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The Other Side of the Exception: the symptom and the study of global politics

Wednesday 27 January 2016, 12.00PM to 2.00pm

Speaker(s): Andreja Zevnik, University of Manchester

The debates concerning exceptionalism or exception-driven politics have dominated international relations literature in the aftermath of 9/11. The two main conceptualisations of exception, as Jef Huysmans (2008) clearly outlined in his essay ‘The Jargon of Exception’ draw on the thought of Carl Schmitt and Giorgio Agamben respectively. The two accounts are not only distinct for they propose a different understanding of exception, significant and distinct in both approaches is the political realm, or the type of political society which they in turn constitute. Schmitt cancels out the democratic power of the populous and places the sovereign as the only figure capable of politically expressing people’s interests and desires. In contrast, Agamben’s exceptionalist politics splits the populous in two based on whether an individual counts as politically human or not. On the one side are subjects excluded from politics, whereas on the other side are politically included citizens. By focusing on legal and political discourse surrounding the war in terror, this paper looks at how the conflict between the people and the sovereign power evolved on the backs of habeas corpus petitions and discourses of exception, what role the ‘will of the people’ played in challenging the split between the part of the populous which politically counts and the part which was silenced or excluded (the detainees of the war on terror or the barbaric other), and in particular, what the interplay between the people and the sovereign power, or the exception and the law reveal about the nature of the modern political. These discussions are particularly interesting if a closer look is given to the battles for detainees’ rights fought at the courts in the US and the civil society’s engagement in actions supporting the detainees’ legal rights. A slowly diminishing public investment in the issue and a subsequent slow over-ruling of the rights (see ruling in Latif v Obama, 2011) the detainees gained in 2008 testify, as this paper aims to show, of the symptomal nature of the exception. In other words, legal and political practices constituting the exception and the responses/protests against it are not exceptional, but constitutive of the liberal political order.

In contrast to Agamben, this paper argues that the exception does not become normal, but is always already a constitutive part of the liberal order, moreover, its ‘coming into existence’ is not a mistake or an error, but a symptom which will always divide the political space and the world populous. In the words of Slavoj Zizek and Jacques Lacan, on whose theories this paper draws, ‘the exception’ is only the symptom of the modern political reality, which will always operate on the binaries and the logics of inclusion and exclusion. Driven by the theory of the symptom the paper argues that an underlying assumption of the ‘split’ world populous can never be overcome, that a struggle between the populous and the sovereign power always stops at a point where a continuation of a struggle for recognition would require a more fundamental restructuring of power relations within the global liberal society.


Location: Derwent College room D/N/104

Admission: All welcome