Destituent Resistance: Irregular Migrants As Paradigm of Agamben’s Coming Politics

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 11:15
Oral Presentation
Michael MURPHY, University of Ottawa, Canada
In a 1993 article “Beyond Human Rights,” Giorgio Agamben identified the refugee as limit-concept for the nation state that would inevitably clear the way for a radical renewal of categories of politics, society, and human rights. Over the next two decades, he would continue his investigation into the contemporary Western experience called the Homo Sacer project, finishing with The Use of Bodies. It is here that he provides a theoretical sketch of his politics to come, a project of “destituent potential” that breaks the dialectic of power that enables sovereign violence against citizen and refugee alike. This theorization of the coming politics offers little in terms of practical examples; however, by turning to the everyday practices of irregular migrants, we can develop a more concrete understanding of what Agamben sees as the politics to come. In this sense, we are moving from the object of critique—the contemporary West embodied in the legal category of the refugee—to the extrajuridical coming politics—towards a destituent potentiality that finds its paradigm in the irregular migrants. Just as Marx and Engels saw the capitalist bourgeoisie creating their own gravediggers through exploitation of the proletariat, the Western response of shoring up border controls in the face of the “refugee crisis” has created the very environment for destituent resistance to expose the foundational crisis of sovereignty. Through a review of recent studies of everyday practices of resistance by irregular migrants, this paper will address two connected literatures: 1) by taking the case of the irregular migrant, I will engage social and political theorists engaged in questions of the practical application of Agamben’s theory of the coming politics, and 2) engaging sociologists of migration and critical migration scholars with the “later Agamben,” following the rich literature surrounding early works like Homo Sacer.