Sovereignty, Security, and the Exception

Towards Situating Postcolonial homo sacer

Authored by: Shelia Nair

Routledge International Handbook of Contemporary Social and Political Theory

Print publication date:  March  2011
Online publication date:  March  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415548250
eBook ISBN: 9780203875575
Adobe ISBN: 9781135997946


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The US “war on terror” has led liberal democracies to openly voice their disavowal of due process, basic human decencies, and civil liberties (selectively applied in the best of times); a disavowal that is rationalized in the name of justice. The messy complexities of a post 9/11 world have thus been reduced to conventional aphorisms – an epic struggle against good and evil. In this narrative collateral destruction of whole neighborhoods and villages in Iraq and Afghanistan is rendered an unfortunate, but unavoidable, consequence of a just war. Retribution accompanies a reinterpretation and reformulation of mid-twentieth-century international humanitarian and human rights laws, foundational in their conception and application. But acts of retribution also highlight the “privileged – and lazy – immunity” of intellectuals and scholars whose abstract inquiries into the constitution of sovereign violence and power are troubled by vulnerable bodies marked in the unleashing of this power (Gregory 2004: xiii). The exception, specifically the state of exception, has much currency in this context of neo-liberal rationalizations of violence.

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