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Resisting the Camp: Civil Death and the Practice of Sovereignty in New York State

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date02/2013
JournalLaw, Culture and the Humanities
Number of pages23
Early online date25/05/11
Original languageEnglish


This article is an empirical engagement of Giorgio Agamben’s “spatial theory of power.” It explores, through the case-study of civil death in New York, the continuum of exclusion that is capped on one end by homo sacer and the sovereign on the other. I argue that civil death has had a long-running history in America, intimately connected to the expression of sovereign power and its deployment in the penal sphere. I show that despite the longue durée of this disability, and its efficacy as a tool of political and social marginalization, this practice has proved highly unstable for sovereignty and has generated significant resistance in the courts, civil society and prisons themselves. The contested status of civil death, I contend, underscores the dynamic character of resistance to sovereign power and its role in framing the conditions under which state authority can be articulated and maintained.