Necronormativity – Death Politics on the Margins of the Law

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 13:15
Location: Hörsaal 31 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Randi GRESSGÅRD, University of Bergen, Norway
Achille Mbembe defines necropolitics as the contemporary subjugation of life to the power of death – the sovereign capacity to define who is disposable and who is not. He uses the concept to probe the governmental control of movement in occupied Palestine, which he takes to be a separating occupation along the lines of the splintering urbanism, arguing that colonial occupation is not only akin to control, surveillance and separation but implies also spatial seclusion. This juxtaposition suggests that there is not only a structural resemblance between occupational separation politics and urban splintering, but also – more profoundly – a common enabling condition pertaining to spatial enclosure. Drawing on Carl Schmitt’s concept of sovereignty, Mbembe identifies enclosure with radical exclusion, based on the power to decide on the exception. We may ask, however, whether the concept of necropolitics exhausts the potentiality of death politics. Contrary to Mbembe, this paper argues that the juxtaposition between colonial occupation and urban splintering is instructive to the extent that it widens our understanding of death politics. Rather than confining death politics to extra-legal action, the paper emphasizes the diffuse boundaries between legal and extra-legal violence characteristic of urban security politics worldwide, maintaining that 'ordinary' neoliberal urban governance tends to sustains racist, colonial formations by way of a geo-temporal splitting between desirable and undesirable populations. As distinct from extra-political necropolitics, which often involves militarized policing, focus of attention is on mundane, technocratic forms of death politics in terms of necronormativity, which signals continuity more than emergency. Coercive policing is still central to the understanding of death politics, but policing practices might be enmeshed in benign welfare or humanitarian programmes that serve to depoliticize and normalize violence within the norms of the polity, albeit on the margins of the law.