Introduction: Agamben and Colonialism



Publication Details

Bignall, S. and Svirsky, M. G. (2012). Introduction: Agamben and Colonialism. In M. G. Svirsky and S. Bignall (Eds.), Agamben and Colonialism (pp. 1-14). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.


Although Giorgio Agamben is concerned with the ongms and development of Western political and legal thought and the ways in which it supports exclusionary structures of sovereign power and governance, he does not explore the ways in which the geopolitical entity of 'the West' emerged as such through its imperial domination of others. And while he carefully explicates erudite aspects of the determining political thought of the Greeks, with the formal separation of bios and zoe defining the capacity of some subjects to live as citizens, he does not dwell on how this was predicated on the fact of slavery as a condition for the realisation and operation of the polis. Agamben's references to slavery are made merely in passing - chiefly in the context of his analysis of messianic time and klesis in his discussion of Paul's Letter to the Romans - and they do not reflect upon its material conditions or imperial causes (for example, Agamben 2005b: 12-14, 19ff.; 2004: 37). Likewise, he makes only swift and oblique reference to colonisation and to colonial prison camps (Agamben 1998: 166). His essay Metropolis (2006) describes Agamben's most focused engagement with tropes of colonial and postcolonial analysis, but here, too, he is not overtly concerned with concrete histories of colonisation and the material legacy of colonial violence on colonised peoples. Italy's own colonial history, which in the 1930S involved the internment and genocide of the Cyrenaican nomads according to a particular colonial logic of political and legal exception that characterised Italian rule in Libya, is nowhere acknowledged or interrogated in the work of this Italian philosopher.

Please refer to publisher version or contact your library.