in which it is permitted to kill without committing homicide and without celebrating a sacrifice, and sacred life — that is, life that may be killed but not sacrificed — is the life that has been captured in this sphere.”

The meaning of “sacrifice” in the context of religious ritual is all-important here, and can easily be overlooked — if a “sacred” person could be killed but not sacrificed, it means, firstly, that the epithet “sacred” has to be attached to someone to be able to justify, ironically, his or her exclusion from religious ritual sacrifice (which would presumably conflict with the reasons for that person’s death sentence; hence the supposed “sacredness” precludes participation in the ritual). In other words, it is merely a ruse to justify treating him or her as “bare life”, which may then be terminated by execution — something that enacted itself on an unprecedented scale in the Holocaust, with Hitler ordering the extermination of Jews “like lice”.

The upshot of Agamben’s inquiry is that the realm of “sacred life” has grown immensely since ancient times, with dire consequences for the biopolitical programmes and interventions that the state — and not only the Nazi state — has been capable of executing or performing. In short, the state has the task of producing “bare life” and although it has no “jurisdiction” over it because of the “state of exception” from human and divine law, nevertheless wields the power of (ex-)termination over it.

Obscure as it may be, Agamben’s tracing of this motif of “exception” through history to the 20th century, is illuminating regarding contemporary state practices of a “bio-political” nature. Agamben summarises the dismal implications of Foucault’s later work by pointing out that, in effect, the latter had demonstrated the modern western state to have integrated “techniques of subjective individualisation” and “procedures of objective totalisation” to an “unprecedented” degree.

Unfortunately I cannot here give an adequate account of Agamben’s truly horrifying exposé of the present “state of exception” (actually, going back to a “double exception”, from both human and divine law, while still being included in the community in so far as killing is concerned) the roots of which may be traced back to antiquity (as pointed out above) but I can say that his book shows those deluded souls who believe that we are living in an age of “progress” (or, more ludicrously, “enlightenment”) to be sorely mistaken. In fact, it will take a superhuman, collective effort to overcome the state of affairs he uncovers, which is unlikely to happen, albeit not impossible — all social, political and economic conditions are of contingent historical provenance, and can therefore be reversed, whatever the price.

At the risk of oversimplifying, Agamben’s very erudite and intricately argued, historically informed, diagnosis of the connections between the condition of “sovereignty”, the “sacred” and the sentencing of someone to death (among other things) leads to the realisation that what the 20th century produced in the guise of the concentration camp is the paradigm of modern “bio-politics”, which fuses the question of sovereign rule with the power over life, and results in “the politicisation of life” (and death). He credits Foucault with the founding insight that leads to this unavoidable conclusion.

The concentration camp exemplifies the practice of denuding individuals of what the ancient Greeks thought of as human “bios”, or the distinctively human, political way of life, leaving only their “bare, unqualified life” or what the Greeks called “zoë”. This has paved the way for virtually unthinkable atrocities, minus what one might expect to be accountability, regarding what remained of human individuals, namely denuded bodies, or “bare life” — mere living beings. Recall the skeletal creatures discovered in German concentration camps at the end of WWII.

This historical development formed the basis for the now widespread practice of paradoxically exercising the power of the law outside of the law. Agamben argues that the space of the (concentration) camp becomes pervasive when the “state of exception” becomes the rule, rather than the exception. Needless to say, the widespread practice, globally, of excluding people from the realm of the law, to be able to deal with them as bare life in a manner required by biopolitical exigencies, should be understood against this background.

Agamben discusses instances of biopolitical intervention ranging from the “case” of Karen Quinlan to what he calls (paradoxical) “military interventions on humanitarian grounds”, but the list far exceeds his examples. In South Africa “Marikana” would seem to me to qualify as one of these “uncertain and nameless terrains” where the indefinite prolongation of mere, “bare life” (Quinlan), or brute killing, can happen without legal consequence, because the victims have already been excluded from the domain of the law. These are just some of the manifestations of the hidden “biopolitical paradigm of the modern” — the (concentration) camp, where one is reduced to “bare life”.


  • As an undergraduate student, Bert Olivier discovered Philosophy more or less by accident, but has never regretted it. Because Bert knew very little, Philosophy turned out to be right up his alley, as it were, because of Socrates's teaching, that the only thing we know with certainty, is how little we know. Armed with this 'docta ignorantia', Bert set out to teach students the value of questioning, and even found out that one could write cogently about it, which he did during the 1980s and '90s on a variety of subjects, including an opposition to apartheid. In addition to Philosophy, he has been teaching and writing on his other great loves, namely, nature, culture, the arts, architecture and literature. In the face of the many irrational actions on the part of people, and wanting to understand these, later on he branched out into Psychoanalysis and Social Theory as well, and because Philosophy cultivates in one a strong sense of justice, he has more recently been harnessing what little knowledge he has in intellectual opposition to the injustices brought about by the dominant economic system today, to wit, neoliberal capitalism. His motto is taken from Immanuel Kant's work: 'Sapere aude!' ('Dare to think for yourself!') In 2012 Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University conferred a Distinguished Professorship on him. Bert is attached to the University of the Free State as Honorary Professor of Philosophy.


  1. Maria Maria 15 January 2013

    Bert, this reminds me of a discussion we had when we were at Yale together – I seem to recall it was in Schrader’s class on critical hermeneutics – on the topic of the holocaust and apartheid, both of which instantiated such “states of exception”, although Schrader did not call it by that name at the time. But the concept was the same: how to “justify” treating human beings in a dehumanising way? You remove them from the realm governed by commonly accepted laws first, and then you can do with them what you like. In our discussions we also dwelt on the similar way in which the conquistadors treated the indigenous South Americans. And wasn’t the Romans’ (and all subsequent slave owners’) treatment of slaves the same? I recall that the Romans (was it Cicero?) referred to a slave as an instrumentum vocale – an instrument with a voice. I.e. slaves had more or less the same “bare life” status as Agamben’s “homo sacer”, it would appear.

  2. manquat manquat 16 January 2013

    It is a priviledge to have access to such deep intellectual material on thought leader free of charge. Thanks professor Olivier and thought leader!

  3. Aragorn Eloff Aragorn Eloff 16 January 2013

    What I find especially chilling is how the state of exception and the reduction of poor life to zoë has become so unexceptional – no longer even in need of a post-hoc justification – in the suppression of strikes and mobilisations (or, to be honest, the bio-political control of life in general) in contemporary South Africa.

    Do most of us even bat an eyelid when confronted with reports of brutal state repression like the execution of a young man in De Doorns by the police a couple of days ago in front of his community (almost certainly to send a message to other strikers)?

    “There were three police, all white guys, who ordered him outside and then shot him at close range. The whole community saw him shot.” – from ‘De Doorns protests claim first life’ piece on the DM website.

  4. Garg Unzola Garg Unzola 16 January 2013

    Perhaps now it becomes clear why the classical liberals are so against egalitarian social justice and other artificial, unrealistic notions of equality that are moot without legal equality.

    Throughout the ages, the main struggle was for legal equality. It is not possible to ensure equality in any meaningful sense when access to the law is not equal.

    It is also through the rise of capitalism, with is notions of private property and private ownership of labour, that both the overbearing power of the state and its monopoly on violence are tempered.

    It is unfortunate that many tea party supporters are just plain nuts. The principles and the philosophers who originally came up with them had the right idea in my view.

  5. The Creator The Creator 16 January 2013

    Actually, the rise of capitalism was directly responsible for the dehumanising factors which Foucault wrote about in Discipline and Punish, and which I think are far more valuable than his fantasies about the ancient world (which, like most of us, he knew very little about).

    Think Panopticon, and think Dark Satanic Mills. And, of course, the logic of capitalism led straight to Marikana, where Lonmin was provoking internecine struggle among the workers in order to generate its ultimate goal of legitimating the massive downsizing process which is now under way.

  6. Maria Maria 16 January 2013

    Garg, you’re missing something – both Foucault and Agamben (as well as Deleuze and Guattari) allude to the complicity between the panoptical/”sovereign” state and capitalism. One might think that capitalism’s economic power would give it a certain immunity to the state’s power of acting in terms of the “state of exception”, but in truth the modern state and capitalism need each other. They are in a symbiotic relationship – the state has the obligation to keep things stable enough for capitalism to function profitably, and capitalism has to support the state economically. And if not “the state”, then corrupt politicians on the sly, in turn for lucrative investment opportunities. Marikana was a perfect example of this. When Lonmin’s exploitation of workers caused an uprising, the police (agent of the state) had to stabilize things, acting on the basis of a “state of exception,” reducing the workers to “bare life”. And the peripheral involvement of politicians – in particular an obscenely wealthy one – proved the reverse, that they, in turn, depend on the mines’ generation of wealth for their shareholders and, of course, for their political benefactors.

  7. Garg Unzola Garg Unzola 16 January 2013

    Actually, the Dark Satanic Mills metaphor is a prime example of the Luddite Fallacy. It shows that those versed in nothing but humanities have been harking back to the Noble Savage days since the first examples of homo sapiens being, well, sapiens enough to let machines do the dirty work on his behalf.

    What can possibly be more humanising than this? Fantasising about the ancient world and the modern one? Or perhaps facilitating the greatest good for the greatest number, as Jeremy Bentham tried to facilitate with his panopticon?

  8. Garg Unzola Garg Unzola 17 January 2013

    That’s a more or less accurate analysis of the situation, I agree.

    I just wouldn’t describe the symbiotic relationship between big business and the state as capitalism. This is an inevitable side effect of being OK with a little free market now and then as long as it is regulated. Like being OK with being a little bit pregnant as long as we don’t go full on giving birth or aborting any time soon. Naturally, the incentives are then skewed for those with capital to get cosy with those with the legislative power.

    We see the same effect in South Africa where the politically connected can grant favours on those who grant the favours back. We don’t even have mere peripheral involvement of politicians, we have direct involvement of politicians. Marikana in particular shows that it’s not only the case of big capital getting cosy with politicians, but even those supposedly on the side of the workers see no problem with the conflict of interest of owning shares in the mines and still running the extortion cartel that is organised labour.

    Regulated capitalism is more stable, but the side effect is that it’s more fragile. We have to protect jobs and create them as an end in itself after all, but one cannot regulate supply and demand.

  9. Dave Harris Dave Harris 17 January 2013

    Wow! All this philosophical pontificating prematurely deflects attention away from the real culprits that set the stage for this tragedy – LONMIN MANAGEMENT!
    Besides, wouldn’t it be ethical to wait for the commission’s report?

    I agree with Creator.
    Does it not seem bizarre that Lonmin’s CEO, Ian Farmer, was suddenly hospitalized under mysterious circumstances, the very day of the massacre?! And what of the role of Lonmin management in feeding the rivalry between unions resulting in numerous violent confrontations?

    btw Its beginning to seem like you can use these myopic arcane Greek philosophical theories can be used to explain just about anything! simply amazing! lol

  10. Aragorn Eloff Aragorn Eloff 17 January 2013

    @Garg: The Luddites actually made some damn good points about alienation (as did Marx, reiterated by Foucault in his work on disciplinary societies). There’s nothing inherently ‘fallacious’ in observing the detrimental social and psychological effects of automated forms of mass production (or how they constitute a subtle but highly effective new form of social control), nor is an appeal to nature necessarily implied.

    “Throughout the ages, the main struggle was for legal equality.”

    – No, for Enlightenment liberals the main struggle was for legal equality. In other ages, contesting power was not primarily jurisprudential, as Foucault discusses in D&P (here’s a handy summary of this:

    “Facilitating the greatest good for the greatest number, as Jeremy Bentham tried to facilitate with his panopticon.”

    – Sure, the greatest good for the greatest number as measured and enforced by a controlling moralist. Sounds awesome. In fact, it reminds me of that wonderful piece of writing on utilitarian utopia, 1984. Anyway, here’s how I think we should deal with panopticism:

    “It is also through the rise of capitalism, with is notions of private property and private ownership of labour, that both the overbearing power of the state and its monopoly on violence are tempered.”

    – I thought you said you’d read Debt?

  11. Garg Unzola Garg Unzola 17 January 2013

    1. The Luddite Fallacy is not relevant to psychological alienation. There is plenty fallacious about claiming automation or mechanisation necessarily implies psychological alienation.

    2. The struggle for legal equality was not just during the Enlightenment, and it’s not just a classical liberal catchphrase. The concept was formed in the time of Pericles and resurrected to combat the Divine Right of Kings (before the Enlightenment, during the Renaissance).

    3. The greatest good for the greatest number is an example of the Utility monster, regardless of how controlling the moralist.

    Do you have any ideas that do not involve rationalising vandalism?

    4. I didn’t read Debt, I read Graeber’s own articles based on his book. Debt is not the last word, it does not even agree with the field of anthropology. A gift, for example, is always found either as symbolic practice to procure social status in parallel with bartering, or with reciprocity in mind. Graeber conveniently ignores this with the canard that the absence of evidence for bartering leading to currency is evidence of absence. Amateurish at best.

  12. Keith Keith 17 January 2013

    Thanks, Bert, for making Agamben more accessible than usual.There is an older version of this line of thinking, one linked more closely to South African history. Mohandas K. Gandhi formed his politics as an anti-colonial intellectual and activist in the two decades he spent in Durban and Johannesburg before the First World War. Much of his thinking accords with what you have written here. In addition he wrote extensively about what to do about it at personal and collective levels.

    Gandhi’s critique of the modern state was devastating. He believed that it disabled its citizens, subjecting mind and body to the control of professional experts when the purpose of a civilisation should be to enhance its members’ sense of their own self-reliance. He proposed instead an anthropology based on two universal postulates: that every human being is a unique personality and as such participates with the rest of humanity in an encompassing whole. For political redress, it was necessary to concentrate efforts in a social form appropriate to interests of the majority of people suffering from such a regime. He picked on the Indian village, but we might try something else.

    Bhiku Parekh’s book, Gandhi’s Political Philosophy: a critical examination (1989) offers a good secondary guide to all this. Otherwise readers might take up his Autobiography again.

  13. Aragorn Eloff Aragorn Eloff 17 January 2013

    @Dave Harris: “All this philosophical pontificating prematurely deflects attention away from the real culprits that set the stage for this tragedy – LONMIN MANAGEMENT!”

    – On the contrary, I think discussions of bio-power, states of exception, etc., serve to support the case you make, i.e., that Lonmin management is culpable. In fact, a Foucault/Agamben-inspired analysis of the situation might go one step further towards affording us a deeper understanding of the broader context in which the sociopathic behaviour of the directors of companies like Lonmin is not only possible, but often actively encouraged.

    “Its beginning to seem like you can use these myopic arcane Greek philosophical theories can be used to explain just about anything!”

    – Can you justify your claim that Foucault and co. are myopic? That’s the kind of charge people usually level against neo-liberal apologists like Fukuyama and Foucault is a particularly odd target for it given that throughout his work he challenges exactly that kind of short-sighted thinking that seeks to interpret everything in terms of the present historical moment with all its contingent arrangements of power.

    Also, when you get down to it most things can be used to explain just about anything. Hell, you can even clumsily explain the world away with game theory if that’s your fancy. The question is what value these explanations have for us, what possibilities they unfold and so forth…

  14. Aragorn Eloff Aragorn Eloff 17 January 2013

    @Garg: 1: The Dark Satanic Mills and the Luddites (not the Luddite Fallacy, which is based on a massive oversimplification of what workers at the time were reacting against – exploitation, deskilling and alienation, in the Marxist sense: are both great examples of the dehumanising effects of capitalism, which is why The Creator and I invoked them.

    Here’s a little something on alienation:

    2: I was trying to make a Foucauldian point around the heterogeneity of different epistemes, but I’m going to give up.

    3a: Yes, and the utility monster is a bad thing. I think that, oddly, we’re on the same page here. For some reason I thought you were invoking the panopticon favourably…

    3b: Prefiguration is also nice, albeit insufficient.

    4: Graeber ‘conveniently ignores’ Mauss and Sahlins? I’m sure he’d chuckle at that ;-) If anything, Debt is an extension of their work on gift economics (which, of course, includes indirect non-quantitative reciprocity, etc.) In fact, a huge section of Debt is spent delineating the qualitative differences between formalised capitalist social relations and what Mauss, Sahlins, Clastres, Barclay and others discussed in their work ;-)

  15. Dave Harris Dave Harris 18 January 2013

    @Aragorn Eloff
    No it does not support my point about Lonmin’s management because Bert constantly refers to “the state” which alludes to government/police but never Lonmin management.

    And no, its not the myopia of the Greek philosophers but Bert’s myopia of constantly blindly shoehorning ancient Greek philosophy as the explanation for everything. I would not be surprised to see him claiming that its the cure for the common cold too!

  16. Garg Unzola Garg Unzola 18 January 2013

    1. It’s not relevant until you can show a causal link between the introduction of technology and psychological alienation. Marx’s theories are great for rationalising ineptitude, but they’re not feasible explanations of phenomena we observe..

    I see so many formal logical fallacies in that link on alienation that I’m not sure if you’re trying to support my argument or bolster your counter.

    2. Please don’t give up but try harder to express yourself clearly. You don’t end up next to Zizek on the bookshelf, but in the long run you’d talk less nonsense than him.

    3. a) Not at all. We are on the same page with regards to a centralised power. The utility monster counts for laissez faire capitalism too, of course. And believe it or not, it counts for anarchist societies too. Someone has to maintain the state of classlessness somehow.

    4. I’m sure he would chuckle. He’s sanctimonious that way and he usually just chuckles instead of addressing the shortcomings of his fairy tales.

  17. Aragorn Eloff Aragorn Eloff 18 January 2013

    1: I’d be interested to read your critique of Marx’s theory of alienation. Let me know if you decide to post it somewhere.

    4: My point is that for anyone who has read him it’s patently obvious that Graeber knows – and refers extensively to – the work of Sahlins, Mauss, etc. For instance, cracking open my copy of ‘Toward an anthropological theory of value: the false coin of our own dreams’, his first book, I see references to no less than eighteen publications by Mauss and eight by Sahlins in the bibliography. To argue that Graeber ‘conveniently ignores’ the fact that ‘a gift, for example, is always found either as symbolic practice to procure social status in parallel with bartering, or with reciprocity in mind’ is to betray a complete lack of familiarity with his work.

  18. Garg Unzola Garg Unzola 19 January 2013

    1. Short and sweet: The labour theory of value is invalid. Marx’s theory of alienation relies on his notion that value is tied with labour.

    The wiki page mentions things that should belong together. Who decides this? Marx? A sense of justice? Put the hammers and sickles together, but don’t put the Benzies and the CEOs together, they don’t fit. Seems a bit teleological, doesn’t it?

    2. Graeber appears to be intellectually dishonest in this case. He may be referencing The Gift, he may be familiar with gifts in the anthropological sense, but his claims do not fit with those known from anthropology. This means he is either lying or he is delusional.

    In that piece, he does not seem to misrepresent Mauss or his notions of the Gift. His conclusion that societies were based on gift economies and these all functioned in the intimate setting where nobody expected anything in return is flawed, though.

    As today, even in primitive societies, most trade is done with people who do not know each other. Gift economies as Graeber presents it only existed within clans, families or people who otherwise knew each other well.

    The direction that currency took in its origins is entirely immaterial and has no bearing on the validity of the official version of economics.

    Both of these may be of interest:

  19. Aragorn Eloff Aragorn Eloff 19 January 2013

    @Garg: I’m not a fan of the LTV (nor are many anarchists, actually. In fact, not even Proudhon – who Marx cobbled a lot of his economic ideas from – remained uncritical of it). However, the validity of the LTV has no bearing on Marx’s theory of alienation; there’s no strict link between alienation and any specific value theories:

    One can also remove the residual Hegelianism about ‘things that belong together’ from that Wikipedia entry on alienation and the theory still holds.

    PS: You might be interested in what one of your vague kin has to say about the LTV (I’m not convinced by the appeal to a priori synthetic reason):

    2: “Graeber appears to be intellectually dishonest in this case…his claims do not fit with those known from anthropology…he does not seem to misrepresent Mauss or his notions of the Gift…”

    Wait, let me get this straight. Without any real familiarity with the subject matter, or any specific citations, you argue that Graeber, a highly regarded anthropologist who focuses specifically on things like gift economies, is unfamiliar with, or purposely denying, some of the most well-known research (by Sahlins, Mauss and countless others) in his own field, and then, entirely contrary to everything in Debt, argue that he’s confused about the extent of gift economies? Dude, RTFB!

  20. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 19 January 2013

    Whilst I have now accepted that ‘liberal’ is now a four letter word, when did ‘symbiotic’ become a sin?

  21. Garg Unzola Garg Unzola 20 January 2013

    1. Why do you claim that alienation is valid? I for one have only felt more at home the more technology I can surround myself with and the further I am removed from digging ditches, stitching Nikes or plowing fields. The feeling seems to be the same amongst rock drillers at Marikana, who keep on reminding their CEOs that they do backbreaking work and don’t particularly like enduring it. Their labour adds nothing to the value chain, with the ore being shipped to

    2. Appeal to authority much? I merely pointed out the discrepancy between Graeber’s notions on The Gift as presented in your link and what he claims about his own book. Suffice to say that so far I cannot imagine how the book would differ much from Graeber’s own musings on the topic.

    Besides all that, I can’t imagine how destroying vast stores of wealth in a public display is an efficient means of sharing resources. Nor can I imagine say a book shop or a plant pathogen restaurant lasting long if they relied on giving their stock away. Perhaps you can try it and tell us how natural and de facto this really really free market is in daily practice and not just in situations where people can voluntarily clear their garages of junk?

  22. Garg Unzola Garg Unzola 20 January 2013

    1. should read the ore is shipped overseas and the value chain happens nearly entirely there. The only reason why rock drillers have jobs is the nature of the deposits where it’s impractical to automate and mechanise (read: in a cost-benefit analysis, hiring labour is cheaper than shoving machines in there. It won’t stay this way for long with the miners pricing themselves out of the equation).

    By the way, as noted before, Graeber offers nothing devastating or new to the field of economics. Even in Menger’s original accounts, as in most economics textbooks, it is noted that the barter to currency to credit story is just speculation. Economics is a narrative discipline that relies on trying to explain observed phenomenon. How currency came about and what came first is of no consequence to what is currently observed.

    If you want a valid criticism that may even be devastating to economics, try this book (it has a few very interesting criticisms of Marx and Marxists too, as well as Adam Smith’s solution to predatory lending):

  23. Sophia Sophia 20 January 2013

    Bert, Agamben emphasises that sacer should be read as ‘paradigmatic’, (like Foucault’s panopticism) rather than in sociological or historical terms. His analysis should not be read as literally describing the modern age as one in which we are all ‘homer sacer’. This would be a dangerous conflation of vastly divergent juridical, historical and political circumstances. There is a substantial, qualitative difference for instance, between the lives of detainees at Guantanamo, Auschwitz or Kaechon and say, your and my life. The critical function of the concept of sacer should be that it helps us see that the law does not spread evenly. In general terms; firstly some are above it; secondly there are victims of it, and thirdly there are those that are simply excluded from it. The differences between these three general varieties are significant. The first is epitomised by the tin pot dictator (Mugabe), the second include victims of state terrorism (Blacks under Apartheid), and the third are a broad category which, depending on your viewpoint could include, aborted foetuses, the Dalit or even the Romani.
    That said, his notion of a permanent state of emergency is as fascinating as it is frightening and represents an interesting link to more conventional analyses such as Ulrich Beck’s ‘Risk Society’. i.e. how do terrorists terrorise? Via the organs of the paranoid state who secures itself via extra legal measures – surveillance, intelligence and violence.

  24. Bert Bert 20 January 2013

    Sophia – Thank you for that. I thought that my little piece did reflect an understanding of ‘sacer’ as paradigmatic, rather than ‘factual’. Not for a moment do I believe that we are all living in that condition uninterruptedly, but at the same time I believe that this development has come far enough in terms of precedents to enable states – any state – to act in such a way as to exclude people from the domain of the law without prior notice, as it were. That is, where the agencies of the state, like the police in the example that Aragorn gives, above, from the farm worker strike in the Western Cape, can act without ANY regard for the so-called ‘human rights’ of the people concerned, and ‘constitute’ these people as ‘homo sacer’ through their (the police’s) actions. By which time it is too late for the victims to complain about being excluded from the domain of the law. I believe that (and others, like Badiou, have also alluded to this) the ‘paradigmatic’ state of being reducible to ‘bare life’ under certain circumstances makes a mockery of our supposed ‘human rights’ culture. And SA seems to pride itself on being such a culture!

  25. Aragorn Eloff Aragorn Eloff 21 January 2013

    @Garg: “I cannot imagine how the book would differ much from Graeber’s own musings on the topic.”

    – Read the books we’re discussing and perhaps you won’t have to imagine. Failing that, it’s a bit of a surreal discussion to be having – you debating the specifics and merits of arguments you haven’t bothered exploring.

    “How currency came about and what came first is of no consequence to what is currently observed.”

    – This is discussed in Debt. Again, you should read it if you’re going to prognosticate on its merits.

    By the way, here’s a cute recent article on the subject:

  26. Garg Unzola Garg Unzola 21 January 2013

    Isn’t it acting like homo sacer to expect the ‘human right’ of mass action and protesting is sacrosanct, without having to face responsibility for one’s actions, even though these protests often get violent and lead to a loss of mere human live without the intervention of the police?

    I’m referring to those perceived as scabs who were put in hospital first and then dragged out of hospital for more beatings. The police didn’t do this. SA does indeed seem to pride itself on being such a culture, but it’s not only those with the law on their side who act from this privileged position.

  27. Garg Unzola Garg Unzola 21 January 2013

    Thanks but so far I cannot see sufficient reason to believe that Graeber misrepresented himself in his own articles on his book. Feel free to present specifics I have wrong and we can take it from there.

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