Sep 282011
Through and art exhibition in Tijuana in 2008 Named Proyecto cívico /Civic Project, I get in intrigued by a concept “State of Exception” from the Italian political Philosopher Giorgio Agamben. I think in the context of this class when we are trying to define and expand the definition of conflict, crisis and emergency the concept of State of Exception also designated state of emergency can play an important role in expanding the definition.
State of Exception (2005)
“In this book, Agamben traces the concept of ‘state of exception‘ (Ausnahmezustand) used by Carl Schmitt to Roman justitium and auctoritas. This leads him to a response to Carl Schmitt’s definition of sovereignty as the power to proclaim state emergency.
Giorgio Agamben’s text State of Exception investigates the increase of power structures governments employ in supposed times of crisis. Within these times of crisis, Agamben refers to increased extension of power as states of exception, where questions of citizenship and individual rights can be diminished, superseded and rejected in the process of claiming this extension of power by a government. Agamben explores the effect of the state of exception on the individual by looking at the ideas of bios and zoe.
The state of exception invests one person or government with the power and voice of authority over others extended well beyond where the law has existed in the past. “In every case, the state of exception marks a threshold at which logic and praxis blur with each other and a pure violence without logos claims to realize an enunciation without any real reference” (Agamben, pg 40). Agamben refers a continued state of exception to the Nazi state of Germany under Hitler’s rule. “The entire Third Reich can be considered a state of exception that lasted twelve years. In this sense, modern totalitarianism can be defined as the establishment, by means of the state of exception, of a legal civil war that allows for the physical elimination not only of political adversaries but of entire categories of citizens who for some reason cannot be integrated into the political system” (Agamben, pg 2).
The political power over others acquired through the state of exception, places one government – or one form or branch of government – as all powerful, operating outside of the laws. During such times of extension of power, certain forms of knowledge shall be privileged and accepted as true and certain voices shall be heard as valued, while of course, many others are not. This oppressive
distinction holds great importance in relation to the production of knowledge. The process of both acquiring knowledge, and suppressing certain knowledge, is a violent act within a time of crisis.
Agamben’s State of Exception investigates how the suspension of laws within a state of emergency or crisis can become a prolonged state of being. More specifically, Agamben addresses how this prolonged state of exception operates to deprive individuals of their citizenship. When speaking about the military order issued by President George W. Bush on 13 November 2001, Agamben writes, “What is new about President Bush’s order is that it radically erases any legal status of the individual, thus producing a legally
unnamable and unclassifiable being. Not only do the Taliban captured in Afghanistan not enjoy the status of POW’s as defined by the Geneva Convention, they do not even have the status of people charged with a crime according to American laws” (Agamben, pg 3). Many of the individuals captured in Afghanistan were taken to be held at Guantánamo Bay without trial. These individuals were termed as “enemy combatants.” Until 7 July 2006, these individuals had been treated outside of the Geneva Conventions by the United
States administration.
“The exhibition Proyecto Cívico/Civic Project investigates civic responsibility and citizenship under political and social conditions defined by legal and illegal vacuums and exceptions to the rule of law…”
Nationally in Mexico and in Tijuana—the city in which this exhibition takes place and upon which it reflects—the public agenda is dominated by heated debate on the possibility of substantive constitutional changes during a time of exceptional criminality; a public security crisis so extensive that it touches every region in Mexico, every class, gender, and age group, making us question what part each of us plays in a  ociety so bent on self-cannibalization.