The Logic of Sovereignty and the Agency of the Refugee: Recovering the Political from ‘Bare Life’
Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life is a critical discussion of the logic of sovereignty and the production of refugees in the contemporary international system. However I will argue in this paper that Agamben’s discussion of refugees, like many others, reproduces a discourse that forecloses moments of refugee agency and the possibilities for systemic change. Instead, I will attempt to draw out a narrative that emphasizes the importance of refugee agency and the acts that challenge the discourses of pity and exclusion with reference to refugees. By relying on the works of Jacques Rancière, Hannah Arendt, Carl Schmitt, and others, I hope to illustrate that the agency of the refugee is less divorced from the political projects within sovereign nation-states than these discourses tend to suggest. To accomplish this goal I will focus on three levels of analysis: the abstract, the institutional, and the personal. At the abstract or conceptual level I will argue that the logic of sovereignty forecloses discussion of agency and change. At the institutional level I will explore the manifestations of refugee agency in the movements of the sans-papiers in France and the Non-Status Algerian in Canada. At the personal level I will discuss how agency emerges in the spaces of ‘bare life’ and how sovereignty is inscribed on the refugee body. Through this analysis I hope to explore how the inclusions and exclusions of sovereignty can be challenged by the agency of the refugee.