Home > Uncategorized > Steven DeCaroli “Giorgio Agamben and the Field of Sovereignty”

Steven DeCaroli “Giorgio Agamben and the Field of Sovereignty”

DeCaroli, Steven 2007. Giorgio Agamben and the Field of Sovereignty. In: Calarco, Matthew; DeCaroli, Steven (eds). Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 43–69.

Instead of treating sovereignty as a foregone socio-political fact, the moderns would come to see sovereignty as a problem, so much so that the question of politics becomes largely indistinguishable from the question of sovereign authority. (44)

By situating politics squarely within an ontology of the subject and by refusing any absolute separation between political life and life-as-such, Agamben underscores rhe convergence of power and subjectivity that has, since the earliest appearance of the sovereign command, quietly materialized beneath the political mythologies sanctifying the “right to rule.” It is, then, at the intersection of the juridical model of
power (What legitimates sovereignty?) with the biopolitical model (What is the subject?) that Agamben’s work resides. (45)

Te classic typology of authority, defined as power that is recognized as legitimate not only by those holding positions of privilege but also by subordinates, all too easily envisions authority as a power distinct from those who are affected by it, namely, those individuals whose recognition, support, and obedience constitute the legitimacy authority enjoys. For this reason, it is altogether more helpful to engage the question of authority from the site of this obedience itself, rather than from within the confines of a conceptual debate that seeks to ascertain what constituent aurhoriry is apart from, or prior to, the social environment in which it is exercised. Te point here is that authority, of which sovereignty is the most extreme form, is a context-dependent concept, and to overlook this fact is to treat the authority embodied by sovereignty as a force existing independent of the field in which it is deployed. (48)

Sovereignty is the embeddedness of authority within a field of application-comprised of both a space and a multitude, a territory and a citizenry-and it is this legitimized connection between authority and territory that warrants further attention, because if politics is to be placed on a new footing it must do so by reformulating this relation. (48)

Te study of sovereignty must therefore begin with a study of those seemingly mundane forms of political life that are caught up in relations of power and self-recognition, rather than with the political logic of the state and its rulers. Te conditions for obedience are, therefore, not legal, nor are they, temporally speaking, merely pre-legal. Rather, the stabilization of the sovereign field is an ongoing, immanent process that subtends all activity within a jurisdiction, ordering all of its social actors, including he who wears the crown, as well as those who envision themselves as oppositional. (50)

Obedience comes before the law; it is the ground of the law and literally makes the law plausible. This is what Schmitt has in mind when he writes that there is no law applicable to chaos, and when in the course of this analysis, I speak of territory, or of jurisdiction, or of field, this fundamental preparedness is what I am referring to. (51)

[…] the political distinction between inside and outside, inclusion and exclusion, structures the basic logic of sovereignty itself, insofar as sovereignty maintains a boundary not between the legal and the illegal, both of which participate fully in the logic of legality, but between the legal and the non-legal, that is, between the lawful and the outlaw, between the citizen and the exile. (51)

The ability of sovereignty to simultaneously gencrate both a “state of exception” and juridico-political order provides Homo Sacer with its central theme, and it is in reference to this double movement that Agamben concludes that the “exception” (l’eccezione) refers to what is “taken outside (ex-capere), and nor simply excluded” (HS, r8). (52)

Reduced to this state, the occupants of the camp unmediated by traditional forms of political belonging, ordinarily expressed in the form of rights-encounter juridico-political power from a condition of comprehensive political abandonment. 1he camp is, for Agamben, an absolute biopolitical space in which power is exercised not against juridical subjects but against biological bodies. (53)

[…] the bare life that exists within the state, a the state’s internal exception, constitutes the field of obedience that enables the judicial machinery of the state to function. Bare life, then, the object of biopolitics, is precisely that which, within the state, is made obedient prior to the law. When, on occasion, the contingency of this obedience is brought to light-for instance, in the case of political anarchy, or in the event of natural, economic, or military crises sovereignty responds rapidly. (54)

Under ancient Roman law, persona referred co anyone or anything capable of bearing rights, and the technical term for the position of any individual regarded as a persona was status. In the Institutes of Justinian (535 c.E.), we have the definitive explication: “Te status of a Roman citizen was composed of three elements: libertatem, civitatem, familiam [freedom, citizenship, and family] .”14 First, status entailed liberty. A persona was free and, unlike a slave, could bear rights. Secondly, status consisted of citizenship. For the Romans, the state was a privileged body separated from the rest of the world by the exclusive possession of certain public and private rights that were granted to its citizenry. It was an essential part of the status of a Roman citizens that they possess citizenship in the state, beyond which were the citizens of other states and the barbari. Finally, status involved membership in a family. In Rome, family ties were established not through blood but through a system of legal privileges that granted to the head of the family alone, usually the father, an independent will (sui juris). Te head of the family held absolute authority over all other members through the exercise of patria potestas, and since persons under the power of another could not hold property, the father was sole property owner of the family and, accordingly, what the son acquired was de facto acquired for the father. Moreover, the son himself was a real possession of the father and in some cases could be killed by the father without it being considered legal homicide. (59)

By simply refusing to rule, the Roman judiciary brought about the desired end without ever commanding it. Indeed, in the case of those subject to the interdictio, as opposed to the forceful banishment to, for instance, an island, it was the individuals themselves who bore ultimate
responsibility for their own exile. Te law, by refusing to rule over certain individuals, by deciding not to include them within the sovereign field,
effectively placed the fate of each individual into his or her own hands. A was the case for Aristotle, banishment is here the consequence of a refusal to rule, a withdrawal of the state from an individual. (62)


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