City at a Time of Crisis



Tracing and researching crisis-ridden urban public spaces

in Athens, Greece.

You are here: Home \ Blog \ The space that remains

The space that remains

“The space that remains” comprises an attempt to explore the transformations of the public space of Athens at the time of crisis. But it will fumble with incomprehensible remnants. It wishes to ponder over the most devalued of lives and to seek out those whose horizon had always been the one set by the current crisis. Or those who originate from the crisis’ darkest corner. It will walk along “devalued” streets and it will attempt to eavesdrop unheard screams. And it will wonder about the toll of a stroll within this space’s confined limits. “The space that remains” appears little in face of all hopes and all dreams. It would wish to be a transit stop. But it stands there, harsh and literal. Tight and forced to “host”. This space will tell us about the authority of meaning. And how this can only be articulated through lines on the ground; lines that are invisible, yet strict. And then again, it will tell us about some bodies that learned to avoid those lines and for others that love to draw them. But this space has its time, too. It will probably avoid telling us about the future. And it will nostalgically bend over its past. But more than anything, it will tie itself onto its somber present, cramped and nerveless; unable to comprehend how so little of it remained. Sometimes it will find solace and other times it will shine in its foibles. At its best, it will dress up with carefree trails. At its bleak, it will dress into winter. And winter is like a curfew that has never been declared...



Mapping out biopathologies in the Athenian city centre – (Greek) society must be defended

The Nazi paradigm and its ostensibly scientific anti-semitism comprise a historically unique phenomenon. The choice to momentarily resort to its thanatopolitical idioms, thereby forming an interpretative framework, comes in full consciousness of the moral and conceptual dangers that it contains. The aim of this choice was not, therefore, to position asymmetrical events onto an axis of historical continuity, nor to attempt to equate heterogeneous phenomena. The Nazi experience offers an exemplary moment in the practices of political denuding, which have been tormenting the present article from the outset. And should there be one thing that forced this article to visit this dystopic world, it would be the intention to briefly ponder over both the terms, the explanations and the interpretations offered by Nazism itself concerning this denuding―as well as those hints revealing that the dystopia in question was gestating as a potentiality already from the moment when modernity arrived. This paradigm should not be allowed, in this sense, to keep to itself―since it ought to suggest interpretations for phenomena historically touching upon the present, if not predominantly for these. The Nazi case stands out there, in its uniqueness. If only it would comprise merely the subject of some carefree literature contemplation. To the contrary, the shadow it casts upon phenomena most relevant to nowadays describe the terms of the contemporary denuding, emerges as some stubborn destiny. The Nazi experience as such belongs exclusively to the past. Nevertheless, we have the right to dismay when we find ourselves faced with processes and phenomena that feature a distant but alarming relationship to that precise past. Understandably, then, Esposito claims that Nazism may had been defeated militarily but imposed itself politically, since the triumphant liberal democracy utilises today, just like then, the same biopolitical vocabulary.[1] Or, to express it in Agamben’s words, allowing ourselves to momentarily delve into his dark diagnoses: “in modern democracies it is possible to state in public what the Nazi biopoliticians did not dare to say”.[2]

The Nazi paradigm offers the opportunity for an invaluable study into biopolitical denuding and its necessary supplement―that is, the politicisation of the naked biologicality; as such, we ought to hear out its lessons, should we wish to sufficiently comprehend certain facets of the contemporary biopolitical condition. The complete rendering of the biological element into a political meaning, even if seemingly comprising a Nazi novelty, does not unfortunately allow us to nowadays conceive it as some exclusivity held by the Nazis. The technologies used then, both in their technique and in their political meaning, are considered anything but obsolete today. Which is why we ought to worry. Since, as Elden writes, “it is not the techniques, the technologies of the state, that parallel. It is the essence of these technologies, their conditions of possibility”.[3] And these conditions, as conditions of modernity’s potentiality―and by extension, of the contemporary state―have become more widespread and more implicit today. From contemporary biometric practices and new biotechnologies to the urgent meanings acquired by the notion of public health, to the role held by bioethical matters in our understanding of our social existence, the naked biopolitical backdrop of the human constantly returns to the fore of political production―reminding us it anything but retired after Nazism’s end. “The knot binding politics and life together…”, warns Esposito, “…which totalitarianism tightened with destructive consequences for both, is still before our eyes”.[4] The immunitary obsession, which proved to be so decisive in the devising of the Nazi extermination plan, invested heavily upon this knot. And we ought to understand that much before the immunisation logic took the form of those well-known medical interventions and settings that rendered it more popular, practical and intelligible, it had attempted to articulate and to safeguard itself juridically. An attempt described, for example, in the well-known positions of the jurist Karl Binding and the psychiatrist Alfred Hoche concerning the case of individuals with psychological illnesses and/or mental incapacities,[5] and through the Nuremberg Laws concerning the case of the Jews.[6]

We therefore return to the dual semantic framework shown above, both through the brief reference to the notion of the crisis and through the absolute match of politics and biology in the thanatopolitical context of Nazism. We return, in other words, to the parallel medical and juridical function of the framework in question. The demand for a complete juridical denuding of the Jews had already been articulated, as Taguieff shows us, since the end of the 19th century. What the socialist and anti-semitic philosopherEugen Dühringproposed back then, for example, was nothing but a “…demand for the exclusion of Jews from the national quality of the citizen―either by ‘shutting the door on them’, or by denaturalising them as citizens in the countries where they had become so”.[7] And Taguieff reminds us that it was processes like this one that gradually paved the way to the extermination of the Jews. We may very well daze ourselves, then, once we identify the tremendous similarities between the paradigm in question and the environment rendering migrant and refugee populations immobile in the contemporary biopolitical dystopias today, presented as they were in the first part of this article. In the first case, we find ourselves faced with the typical, meticulous process of de-humanisation and demonisation that pushes the Jews into that dark extra-juridical sphere. In the second case, this pre-required demonising function is undertaken with quite some consistencyby the contemporary and more sophisticated racist discourses. Yet the relationship of migrants to the processes of de-politicisation is proven to be even more complex today. Trapped as they are in-between humanism and racism, they are exiled from the beneficial juridical world―sometimes due to a surplus of the “human” and other times through the force applied by the symbolisms of the “subhuman”. In either case, these two conceptual mechanisms of meaning jointly contribute to the radical juridical denuding of refugee and migrant populations, proving that the populations in question ought, in either case, to live stranded in their literal biological positions.

We then return to the point where we started from. Back at those shiploads full of pure and intact humanness. The naked biologicality that uncontrollably wanders around the turbulent seas nowadays represents the denaturalised or pre-political life par excellence. And this elemental denuding comprises the prerequisite for the operation of the contemporary mechanisms of extermination that guarantee the safeguarding and the defence of (neo)liberal Europe. Some safeguarding that, next to its military stakes, is nowadays ever-increasingly articulated in bio-medical terms―proving that it comprises the primary field upon which some elemental facets of the contemporary immunitary obsession are tried out. “Moving from the realm of infectious diseases to the social realm of immigration confirms this”, writes Esposito. “The fact that the growing flows of immigrants are thought […] to be one of the worst dangers for our societies also suggests how central the immunitary question is becoming”.[8] These anonymous extra-juridical figures do not wander therefore around only as biological literalisms but as biological threats as well. And so biology hereby acquires a new urgent meaning. Not as the unconditional bearer of natural rights, but as the dangerous bearer of contagious diseases. A meaning urgently reinserting it into the fields of juridico-medical management by ways that include much more than the mere age estimation tests mentioned earlier on.

These naked biologicalities, exposed and voiceless, prove to be―as we saw in the article's first part, woefully vulnerable in face of interpretations and meanings―this time round rushing to safeguard whatever legitimacy, not from humanitarian rants but from the sciences of life. Nosology may nowadays not invest, neither ideologically nor explicitly, upon the rhetoric of degenerating dangers, yet it has nevertheless managed to contribute toward the production of a particular symbolic and conceptual framework and a particular set of images, both of which render migration an object of medical problematization. And furthermore, through the increased capacities for movement offered by the globalised world,[9] the discourse concerning the disease and its metaphors forms both a new framework for meaning-assignment of the nation-state as much as those conditions that re-legitimise and affirm the description of the latter in organic unity terms.[10] In this way, epidemiology becomes “a form of reasoning”,[11] through which both the phenomenon of migration as well as the very notions of nation and race are problematised. And sure enough, border lines take on, as Bashford showed us, a crucial juridico-medical function―proving that the conceptualisations of the nation pass through the conceptualisations of health and disease, and vice versa.[12]

At the borders then, at those vulnerable openings of the national body, the management of naked biologicality is not only involved in swift age estimation procedures, but in a whole array of hygienic technologies as well, which contribute to the constitution of a clinical image of the nation―since, as Mitropoulos points out, the issue of contagious diseases urgently turns into a national security issue.[13] Once again, then, bio-medical tools―but first of all, bio-medical meanings―will be employed with the aim of (re)constructing national identity and national integrity. Some integrity that ought to articulate itself both in spatial and in hygienic terms. The incentive for such an articulation in the context of the Greek particularity was taken on, in 2011, by the then minister of health Andreas Loverdos. Citing public health dangers and attempting to describe the materialities of the migratory flows in terms of a hygienic threat, he urgently invited teams of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and of the World Health Organization (WHO) in order to hygienically examine the migrant populations that remained incarcerated in Evros’ detention camps.[14] The aim of this call was clear enough: by describing the issue of migration as an urgent public health issue (with the notion of the “public” hereby being expressed in terms of national homogeneity, that is, in terms of a threat to the Greek population) and safeguarding some rough clinical expressions, he would legitimise both the practice of confinement in contemporary concentration camps as a necessary and effective border policy and the fierce police operations as a necessary measure for the management of migrants in the interior of Greek metropolises. The intention to pathologise the issue of migration drew its ambitions and whatever legitimacy it may have held from the same tank supplying the required meanings both to the hygienic understanding of the nation-state and to the scientific anti-semitism of late modernity. And this does not, by any means, cause any surprise.

What did cause surprise―first of all, to Loverdos himself―were the conclusions of the field research conducted by the WHO and the ECDC. According to the relevant report issued in May the same year, there was no indication whatsoever that the “hygienic status” of migrants who cross the Greek-Turkish border may comprise any threat for diseases to be spread in the wider area―and in particular, any “threat for the health of the Greek population”. To the contrary, what the research clearly revealed were the severely lacking hygienic conditions characterising the detention camps themselves, and it held those conditions responsible for any likely future hygienic matter.[15] The conclusions of the report in question therefore resemble the familiar cyclical movement characterising a series of historical examples―and they unavoidably de-essentialise, in a way, the arguments of whatever scientific-like xenophobic rhetoric. This cyclical movement, as a trick skilfully moving between cause and effect in ways that renders the two unclear, unexpectedly turns the result into cause. And it manages to articulate the matter of the imposed social conditions as an organic essence―essentialising, eventually, whatever result and abruptlyplacing it at the beginning of the relevant train of thought. And so, the very conditions migrants are forced to live confined, here in Greece, form the environment that causes them to fall ill to a degree, thereby turning them into what they are accused of being.[16] “Tubercular Afghans, for example, did not come from Afghanistan with tuberculosis―the illness broke out here, due to their detention conditions”, argues Yannis Mouzalas on behalf of the organisation Doctors of the World.[17] Starting from the end, Loverdos’ hygienic-racist arguments therefore bypass this causal relationship, presenting the potentially ill migrants as the point zero of a threatening spread and offering the raw material for a self-fulfilling prophecy.

One could claim that this cyclical mechanism resembles, to a great extent, the observations of the anthropologist Michael Taussig on the primary function of the colonial mirror. It is a fact that “people delineate their world, including its large as well as its micro-scale politics, in stories and story-like creations”. It is through these everyday, convenient story-telling that the strengthening of ideologies is achieved, which in this way “enter into active social circulation and meaningful existence”.[18] Thus, explains Taussig, the cultures of terror are formed, which act as a formidable sovereignty tool (or as cultures of sovereignty). The use of terror and the “cultural processing of fear” through simple narrative and mythological mechanisms, as constitutive elements of the problematising of the Other transformed, according to Taussig, the colonised into objects of cultural production. And so for example, his study of the Putumayo natives shows how narratives concerning the “savageness” of the natives formed a near-objective and trustworthy reality which allowed the colonisers to exercise some ferocious violence against them; in this way legitimising an inverse savageness which was entirely real this time round.[19] This case shows how the formation of a sovereign culture presupposes the meticulous processing of fear, which in our days opts to methodically utilise the presence of migrants―sometimes following criminological and other times, nosological narrative schemas.[20] In the example that concerns us specifically, biomedical arguments are utilised in order to in return prove the inherent danger posed by migrants on the basis of some supposedly absolute otherness―this time articulated through forms of morbidity, not savageness. Some morbidity that is constructed first of all in narrative and mediatic terms. But it is the very conditions of detention in the concentration camps that allow this line of argumentation to transcend the level of a limited, fragile and questionable narrative construction―since their results can potentially turn, to an extent, whatever mythological hypotheses into a whole of fully verifiable clinical events. The mirror potentially operating in this case can therefore do so while meticulously concealing its reflective operation.

In the swirl of this cyclical movement, what remains at stake is the pathologising of the migratory flows and the construction of their medical depiction. And it is evident that such depiction would require being both systematic and meticulous. It would be the narratives themselves, then, that would have to become systematic―taking on the appropriate mediatic expressions and asserting vividness through the everyday experiences and images that would unfold during their very own narration. These narratives became, eventually, an extremely powerful tool of anti-migrant propaganda, succeeding in creating a state of emergency and an advantageous field for intervention as such; ensuring, at the same time, the preconditions for the effectiveness of this very intervention. In order to therefore understand the function of this choice and to sketch out the form of its systematic nature, it would be worth pondering, at this point, over some of its crucial moments―by putting together an elementary chronicle. In June 2011, only a few months after the visit of the WHO and ECDC teams in Evros, Loverdos would claim―from the UN podium during the High-Level Meeting on AIDS―that in Greece HIV concerns, to a large extent, women prostitutes from Africa.[21] He said at the time: “During the past year and into the first months of 2011, we recorded a significant increase in new HIV/AIDS cases. Many of these concerned women from the sub-saharan Africa who were brought into the country illegally and forced into prostitution. For us, it is evident that problems of this kind can only be tackled through closer international collaboration”.[22] According to the doctor-pulmonologist and member of Act Up Hellas Chrysa Botsi, who was present at that UN meeting, Loverdos attempted to specifically target female sex workers from Africa for political purposes―purposes that would reveal themselves before too long.[23] And he did not hesitate in questioning even the official data of the Epidemiological Reports of the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention (HCDCP), which had already been published and were therefore fully accessible to his discussants.[24]

Yet Loverdos was careful not to leave his construction to chance. He came back to the issue in December the same year during a one-day conference that was organised in Athens under the topic of public health promotion. There, he once again attempted to target female sex workers, labelling them a major issue for public health―and once again in spite of the official epidemiological data. He mentioned that “unregistered prostitution and its connection to the issue of the spread of AIDS is a major problem for the city”, openly arguing this now concerned the Greek family, since the transmission takes place “from the illegal migrant woman to the Greek client, to the Greek family”.[25] He suggested that all female carriers of the virus should be deported for this reason. In this particular construction Loverdos practices those well-known understandings that link migration to hygienic matters, applying tried and tested schemata of the biologisation and pathologisation of the Other. And using the safeguards offered to him by the dominant patriarchal meanings he utilises the field of female sex work in particular in order to construct the image of a biological enemy within; to construct, in other words, only one of the crucial “testing grounds” upon which the reconstruction of national unity will be attempted during this difficult time of crisis―and the nation-rebuilding this requires. Yet in a way, the construction in question is novel. And its novelty lies in the fact that it does not follow the usual moralistic problematisation of ―often times forced―sex work, nor of the purchasing of sexual services as some “dangerous” male fleshly habit. What it attempts instead is a racial targeting of a segment of the female sex workers. Some targeting that seems ironic should one bring to mind that from the early 90s on, a considerable part of the dominant masculine culture in Greece was constituted precisely upon the sexual exploitation of migrant women and their endless services.

Nearly three months later, the 9th Panhellenic Conference of Public Health and Health Services was held in Athens, co-organised by the HCDCP and the National School of Public Health under the telling title: “Greeks’ health in light of the new epidemics”. From the content of the Press Conference that took place on March 22 ahead of the conference in question―and from its title itself―it becomes clear that the notion of public health is hereby conceived strictly in terms of national identity and national homogeneity. Yet it is not merely the normative use of that abstract “us” that makes this conception appear justifiable in written language. The relevant Press Release rushed from the outset to rectify and to conceptually construct the position of this “us”―describing it within the whirl created by the migrant flows and their hygienic stakes. This is, then, an “us”-in-danger, a danger therefore reconstructing this “us”. “The ever-increasing population movement observed in recent years brings to the fore infectious diseases that had almost been forgotten, while “diseases” such as AIDS, with a history of more than thirty years, now take on new tendencies”.[26] The notion of public health is in this way problematised through the phenomenon of migration―and the editors of the press release in question make sure to clarify this from the beginning. The required landscape of emergency is formed in this way and the final ideological touches are put just before the medical-police units take to the streets. The hygienic validation of the population displacements that would be undertaken a few days later was now a fact.

This is how we reach April 1st, 2012. During a joint press conference with Michalis Chrisochoidis, then minister of public order, Loverdos announced “the compulsory hygienic examination of the entire migrant population”. The same announcements included a regulation concerning the migrant concentration camps, the introduction of a compulsory health certificate for migrants, the setting of limitations to the employment of individuals suffering from infectious diseases, a phone line for the reporting of residencies where “illegal migrants are piled up”, and the setting of strict requirements for the spaces where migrants may reside.[27] On the same day, the renown Public Health Decree 39A (Government Gazette no. 1002/Β/2012) was published under the title “Arrangements Concerning the Restriction of the Transmission of Infectious Diseases”[28]. This comprises, in essence, the materialising of all the commitments taken up by the two ministers. Yet it comprises a nightmarish Decree in terms of its content―signalling terrifying transformations both at the level of medical ethics and at the level of police responsibilities. What is of particular interest in this Decree is the unprecedented insistence upon the strict requirements that must be met by the houses where migrants reside―rendering both the hygienic and the police mechanisms the most appropriate for their control.[29] The Decreein question therefore comprises, among other things, a manual for the surveillance of private spaces; describing pre-requisites and standards in detail and assigning the medical police units an unprecedented task. It would therefore make sense for us to ponder over this novelty, since it paves the way for a tremendous transformation and widening of police applications themselves―but one that maintains, as we shall see, its own spatial importances.

In this way, we stand before an unprecedented demand for an expansion of the anti-migratory operations from the public realm, where they would traditionally limit themselves, to that of the private. A demand that describes, in the most murky and at the same time the most explicit and chilling of ways, the transformations caused by the crisis as a structural moment for (neo)liberal politics and as a condensation of the divisions that characterise the functions of the nation-state from the outset, as Stoler showed us. The hygienic pretexts used for the legitimisation of this operation confirm what Athanasiou had pointed out: that “the ultimate refuge of neoliberal politics is the return upon the political anatomy of the body: the governance of the body in danger and the governance of the dangerous body”. Since, as she adds, “the medicalisation of the crisis was always a symptom of totalitarianism”.[30] In light of these symptoms, one could also observe that the new responsibilities and the new object of the medical police have some terrifying similarities to those of the “anachronistic” disciplinary authority that Foucault identified at the conjuncture of the two great imaginaries of death that haunted western thought: leprosy and plague. They therefore resemble those authorities exercising, as the French philosopher points out, an entirely a(na)tomic control and “function according to a double mode; that of binary division and branding (mad/sane; dangerous/harmless; normal/abnormal); and that of coercive assignment, of differential distribution (who he is; where he must be; how he is to be characterized; how he is to be recognized; how a constant surveillance is to be exercised over him in an individual way, etc.)”.[31]

The appeal to these hygienic schemata has its own political parallelsand intentions. It forms, in other words, a particular political framework and it does not merely legitimise, but it first and foremost renders intelligible the use of a particular array of emergency juridico-political technologies. As Foucault writes, “in order to see perfect disciplines functioning, rulers dreamt of the state of plague”, and he adds that “[i]n order to make rights and laws function according to pure theory, the jurists place themselves in imagination in the state of nature”.[32] This juridical imaginary is anything but a coincidence since, as Agamben shows us, the notion of the state of nature holds a crucial function within the syntax of the philosophical establishment of the state and its disciplines. Regarding the use of the notion by him who revealed more than anyone else about it, he writes: “Hobbes, after all, was perfectly aware […] that the state of nature did not necessarily have to be conceived as a real epoch, but rather could be understood as a principle internal to the State revealed in the moment in which the State is considered ‘as if it were dissolved’ (ut tanquam dissoluta consideretur)”.[33] The conceptual presence of the state of nature in the discourse over the defence of the state is entirely utilitarian and may only be conceived in the framework of a primary ideological mission.

The state of nature, as the ostensibly absolute externality of the law, “is therefore not truly external to nomos but rather contains its virtuality”.[34] Agamben points out in this way that whatever positive law there might be, lives off this externality in the same way that the rule, according to Schmitt, lives off the exception. And this is where the political importance of this appeal to nosological representations of the state of nature lies. The state of nature, which returns in the form of the plague or the “hygienic bomb”, acts first and foremost as an ideal extra-juridical form, necessary for the formation of law. And through these functional returns it is shown that “what then appears (at the point in which society is considered as tanquam dissoluta) is in fact not the state of nature (as an earlier stage into which men would fall back) but the state of exception”.[35] In other words, the artificial and extortionate presence of this “morbid” state of nature at the heart of the political imaginary at stake establishes, as Benjamin would say, law―in the same way that the exception gives shape to the rule. By narratively and ideologically constructing the image of a hygienic threat and the profile of a crisis and a violent rupture to the continuum of (Greek) public health, the imposing figure of the necessity is constructed, which makes law―and its suspension―appear entirely explainable. This artificial state of nature makes sure to shed light onto the ways of the emergency, making sure to first of all safeguard the terms for a particular extension to the responsibilitiesof the executive power. Under these terms, the latter is rendered a tool of some perhaps indirect yet “emergency law-making”.[36]

Hygienic Decree 39Α constitutes exactly a terrifying version of such an emergency law-making operation. The planning and the announcements of a medical-police staff acquired, in the context of this decree, a clear legal articulation. Ten days later, Law 4075 would be published: the 59th article of this contains additional regulations on the one hand concerning the detention of citizens from third countries who have submitted an application for international protection, and on the other, the terms for the administrative deportation of migrants―both of which are concerned with public health matters. It comprises an exemplary articulation of the demands of the new medical police, which constitutes a further juridical enforcing of the hygienic anti-migratory narrative in which Loverdos had started to exercise himself already a year earlier. On April 26, 2012, a relevant Press Release by the Greek Police HQ announced that “checks have commenced in flats of Athens where large numbers of migrants reside”.[37] These checks were taking place on the basis of the new measures that had just been announced by the ministers of health and public order, essentially comprising the most self-evident solution to the problem they themselves had narratively and ideologically constructed. More specifically, and following information by citizens, police raids took place in residencies that―according to the Press Release―comprised “sources of infection due to the residence of an excess number of migrants”. Tens of individuals were “examined by the doctors of the HCDCP who participated in the joint teams, in order to find out whether they carry infectious or other transmissible diseases”.[38] Nevertheless, none of the relevant Press Releases mentioned the results of the medical examinations to which the migrants were subjected, proving the character of the hygienic calls as a mere pretext―and their distancing from any real epidemiological picture. To the contrary, what is most real is the nightmarish expansion of the powers of the executive power; an expansion that is articulated at different levels. First of all, at the level of legislative powers. Second, at the level of the content of the very object of police applications. And finally, at the level of the conceptualisation of space, since a demand is officially articulated for the expansion of the responsibilities of the executive power from the public into the private sphere. In the examples in question, we are not dealing with stop & search, but with “raid & search” operations―the prime question of which is the transformation of the very notion of public space for police science.

During those same days, medical-police checks would start at the hang-outs of female sex workers and brothels. As we saw, Loverdos’ narrative constructions comprised from the outset of two different, even if not always discreet, “dangerous” parts, which concerned both the world of migration and the world of the sex work; both defined, to a large extent, in strict gendered terms. In parallel, then, to the raids in the homes of migrants conducted by the police, checks commenced in areas where female sex workers were active.[39] On April 27, the HCDCP and the Greek police would issue Press Releases, announcing that as part of the recently published hygienic decree, and during checks conducted in parts of the centre of Athens, one female migrant worker in an illegal brothel was found to be HIV positive.[40] Controlling from the outset those terms of public discourse that would allow him to pretend to be prophetic, Loverdos would rush to announce that “the hygienic bomb of AIDS is no longer inside the migrants’ ghetto, as was the case until recently; it has now escaped the ghetto”.[41] Yet what happened next totally contradicted the minister, proving that his statements were not characterised by any prophetic quality; to the contrary, they were meticulously constructing a field of police-political intervention, attempting to pathologise a priori the presence of migrants in Greece. The overwhelming majority of women arrested as part of this medical-police and sexist operation held Greek citizenship, were informally working as sex workers and were users of intravenous drugs, revealing an issue Loverdos did not want to see―but which was evidently articulated through the official epidemiological data. It was revealing, in other words, the fact that the renown increase in HIV cases was related, among others, to the cuts in health provisions and the transformations that were rapidly taking place in the field of social welfare, due to the economic crisis.[42] Nevertheless, Loverdos greatly utilised the field he himself constructed, pointing where he wanted to. That first arrest of a female migrant sex worker comprised the point zero in operations that would continue for weeks, their well-known result being the humiliation and pre-trial detention of 27 seropositive women. On the eve of the crucial national elections of May 6th, 2012, Loverdos and Chrisochoidis were convinced that the time had come for their ideological construction to produce its political surplus value. The first one, by showing off complacently the evidence of a unique diagnostic capability. The second one, by filling up the additional concentration camps that he himself had built.

Even before the dust around the tragic incident in question had settled, the medical police would once again take to the streets. Even though the relevant ministerial positions had been taken up by new people by that time, the anti-migratory operations continued apace―and with greater intensity, even. It was the 3rd of August when approximately 2,500 police were mobilised in Evros and another 2,000 in Athens as part of the Xenios Zeus operation, “for the repulsion of illegal migrants from the borderline and their removal from the centre of the capital”.[43] This was a gigantic operation that, according to the police spokesman at the time, “takes place in our country for the first time and which will continue in the future”. The statement’s style was liminal and urgent. Presenting the matter of “illegal” migrants as a “matter of national necessity and survival”, the police spokesman made a commitment for the upgrading in the life quality in the wider area of the centre of Athens. The so-called “centre of Athens” took on a very particular ideological mission in these statements―one that, as we shall see later on, may only be conceived through the design of the new public security dogma; the notion of “public security” hereby describing both the various facets of public order and the problematisations of public health. This is the materialisation of a meticulous and patient pogrom, one that gradually turned into a constitutive element of public space itself―and its conceptualisations. “Anyone who is identified, whether on foot or moving via any medium of transportation, will be detained in the detention centres, where they will be held temporarily, until their return to their country of origin”, the Greek police spokesman would state characteristically.[44] Until February 23, 2013, which was also the last time when the Greek police published the number of detentions as part of the operation in question, 84,792 migrants had been officially detained.[45] The police announcements were no meretricious exaggeration. The “Xenios Zeus” operation continues in central parts of Athens to date, having led to the arrest of 5,611 migrants in total who “did not meet the legal criteria for their stay in the country”.[46]

Nevertheless, what is daunting anew in the scale and the quality of the operation in question is the systematisation of the violations of what we would previously call private space, affirming that the so-called public space was once again proven insufficient for the ambitions of the medical police―thereby urgently and ironically demanding a spatial and conceptual expansion. Raids in residences, as tried out in the April operations, would then reach their climax and become systematic as part of the “Xenios Zeus” operation, turning migrants’ private spaces into lobbies for the concentration camps. A transformation that appears as a logical extension of the political and juridical denuding that the figure of the migrant and the refugee in Greece has been subjected to from the outset. And which is entitled to claim its own special position in the tradition of those technologies of confinement which, as Arendt writes, “were no penal institutions and that their inmates were accused of no crime, but that by and large they were destined to take care of ‘undesirable elements,’ i.e. of people who for one reason or another were deprived of their judicial person and their rightful place within the legal framework of the country in which they happened to live”.[47] Let us not forget, after all, that when attempting to examine the origins of the juridical basis of confinement in concentration camps, Agamben traces back to a juridical institution of Prussian origin called Schutzhaft (literally, protective custody), which was often described by the national-socialist German jurists “as a preventative police measure insofar as it allowed individuals to be ‘taken into custody’ independently of any criminal behavior, solely to avoid danger to the security of the state”.[48]

It is in this exact context, then, that we ought to conceive migrants’ everyday private spaces as extensions of the concentration camps. Residencies which turn into biopolitical spaces par excellence, to the extent that the notions of public and private co-reside―as Agamben would have it―in a zone of absolute indistinction, in the sense that the place offering refuge to corporality and its needs becomes an object of forced public exposure. The framework that renders the private sphere an advantageous place for the application of that preventative police measure was demarcated through the emergency appeals of the police spokesman, concerning the “national necessity and survival”. The infringement of the traditional dichotomy between public/private and this absolute exposure of the migrant subject to the public light and to the police gaze constitute the essentialcondition of the concentration camp. And this is what is applied in the raids in question. It is a typical case of applying and extending the idioms of the “emergency”. Where the limits of the law are redefined along with the limits of the space. Where the “inside” and the “outside”―whether concerning law or space―become indistinguishable. A new habitual culture is imposed through this absolute indistinguishability, on the one hand concerning the intimate sphere of the oikos and on the other, the public space of the city. As Stavros Stavrides points out, “the logic of the exception is metastatic. Like police blocks, it is everywhere. A new model of urban governance is produced which, even if still applied in exceptional conditions, is applied everyday, in common conditions, in places that edify a new urban experience”.[49]

A new model of urban governance then, one that is tried out even in the most common and everyday spaces of the migrants: in their very own residencies. The police spokesman is illustrative in this regard: “we identify, in the presence of prosecuting authorities, the flats where tens of illegal migrants reside under unacceptable hygienic and security conditions”.[50] The typical hygienic pretext of the anti-migrant campaign therefore worked out once again as a trojan horse, in order for doors to be violated and for ample light to be shed on the dark spaces of “morbidity” and “infectiousness”. A hygienic discourse, then, that tests out limits. Whether these involve hygienic quarantines, the sealing of borders, or the violation of private spaces, the question of health draws limits and subject positions, forming both the terms of national unity and public order as such. Which is why health observers participated in the raids.[51] And which is why the operation in question commenced with the support of the HCDCP.[52] Up until February 14, 2013―which was the last time when the Greek police issued a Press Release with any reference to the number of house searches―528 such raids had taken place.[53] The teamsof the health police are therefore trained in shifting these spatial-juridical limits, rendering raids into private spaces an entirely normalised police practice. According to Chrysa Botsi, the hygienic legislation and the legislative mechanisms would always hold relationships primarily with the sector of justice, and much less so with the police. Nevertheless, as she claims, it is only recently that such operations appeared and with such depth.[54] A development that can only worry us, judging from the similarities that it holds to that absolute thanatopolitical paradigm of the 20th century, as this was described above, and shivering before the image composed by handcuffs and white aprons combined. “The knot binding politics and life together […] is still before our eyes”.[55]

We reach, in this way, the final stop of this brief overview; right at the end of September 2012. In medical websites and bourgeois newspapers, identical articles are published concerning the composition of the first hygienic and epidemiological map of Athens by the HCDCP.[56] According to the medical website Iatropedia, “for the first time, a research-mapping of the city of Athens was attempted and completed, with the HCDCP creating the hygienic and epidemiological map of the capital. […] Even if there is no complete epidemiological study to date that would offer trustworthy responses and statistical data concerning the impact or even the prevalence of infectious diseases among migrants in Greece, whether legal or illegal, the findings of the medical examinations in Athenian neighbourhoods that contain many migrants have revealed some extremely disconcerting findings”.[57] The articles in question do not constitute a mere description of the field researchthat was conducted and continues to be conducted in the centre of Athens by the HCDCP. They have obvious political intention and attempt to rejuvenate, by feeding it with scientific-like arguments, the anti-migrant construction that had pathologised migrant populations in Greece already from mid-2011. They do not concern, then, the recording of the spread of infectious diseases in Athens in general, but specifically how migrants are involved in this supposed spread. And the revealing/construction of this involvement was, as we saw, a state choice from the outset. As is characteristically pointed out in a relevant article of the newspaper Ta Nea, “the study focused upon areas of the capital that contain many migrants”.[58] And as one would expect, the study in question includes extended references to sex work―this time in male one, too[59]―proving how the then minister of health Andreas Lykourentzos―who is the one that passed on, according to the articles in question, the study to the parliament―received Loverdos’ construction unquestionably and rushed to reinforce it. “The epidemiologists’ analyses showed that the most common way of contagion is unprotected sexual intercourse”, the article in question would characteristically write concerning HIV. But also, for Sexually Transmitted Diseases, the outcomes were indicative: “These numbers are attributed both to the increase of male and female prostitution (legal or not) as well as to the great inflow of migrants without legal documents and without vaccination coverage in the countries of origin”.[60]

These articles professed a crystal-clear responsibility of the migrant populations in regard to the spread of infectious diseases in the centre of Athens, with emphasis on the HIV.[61] “The hygienic epidemiological danger posed by the migrant phenomenon is shown vividlyfrom the HCDCP’s research-mapping out”, the newspaper Kathimerini[62]wrote at the same time, carrying on the familiar narrative, the main arguments of which had collapsed, as we saw, already from that visit of the WHO and the ECDC at the detention centres of Evros. Yet beyond this resounding rebuttal, the most effective way for one to be convinced of the constructability of the data composing the discourse in question is to refer to the official epidemiological data published by HCDCP itself for the year 2012. The Epidemiological Bulletin of that year showed then, in regard to the HIV, what had already been shown in the case of the prosecution of the seropositivewomen, which had not yet been forgotten at that point, since most of them remained in pre-trial detention. It was the first time since the appearance of the HIV virus in Greece that intravenous drug users (IVDU) comprised the population group with the largest number of HIV infection recordings. According to the HCDCP’s Epidemiological Bulletin for 2012, “2011 saw a dramatic increase in HIV infection among users of intravenous drugs. Comparing the recorded cases among the IVDU population in 2011 with the corresponding one in 2010, an increase is shown of approximately 1600%. In 2012, HIV infections among IVDU doubled […]. For the first time in 2012, from the outset of the epidemic in Greece, IVDU comprise the population group with the largest number of recorded HIV infections”.[63] Yet in the media articles in question, which took upon themselves to inform readers about this mapping out, and which most probably also reproduced some relevant information bulletin of the ministry of health, there is no reference to the IVDU whatsoever; and this, for two main reasons. On the one hand, such a reference would call upon the institutions of the ministry of health, which were invoking this “map”, since they would have to explain themselves for the cuts in social welfare services that had been imposed long ago, and which are the ones that led to the tremendous increase of HIV cases from 2010 on.[64] On the other hand, the primary aim of these made-up map recordings was to construct a dangerous hygienic profile for migrants, and not to reveal the HIV spread among the IVDU population―the majority of which are of Greek citizenship.[65] And this proves that this was a discourse that commenced with ready-made and specific conclusions. A set of articles that utilised a set of disparate epidemiological data, assigning them a certain identity and reinforcing anew the dominant anti-migrant discourses.[66]

Let us recall at this point that the HCDCP had already announced its intention to map out the areas and the migratory populations of central areas of Athens, with the Press Release issued on April 25, 2012, in which it announced the putting into practice of the Hygienic Decree 39Α.[67] That is, with the medico-police teams in the streets, with house raids and with obligatory hygienic checks. Nevertheless, the ever-so-obvious disparity between the official epidemiological data and the supposed cartographic findings of the articles in question sparked the interest for a personal research regarding the standing and the intentions of the latter. And the most relevant body to confirm the data adduced in these articles was the HCDCP itself. And so, following a series of telephone communication with various departments of the body (department of epidemiological surveillance, department of intervention in the community, department of education), and following electronic mail and personal visits to the external units of the HCDCP responsible for collecting the research’s data, it was proven, clearly, that no-one knew anything about the articles in question and about the specific cartographic data they presented. Quizzed faces, unanswered electronic messages and unawareness at the other end of the phone line. The articles in question had no relationship whatsoever to the epidemiological mapping out of Athens! Chrysa Botsi claims they comprise fabrications of the ministry of health which, by collecting scattered epidemiological data from the HCDCP’s field research and laying it out hastily, attempted to construct a clinical and phobic image for the “hygienic status” of the migrant populations in central parts of Athens.[68] It attempted, in other words, to crystallise scientifically and clinically the demands that the anti-migratory hygienic discourse carried with it, inaugurated as it had in March 2011 with Loverdos’ calls and the visit of the WHO and the ECDC teams to the concentration camps of Evros. A very systematic operation to construct a field of medical-police intervention which commenced, as we saw, with an official institutional rebuttal and was completed, as part of this overview, with the description of a faux and imaginative epidemiological map.[69]

This methodicalness comprised yet another sign that the Greek state attempted, amidst the murky landscape of the crisis―which comprises, first and foremost, a crisis for its structures and its meanings―to recompose the image of its managerial capacities and to reconstruct its functions. And for the purposes of this nation-rebuilding, the pathologisation of migratory populations offered on the one hand a historically tested solution and on the other, a concrete way through which the Greek state would be able to see and to show the first results of this reconstructing, away from moral and juridical limitations. What, then, was tried methodically in the 19th century at the colonial field, is nowadays attempted in a more legitimated manner―more legitimated in the sense that it acquires meaning in the framework of a “just” response to an “invasion” and not as part of a colonial practice―in the environment formed by the post-colonial communities in the heart of the western metropolises. As Foucault and Stoler point out, the constitution of the liberal national state―both in the sense of the constitution of a collective identity and the constitution of management apparatuses―was founded upon the meticulous construction of the enemy within, and in the drawing of racialized “interior frontiers”. And this construction, within the biopolitical horizon of the processes of meaning-assigning from which it remained confined, ought to be articulated in biological terms. The discourses and the calls for “the defence of the (Greek) society” could not but speak the language of the doctors and the hygienists. And this had to happen convincingly. It had to happen in ways that would prove that the epidemiological dangers were not some hysteric announcements of a fantasist minister, but were in a position, by that point, to be reflected in a clinical and cartographic way. Suiting, that is, to an able state mechanism which applies a plan of holistic management and which has convinced itself about this capacity. This hygienic discourse, as an attempt to scientifically document the anti-migrant ideological construction, nowadays ought to be read next to the other “serious initiatives” of the Greek state; next to the “Xenios Zeus” operation, to the concentration camps, to the deportation industry, to the reinforcement of border controls. The liminal discourses on “national survival” were, first and foremost, biopolitical.

By “mapping out”, then, corporalities, spatialities, and modalities, the Greek state attempted to create a picture of health and the vigor of its national population, ensuring this by mapping the supposed dangers it is faced with. But first and foremost, it recomposed the preconditions of a collective belonging, and suggested a way in which to think about it. This suggestion constitutes one of the two tremendous meanings that the publication of these articles maintains. And it assures us that even today, at the time of culturalism [70] and of differentialist racism,[71] at the time of calls for the “right to difference” and the ironic question of tolerance, the biologising arguments that composed the most nightmarish, and at the same time most fundamental process of biological racism maintain some disconcerting allure. As Etienne Balibar points out, after all, the notions of nature and culture can only be read in an inextricable interaction, when we encounter them in the interpretative frameworks of either old- or neo-racisms. The demand for the preservation of cultural difference, particularly in the way this is articulated via the main agenda of differentialist racism brings back, eventually, the “biological thematic”―either by approaching cultural differences as “natural”, or by reading xenophobia as a “natural” social reaction to cultural mixing. Naturalising, eventually, racist behaviours.[72] And let us not forget that “culture can also function like a nature, and it can in particular function as a way of locking individuals and groups a priori into a genealogy, into a determination that is immutable and intangible in origin”.[73] Nevertheless, in the example of the Greek hygienic construction the biological thematic returns in the most explicit and clear of ways, revealing a case of a peculiar and “delayed”biological racism. And demonstrating that the body continues to comprise the ultimate refuge of truth; a container for the extraction of concepts and meanings that is entirely functional, as Bashford showed us, both for political philosophy in general and for the conceptualisations of the nation in particular. It appears, then, that the bio-medical discourse, despite whatever deviations it may have from the anachronistic articulations of the Rassenhygiene (racial hygiene), proves to be, even today, terrifyingly present in the thinking of the national identity. In being that necessary gluing material between the natural and the political body, biomedical discourse offers the most tangible set of images for limits and their transgressions; in the case of the articles in question, it took on describing them through the organic and often macabre antagonisms describing the dialectics of health and illness.

Shinning as it does in its metaphorical richness, illness finds itself wherever anything else struggles to convince. It finds itself there to spread fear and justify violence, “[s]ince the interest of the metaphor is precisely that it refers to a disease so overlaid with mystification, so charged with the fantasy of inescapable fatality”.[74] It is precisely the invocation to this quality of the inescapable and the fatal that legitimises the use of the syntax of the emergency. The same syntax which turned the breaching of public spaces, the enforced blood-tests and the detentions of seropositivewomen an entirely normalised practice. The illness that invades upon the body of the society gives birth to a state of siege; a “war being defined as an emergency in which no sacrifice is excessive”.[75] The mechanisms of medical police invested, therefore, upon the production of fear in order to give the emergency the form they imagined to be appropriate. And in order to politically capitalise, in return, upon the endless empty field born by the demand for personal protection and security. As Bauman stresses out, “the gain in political legitimisation and in the acceptance of any government showing force”, each and every time that a question of a public threat is raised, is invaluable”.[76] There are then, some very important reasons for the state to continue to train itself in such an economy of fear and feelings. And part of this training comprises the invention of fields of intervention. Which is what the teams of the medical police did so methodically. The political management of fear, as in the examples of the culture of fear unveiled by Taussig, leads with quite some certainty to the landscapes of exception and of legalviolence. Where necessitas legem non habet.[77]

Yet it was not only certain populations that were problematised through these clinical articulations of the emergency. It was also certain geographies. And more specifically, central parts of Athens―which are the ones that have been hosting, for years now, the everyday spaces of public gathering of migrants. This is, then, where the second functional importance of the discoursein question is located. A primary aim of this cartographic construction was to prove that, through the “morbidity” of the migrants, the centre of Athens is also ill. Since the large migrant densities would not, in themselves, offer a pretext for a disciplinary urban management, one way was for doctors and for hygienists to bend over them, after the criminologists―constructing and then portraying the “pathological” threats these densities carry with them. The equation “ill migrants=ill centre” created in turn a new field of intervention for the state, this time on the basis of a city-rebuilding that was fully compatible with the broader demands of nation-rebuilding.[78] The matter of the management of the migrant flows and densities in central neighbourhoods of Athens was set, largely, as a main axis for a set of new conceptualisations, designs and plans regarding the urgent sanitation of the city. As the Self-Organised Space of the Architecture School very poignantly claims, commencing from the occasion of the architectural competition Re-think Athens,[79] the ideological and symbolic importance of the athenian centre proves to be immense. It comprises the field for the production of meanings. It points out, then, that the matter of management of “ghettoization phenomena” of parts of the centre of Athens, “by being constructed […] in public discourse as a national issue that concerns all, forms a condition of emergency that points at the migration issue as a whole, setting the tone for the management of migrants across the entire national territory, remoulding tolerances. […] And more specifically, the further ban of migrant workers”.[80] Athens’ city centre comprises, then, a field of ideological exercises for the domestic sovereign power―specifically, the field through which the matter of the migrants’ presence is meticulously constructed as a “national problem”. The discourse on the devaluation of certain parts of the centre can only be seen, in this way, in strong interaction with a logic of the construction “of the ‘problem’ on the basis of predetermined ‘solutions’, that is, the vast growth of the mechanisms of security and public order”.[81]

These emblematic parts of “devaluation” act as select places for the design of the anti-migratory policy as a whole. In this case, the “devaluation” itself was attempted to be articulated in epidemiological terms, constructing an urgent cartographic image with entirely false facts. As the editors of the journal Hérodote had once claimed, during a conversation with Foucault about geography, and pointing specifically at the crucial position occupied by the notion of the map within the power/knowledge relation, “[w]hat power needs is not science but a mass of information which its strategic position can enable it to exploit”.[82] One such example of arbitrary accumulation and composition of scattered information, lies in the set of articles in question concerning the so-called epidemiological map. In either case, the centre of Athens appears to be overcome by the forces of the “state of nature”―which, as we saw earlier on, make sure to ideologically and juridically create that void space, subsequently occupied by the applications of the emergency. The systematic references to the hygienic dangers and in particular, the co-ordinated references to the existence of a cartographic tool of epidemiological surveillance, create an image of the city that resembles a magnetic field. A field within which uncontrollable, morbid forces are constantly applied―and which contaminate anyone who may enter inside it. And this image is an image of emergency. It requires radical solutions. It requires, in other words, police applications. The origins of this project of medical-police problematisation of the athenian centre are located in the intersection of two different traditions. On the one hand, in the discourse that connects the field of hygiene with the theory and the practice of urban replanning, already from the birth of the early industrial city. On the other hand, in the framework nowadays forming the dominant discourses on cities and designs policies of public security through the targeting of post-colonial migrant neighbourhoods in the hearts of western metropolises. And each one of these traditions pertains its own particular disciplinary importance.

It is well-known that the matter of hygiene was assigned, from the outset, a key mission in the planning of the modern city. And this is not a mere managerial mission. The newly appearing working class and its habits became the object of a complete reform on the basis of hygienic arguments with strong moralistic and ideological extensions. At a time when organic metaphors offered the necessary tools for the thinking about the city and its vital functions, the state planning of the terms of life and habitation of the difficultly adjustable workers held a strong hygienic framework.[83] But class struggles themselves, along with the early workers’ demands were often treated as the object of a common military-hygienic matter. As the architect Eyal Weizman points out, the military experimental designs and the urban transformations to which they paved the way, show us a close relationship between the hygiene programmes and the urban modernisation of the 19th century.[84] The replanning of Paris by the renown baron Haussmann comprises one such case. The demand for a structural replanning of the city was articulated, as we know, in the shadow of the revolutionary events that shook Paris and other large European cities, right about at the middle of the 19th century; and it had, therefore, its own military issues. But the military staff chose to articulate and to materialise the demand in question also through hygienic pretexts. The city historian, Leonardo Benevolo, writes characteristically about Paris: “The new wide and straight roads must replace the unhygienic neighbourhoods and the narrow alleys that were used during the revolutionary movements, while at the same time facilitating the hygiene and the movement of the troops. Haussmann has in his disposal the article 13 of the law concerning hygiene and a decree of the Senate of 1852, which approves land expropriation with a mere decision of the executive power”.[85] A demand of urban replanning with clearly police-military extensions, effortlessly finds its natural environment in the expressions of the early hygienic discourse. The dominant imaginaries for the early industrial cities and their functions were constituted, then, through specific problematisations of the figures of the workers; of their health, their habits, their resistances, their residencies and their public spaces.

Very broadly, one could claim that what this collective figure of the worker offered in the past, in terms of the dominant meaning-assignments of the cities and the proposals for their replanning, is nowadays offered through the environment formed by the presence of the post-colonial migrant populations in the heart or in the periphery of the western metropolises. The dominant discourses on the city form a sense of its identity, through a demand for discipline or exclusion of these populations―and they turn their spaces into one of the main meanings of this forming. In the case of Athens we saw that the already tested, from the past, pretexts of public health were mobilisedonce again, in order to target the public and the private spaces of the migrants―offering an exemplary case of some, once again, delayed hygienic-urban planning discourse. Nevertheless, the biomedical discourse nowadays seems not to comprise a priority for the targeting in question, since the problematisation of the migrant presence in contemporary metropolises appears to internationally extract its tools from that universe of notions that compose, in common, the “Clash of Civilizations”,[86] cultural racism and Orientalism. Graham claims that “[a]s colonial migration to the increasingly post-colonial centres of empire has grown since the Second World War, so racialised depictions of immigrant districts as ‘backward’ zones threatening the body-politic of the (post)imperial city and nation helped Orientalist discourses, and imperial practices of urban subjugation, to telescope back to infuse domestic urban geographies”.[87]

What was therefore tested out so meticulously in the colonial spaces and times, leading Edward Said to such a deep analysis of the orientalist practices, is nowadays paradoxically repeated in the western metropolitan environment. The methodology is, nevertheless, the same. “Underlying all the different units of Orientalist discourse…”, writes Said, “…is a set of representative figures, or tropes. These figures are to the actual Orient […] as stylized costumes are to characters in a play”.[88] In this way, the Orient―and Islam in particular―is attempted to be sunk into a framework of enforced western representations, which demonise it; therefore also demonising its scattered representatives in the West―and therefore their everyday urban geographies as well. We are therefore led to what is nowadays called “inner city Orientalism”.[89] The moving of the agenda of the “Clash of Civilizations” to the heart of the “first world” urban formations offers a suiting framework for the problematising of the migrant presence and its micro-geographies. The, by now familiar, stereotypical representations of “Athens that has turned into Kabul” dominate public discourse and everyday conversations, raising issues of cultural incompatibility and non-assimilation. On the basis of the neo-conservative and racialised rhetoric, the argument is articulated that “the clash of civilizations has invaded the very streets of the most enlightened and iconic Western bourgeois urban spaces, with devastating consequences for security”.[90] And that is precisely where a new field of military-police applications is inaugurated. Graham writes in this regard: “In all Western nations, it is the postcolonial diasporas, and their neighbourhoods, that are the main targets of the new, internal and often highly racialised security politics”.[91]

In the drastic transformations of the urban functions and in the demographic changes that characterise contemporary metropolises, colonial practices are tested out in new fields of application. The places of collective migrant presence in the western urban environments comprise, perhaps, the most important of these. The technologies of governance that were applied and continue to be applied in some exotic labs of the East and the South nowadays offer all the necessary supplies for the composition, and for the model of governance itself for these contemporary “internal colonies”.[92] And as the violent and long colonial History shows us, they consist first of all an attempt of visualization of the colonial object itself. Using his studies of colonial Delhi as an axis in examining some common characteristics across the various technologies of colonial governance, and attempting to form the basis for an “analytics of governmentality”, Stephen Legg points out the tremendous importance maintained by the notion of visibility for the very intelligibility of the colonial field. The colonial field as an interweaving, first of all, of spaces and populations. The notion of visibility hereby brings together and condenses a sum of relationships, purposes and practices: “ways of seeing and representing reality; the practical knowledge of specialists and policy-makers; plans, maps and diagrams. How are some objects highlighted while others are obfuscated? What relations are suggested between subjects and space? How is risk mapped and what are the suggested remedies?”.[93] The mapping out presented by the aforementioned discourse attempts to take on this duty of the visualization of the field. The management, therefore, of the centre of Athens as an application of hygienic and orientalist representations may, in a paradoxical way, be included in the tradition of these technologies of governance. And as we saw, it comprises the point of a catastrophic meeting of different regimes of truth.

In this way, one can nowadays discern in the dominant discourses around Athens, sometimes that anachronistic description of urban planning as a matter of bodies, spaces and germs. Other times, the guideposts of the clash of civilisations. And some other times, familiar traces from typical combinations of the two―since, as Stoler and Bashford show us, racism and their colonial practices had their own ways to be articulated hygienically. In either case, this “violent invasion of anti-western culture” into the emblematic urban landscapes of western superiority produces a functional sense of a state of siege. Let alone when it carries with it a set of organic challenges. The response to this invasion can only be a military one. Whether it concerns the “invasion of the barbarians” or the “invasion of the plague”. It requires military management. The discourse around the epidemiological map in question may be alternatively seen as a public presentation of a map of police operations. Because the spaces in which the “geographers” and the writers of the medical police so meticulously focused upon match entirely with the neighbourhoods where, for two years now, the “Xenios Zeus” operation is under way; they match the places in which the city-rebuilding project will be determined and eventually, judged upon as an ideological prerequisite for nation-rebuilding at this time of crisis. If the demand for the recovery of the athenian centre from the “barbarian hordes” is viewed through the framework of a peculiar reverse orrepressed colonial practice, then as History shows us, such “mapping out” was required through and through. Because the map is not only a visualization of the field one wishes to command. It is also a very specific way in which to speak the truth. It is truth per se. This truth, as a question of visibility comprises, then, one of the main stakes of the governance of populations, of populations in space, of the populations as spaces per se. And the map was always in a position to shed light; to light up even the darkest of spots. And if need be, to draw them out of nothing.




[1]: Esposito Roberto, Totalitarianism or Biopolitics? Concerning a Philosophical Interpretation of the Twentieth Century, trans. by Timothy Campbell, Critical Inquiry 34, Summer 2008, p.641.

[2]: Agamben, ibid., p.94.

[3]: Elden Stuart, National Socialism and the Politics of Calculation, Social & Cultural Geography, Vol.7, No.5, October 2006, p.766.

[4]: Esposito, Terms of the Political, ibid., p.75.

[5]: See the renown text titled Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens (Authorization for the Annihilation of Life Unworthy of Being Lived), which was published in 1920. See in this regard Agamben, ibid., pp.80-81 and Cause of Death: Euthanasia, ibid., p.15.

[6]: They are these three laws, published in 1935: the Reich Citizenship Law, the Law to Protect German Blood and Honor, and the Law to Protect the Hereditary Health of the German People. Steinweis, ibid., pp.41-46. See also Taguieff, ibid., p.56.

[7]: Taguieff, ibid., p.27.

[8]: Esposito, ibid., p.59.

[9]:Ibid., p.60.

[10]: Mitropoulos, ibid., p.121.

[11]:Ibid., p.124.

[12]: Bashford, ImperialHygiene, ibid., pp.138,152.

[13]: Mitropoulos, ibid., p.119.

[14]: See, in this regard, Mertens E, Rockenschaub G, Economopoulou A, Kreidl P. Assessment of Public Health Issues of Migrants at the Greek-Turkish Border, April 2011. Euro Surveill. 2012;17(2):pii=20056. Available online: I was initially informed about this particular visit of the ECDC and the WTO by the doctor-pulmonologist Chrysa Botsi (“Andreas Syggros” Hospital-HIV Unit and Act Up Hellas NGO), during personal communication that took place in Athens on September 10, 2013.


[16]: Two typical examples prove the paradox of this reasoning, both offered by the rich tradition of the pathologising of the Jews through the centuries. The first case concerns the Jewish ghetto in renaissance Venice and the second one, the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw during the occupation of Poland by the Nazis. In both cases, the belief that Jews gestate contagious diseases was confirmed by the outcome of confinement conditions in the ghettos themselves. In addition, in the Warsaw example, the ghetto was situatedin an area that was already contaminated. See, respectively, Sennett Richard, Flesh and Stone – The Body and the City in Western Civilization, Faber and Faber, London 1994, p.236 and Esposito, Bios, ibid., p.117.

[17]: See the article by Anastasia Giamali, titled “The HCDPC and ECDC contradict Loverdos on the supposed ‘hygienic bomb’”, newspaper I Avgi, April 3, 2012, available at

[18]: Taussig Michael, Culture of Terror-Space of Death. Roger Casement's Putumayo Report and the Explanation of Torture, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 26, No.3, (Jul., 1984), p.494.

[19]:Ibid., pp.470,482,492,494,495.

[20]: Sontag Susan, AIDS and Its Metaphors, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York 1989, p.61.

[21]: See in this regard I thank Chrysa Botsi for pointing out this reference.

[22]:See his speech at the UN High-Level Meeting on AIDS, which was published on his personal website on June 9, 2011. Available at

[23]: From personal communication with Chrysa Botsi, ibid.

[24]: See first of all the data in the report by the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report in Greece, October 31, 2010, (Issue 25), Athens, but also the respective one for the year 2011, which was published later on, both of which contradict him. Available at

[25]: See the article titled “Sex workers with AIDS must be deported”, newspaper Eleftherotypia, December 16, 2011, available at

[26]: See the Press Release titled “Greeks’ health in light of the new epidemics”, March 22, 2012, available at

[27]: See the article titled “Hygienic checks to all migrants”, newspaper Ethnos, Sunday, April 1, 2012, available at

[28]: The sense of emergency was intensified by the fact that both the press conference and the issuing of the hygienic decree in question took place on a Sunday; that is, urgently. Decree 39Α was abolished in April 2013 by a decision of minister Fotini Skopouli (Government Gazette no. 1085/Β/30-4-13) and was brought back by Adonis Georgiadis in June the same year.

[29]: See Article 3 of the Hygienic Decree 39Α.

[30]: Athanasiou, The Crisis as a “State of Emergency”, ibid., p.45.

[31]: Foucault Michel, Discipline and Punish – The Birth of the Prison, trans. by Alan Sheridan, Vintage Books, New York 1995, p.199.

[32]: Ibid., p.198.

[33]: Agamben, Homo Sacer, ibid., p.27.

[34]: Ibid.

[35]: Ibid.

[36]: See for example the observations of the Swedish professor of political sciences, Herbert Tingsten, as adduced in Agamben Giorgio, State of Exception, trans. by Kevin Attell, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London 2005, pp.7,12.

[37]: See the relevant Press Release of the Greek police directorate, available at See also, the Press Releases of the General Police Directorate of Attica on April 27 & 29, 2012. Available at and respectively.

[38]: See the Press Release of the directorate of the Greek police on April 26, 2012, ibid.

[39]: See the Press Release of the HCDCP titled “Application of Hygienic Decree”, April 25, 2012, available at

[40]: See the Press Release titled “Hygienic checks HCDCP”, April 27, 2012, available at See also the relevant Press Release of the Greek police on April 27, 2012.

[41]: See the article by Panagiota KarlatiratitledThe AIDS-infected whores are a ‘hygienic bomb’”,newspaper Proto Thema, May 1, 2012, available at

[42]: It is hereby worth remembering that a similar operation was repeated on March 6, 2013 in the Athenian city centre, this time round with mass arrests of drug users and their transfer to the migrant detention camp of Amygdaleza. There, they were subjected to compulsory blood tests and detailed recording of all their personal and medical data, before they were released. The so-called operation “Thetis” was designed in common by the Greek police and the National Centre for Health Operations (EKEPY). See indicatively the Press Release of the Greek police of March 7, 2013. Available at

[43]: See the Press Release of the directorate of the Greek police on August 4, 2012. Available at


[45]: See the Press Releases of the Greek police up until February 23, 2013.

[46]: See the Press Release of the Greek police on April 21, 2014. Available at

[47]: Arendt Hannah, Social Science Techniques and the Study of Concentration Camps, Jewish Social Studies, Vol.12, No.1 (Jan., 1950), p.55.

[48]: Agamben, Homo Sacer, ibid., p.95.

[49]: Stavrides Stavros, Suspended Spaces of Alterity, Alexandreia, Athens 2010 (in Greek), p.27.

[50]: See the Press Release of the Greek police on August 4, 2012, ibid.

[51]:Health observers belong to the Public Health Administrations of each Health Prefecture. From personal communication with Chrysa Botsi, ibid.

[52]: See the Information Bulletin by the HCDCP, Number 18, August 2012, p.49.

[53]: See the Press Release of the directorate of the Greek police of February 15, 2013. Available at

[54]: From personal communication with Chrysa Botsi, ibid.

[55]: Esposito, Terms of the Political, ibid., p.75.

[56]: The map in question is not to be confused with the hygienic map that the HCDCP has been composing in recent years in common with the National School of Public Health (NSPH), and which comprises, essentially, a recording of data regarding public and private health services providers in Greece.

[57]: See the article “What areas are threatened by infectious diseases and epidemics”, available at

[58]: See the article “HCDCP: Athens is a hygienic bomb”, newspaper Ta Nea, September 27, 2012, available at

[59]: At this point, it is interesting to see that references to male prostitution do not recall, as one would expect, the well-known moralistic and hetero-normative arguments that link HIV to sexual contact between men. Nor do they attempt to describe, as is the norm, AIDS as one of the most recognisable results of “abnormality”.To the contrary, they utilise well-known motives of the main argumentation of the contemporary cultural racism, aiming at the assessment of male migrants sex workers on the basis of cultural criteria, and their inclusion into a framework of cultural retrogression. They bring, in this way, homophobia to the fore and they update the tools of the xenophobic agenda. We read, then, in Iatropedia in regards to male migrants sex workers that “most of them are Afghani and Kurds, while previously many Albanians participated, too. They do not consider themselves to be homosexual, while they oft-times hold homophobic and anti-homosexual feelings, due to their cultural background and their Muslim religion. They consider themselves to be heterosexual, and their clients to be inferior beings (since they are homosexuals)”. See the article “What areas are threatened by infectious diseases and epidemics”, ibid. Momentarily, the presence of such a piece of information in a series of articles with a hygienic direction might puzzle. Soon enough, however, one understands that what we are faced with is not mere medical philology with xenophobic insinuations. To the contrary, the hygienic arguments and whatever clinical images are the ones hosted in this libel of anti-migrant propaganda. And for this reason, the use of popular forms of contemporary islamophobic rhetoric should not come as any surprise. As the group Queericulum Vitae writes, through the contemporary racist uses, the impression is given that “homophobic attitudes are not a threat anymore to the western culture - the West is free of all this now”. And they point out that “[t]his transformation of the ‘West’ in a pure power of freedom and equality, one that has deleted from its memory all its past, this transformation is expressed also through this racist, islamophobic rhetoric of our times, the times of the ‘clash of civilizations’”. See the article “DV8, islamophobia and propaganda as art”, available at Let us not forget, also, that the practice of public sex, part of which may concern male sex workers, has a very precarious character―to the extent that its public nature itself renders it vulnerable to homophobic attacks. And this attacks would traditionally, much before the culturalist warnings of the ministry of health, take place by the Greek police and/or other Greek heterosexual men. See in this regard, Marnelakis Giorgos, The Precarious Geographies of “Public Sex” in the City, Architektones – Journal of the Association of Greek Architects, Issue 63, May/June 2007, pp.66-68. Finally, the constructability of the discourse in question is proven by the fact that the official research-mapping out of male prostitution issued by the HCDCP in July 2012―that is, only two months prior―included no reference whatsoever to homophobic expressions or understandings, concerning male migrant sex workers. See Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Street Program for Male Prostitution – Activity Report, January-June 2012, July 2012, Athens. Available at

[60]: “HCDCP: Athens is a hygienic bomb”, ibid.

[61]: This meticulous construction of responsibility is connected with a unique feature of first-world self-perception. Sontag wrote, then, in regard to the uses and the abuses of AIDS, that “[p]art of the centuries-old conception of Europe as a privileged cultural entity is that it is a place which is colonized by lethal diseases coming from elsewhere. Europe is assumed to be by rights free of disease”, in Sontag, AIDS and Its Metaphors, ibid., p.50.

[62]: See the article “HCDCP: Concern regarding the increase of infectious diseases in Athens’ historic centre”, newspaper Kathimerini, September 27, 2012, available at

[63]: See Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report in Greece, December 31, 2012, (Issue 27), Athens, p.15. See also, table 2, p.10 and figure 4, p.16. Available at

[64]: Botsi referred specifically to the drastic cuts that have taken place to the funding of therapeutic communities, the termination of relevant programmes and the cut in the supply of clean syringes―and finally, to the drastic decrease in financial sources required for HIV testing in Greece. From personal communication with Chrysa Botsi, ibid.

[65]: From personal communication with Chrysa Botsi, ibid.

[66]: In regard to the dominant narratives and the often-encountered arguments linking migrants to the spread of infectious diseases, Christina Samartzi, head of the Domestic Missions Unit of the Athens Multi-Clinic of the Doctors of the World during 2013, claimed that they attempt to target migrants for political reasons. From personal communication that took place in Athens on February 7, 2013.

[67]: See the Press Release of the HCDCP titled “Application of Hygienic Decree”, ibid.

[68]: From personal communication with Chrysa Botsi, ibid.

[69]: Clearly, the operation of pathologising the migratory flows did not end there. It is indicative that during the Greek presidency of the European Union, a European meeting-workshop took place in Athens on March 19 & 20, 2014, co-organised by the HCDCP, the ECDC and the Greek presidency, titled “Public Health Benefits of Screening for Infectious Diseases among Newly Arrived Migrants to the EU/EEA”. See the press release under the same title, available at I thank Chrysa Botsi for this information.

[70]: See Todorov, ibid., pp.67-70.

[71]: See Balibar Etienne, Is There a “Neo-Racism”?, in Balibar Etienne & Wallerstein Immanuel, Race, Nation, Class – Ambiguous Identities, trans. by Chris Turner, Verso, London & New York 1991, pp.21-27.

[72]: Ibid., pp.22,26.

[73]: Ibid., p.22.

[74]: Sontag, Illness as Metaphor, ibid., p.87.

[75]: Sontag, AIDS and Its Metaphors, ibid., p.11.

[76]: Bauman Zygmunt, Liquid Fear, trans. by Giorgos Karampelas, Polytropon, Athens 2007 (in Greek), p.193.

[77]: A Latin phrase that may be translated in two ways. Either as “necessity does not recognize any law”, or as “necessity creates its own law”. Adduced in Agamben, State of Exception, ibid., p.24.

[78]: For a typical ideological connection of city-rebuilding and nation-rebuilding see the article by Marcus Bensasson and Nikos Chrysoloras titled “Athens Lacking Only Elgin as Windows Erase Crisis: Cities”, Bloomberg, April 24, 2014, available at

[79]: See relevant information at the website

[80]: See the booklet titled The architectural competition re-think athens & the ideological/symbolic importance of the athenian centre, Self-Organised Space of Architecture School, Athens 2012, p.38.

[81]:Ibid. p.43.

[82]: See Foucault Michel, Questions on Geography, in Crampton Jeremy W. & Elden Stuart (eds), Space, Knowledge and Power – Foucault and Geography, trans. by Colin Gordon, Ashgate, Aldershot 2008, p.180.

[83]: See for example Donald James, Imagining the Modern City, The Athlone Press, London1999, pp.28-37.

[84]: See Misselwitz Phillip & Weizman Eyal, Military Operations as Urban Planning, Mute Magazine, August 28, 2003, available at

[85]: Benevolo Leonardo, The European City, Ellinika Grammata, trans. by Anna Papastavrou, Athens 1997 (in Greek), p.274.

[86]: See Qureshi Emran & Sells Michael A., Introduction: Constructing the Muslim Enemy, in Qureshi Emran & Sells Michael A. (eds.), The New Crusades – Constructing the Muslim Enemy, Columbia University Press, New York 2003, pp.1-47.

[87]: Graham, Foucault’s Boomerang, ibid., p.39.

[88]: Said Edward W., Orientalism, Penguin, London 2003, p.71.

[89]: Graham, ibid.

[90]: Graham, Cities Under Siege, ibid., p.49.

[91]: Graham, Foucault’s Boomerang, ibid., p.40.

[92]:Ibid., p.39.

[93: Legg Stephen, Foucault’s Population Geographies: Classifications, Biopolitics and Governmental Spaces, Population, Space and Place 11 (2005), p.148.



ΙΙ. White Aprons, or How One Philosophizes with a Lancet

The recurring tragedies at the aquatic fringes of Europe thus give birth to a logical paradox. The meticulous production of the conditions of risk and exclusion leading to the tragic shipwrecks in the Mediterranean continue to claim for themselves the aura of the random and of the mysterious that would otherwise inherently characterise natural world phenomena. And it is this insistence upon naturalisation that offers, as we saw previously, the ideology of border controls their much-desired de-politicisation—helping its zealots vanish beyond the horizon of moral responsibility. This surplus of “natural” disasters stands in perfect alignment with the discursive assumptions of the humanist hypothesis. The protagonists of the humanitarian performances wander around as natural objects—and they die as such. We saw how their naturalness equips them with all essential meanings during their uncertain itineraries toward Europe. It condemns them to hover around while grounded to their biological finiteness. Their physical temperatures reveal their presence in the sea from afar.[1] Their physical needs stand as their sole meanings, suffocatingly occupying their symbolic spaces. And their physical growth is the one that will secure them a place in the world of law. Because it is by now well-known that for the youngest percentage of the populations that arrive at the shores of Italy, their naked biologicality also means something else. It gestates all elements necessary in order to judge upon their inclusion in some special protection status and essentially, their assigning to a “dignified” legal status. Some assignment reached after a precise estimation of their age. Medical reports concerning skeletal age, dental age and physical growth of a young individual are in this way converted into a legal tool par excellence.[2] A special protection status is offered to under-age individuals, putting their precise age estimation at the stake of a series of medical examinations that act as an initial screening mechanism, on the basis of a crucial age threshold.[3] It is doctors, then, that decide upon the legal status of a percentage of these populations. Here, biology speaks the language of courtrooms.

The emergence of the figure of the doctor at this stage does not appear to be incompatible. To the contrary, it affirms the tight relationship between the medical sector and the legal world. Some relationship not limited to the function of contemporary legal technologies alone, but one that establishes itself, first and foremost, at the notional level—as proven by the uses of the word crisis. In his studies on Psychiatric Power, Foucault demonstrates the legal-medical context of the term, showing how it was prevalent in the questionings of illness during a long period, spanning from Hippocratesup until the birth of pathological anatomy. For the medical practices of that long time, crisis meant the truth of the illness. It was the moment when illness would declare itself present. It was a moment of struggle between life and death, a moment of relapse, the kairos, as per Hippocrates, that signified a crucial turning point in the illness’ trajectory.[4] Up until the crisis would break out illness was, essentially, nothing. It remained both invisible and mute. It was the crisis that revealed it, that signalled its presence, and that delegated the doctor to judge it in the sense of the juridical decision, for its own truth, selecting the appropriate means to manage its symptoms.[5] The crisis, then, appears as a thickening of symptoms that, once they become apparent, make the illness truly exist. That decide for—and comprise—its truth. It is hereby important to locate the double meaning of the term crisis. On the one hand it describes a crucial moment in the illness’ trajectory. On the other, it comprises the privileged topos for the exercise of medical practice—implicating the doctor in a way that renders him initially responsible for the diagnosis of this trajectory and then by extension, for the management of its symptoms. The doctor ought to recognise the crisis and to decide upon its management. The doctor is, in other words, called upon to judge.[6]

The importance of judgement and decision that characterises the role of the doctor throughout those twenty-two centuries of Medicine, as described by Foucault, brings its juridical relevance to date through the example of age estimation. And it shows how the doctor will momentarily turn into a juridical body, one that will decide upon the fate of the entire young population eventually reaching the European shores or surviving catastrophes. In these examples, the doctor may not be called upon to judge on the outbreak of some concealed disease—yet his role is nevertheless strictly tied to the duty of revealing some “truth” inscribed and expressed in a bodily manner.[7] The revealing, in other words, of the biological age of a human organism. Yet this recording is a disputable recording and hence, an “approximate truth”. In the case of age estimation techniques this “approximation” is one expressed through a range that remains, in most cases, unspecified—and one that becomes the juridical topos par excellence for the young refugee and migrant.[8] A mere medical opinion is in this way transformed into a deportation order, or a leave to remain. The dependence upon these medical checks may not concern the entire migrant and refugee populations arriving in Europe yet it nevertheless highlights the importance reserved by the management of their naked biologicality as the ultimate political issue at stake. The authors of the report titled Assessing Chronological Age of Unaccompanied Minors in Southern Italy claim that “[a]ge estimation of unaccompanied minors is a fundamental principle of human rights and dignity”.[9] But this is not merely yet another instrumental and selective use of the term “human rights”. It additionally comprises a process evidently bypassing some elementary aspects of medical moral code. As the related report issued in late 2011 by the Separated Children in Europe Programme tells us, the process of estimating the age of young unaccompanied refugees and migrants in Italy is rife with deficiencies, omissions and assumptions essentially comprising a mechanism for the infringement, not the protection of whatever “human” rights.[10]

Any meticulous observer of transformations that have taken place in the technologies of the field of criminal law procedure since the end of the 19th century would admittedly fail to be surprised by the conventional tests of age estimation that take place in some makeshift medical labs in Italy today. Ever since the days when Alphonse Bertillon would assort his first anthropometric samples in Paris, colossal transformations have taken place in regard to the involvement of bodily-physical characteristics in the field of criminal procedural law and criminology. What was at stake during that triumphant initial entering of the human body upon the police laboratories of the time was the creation of a lasting dependence of those who would repeatedly offend—then so-called “persistent offenders”—by some inescapable biological truths of theirs.[11] The caretakers of this entering showed blind trust to the latter. And so, developments in fields studying human body phenomena gradually became developments in the field of procedural substantiation itself. The body, then, would henceforth exude innocence or guilt. And it would do so in a non-negotiable and terminal manner. This was the main purpose of the appeal to the previously apocryphal and enigmatic world of the body: to dissipate the veils of mystery and to disband any doubt that would traditionally cast its shadow upon the practice of judgement (crisis) and decision-making. Yet the certainties that the body would so open-handedly offer were not limited to the field of juridical and medical practice. As we shall see, they soon became a means for a broader way of thinking; a way of thinking politically.

One may therefore claim that age estimation tests belong to this police tradition commencing at the end of the 19th century and which dramatically widened the interweaving of law with the life sciences sector—some interweaving that was only indicatively revealed earlier on through the notion of the crisis. In either case, this particular mechanism of human assortment belongs to a much wider array of public security practices relating the issue of migration to regulations of the criminal law. And this is what connects it, paradoxically, to Bertillon’s distant practices. Age estimation tests comprise an exemplary case of interweaving the body with the law. And it may be pointless to continue to insist upon their technical deficiencies and the unreliability of their results. What retains its distinctive meaning, and re-introduces us to the environment formed by the humanist hypothesis, is that bare life, as main protagonist and as a product of this humanist project, hereby acquires a particular technical and communicable “form”. It can be articulated, in other words, through specific practices, through sizes and qualities, through recognisable and materially inscribed expressions. This articulation becomes much more than a mere projection of some irreversible physical characteristics; it becomes meaning and subject position. A position that, as Arendt would suggest, is determined by the field in which the subject itself can hold no responsibility whatsoever.[12] Along the same lines, and referring to the widespread contemporary biometric technologies, Agamben writes: “If […] my identity is now determined by biological facts—that in no way depend on my will, and over which I have no control—then the construction of something like a personal ethics becomes problematic”.[13]

The involvement of the human organism in these brief medical examinations is only one of the most contemporary articulations of the political importance acquired by the body during modernity’s arrival. As stressed out by Esposito, it is modernity that shifts the centre of gravity of human meaning from the heavenly worlds—to which christianity had condemned it for centuries—to the earthly reality, declaring “the biological survival [to be] the highest good”.[14] In describing the transformations taking place during the formation of the modern state, Foucault articulates this shift along a similar line, as follows: “It was no longer a question of leading people to their salvation in the next world but rather ensuring it in this world. And in this context, the word ‘salvation’ takes on different meanings: health, well-being (that is, sufficient wealth, standard of living), security, protection against accidents”.[15] This persistence upon the protection of life and the new meanings enjoyed by the notion of health in this modernist threshold launch an unprecedented recourse to the functions of the biological world. And no matter how paradoxical it may seem, modernity sought its truths and its meanings in the world compiled by these natural extra-historical functions. This recourse to the natural world appears to haunt modernist thought. Some naturalisation that allows, as we saw, for the ideological legitimisation of the tragedies piling up at the borders of Europe is not only a discursive stratagem upon which humanist paradoxes are concentrated. It also comprises, on the one hand, a valuable field of problematising the human condition—offering an array of symbolic interpretations and discursive tools. On the other hand, it comprises an inexhaustible field of scientific investigation and documentation, gradually claiming its own autonomy; some autonomy that eventually and in turn becomes meaning in itself.

It is well-known that the modernist culture was characterised from the outset by an obsession to rule over the natural world. Yet at the same time, it never ceased to invoke it both in order to give meaning and to judge its accomplishments, as well as in order to give shape and to interpret its social constructions.[16] The notion of the natural never ceased to cause awe nor to haunt the visions of technique and science. The conditions were born, therefore for a mysterious cyclical movement. On the one hand, the modernist ventures launched an endless struggle to overcome nature. On the other hand, they never ceased to invoke this in order to affirm and vindicate their choices—discovering, in its face, the ultimate refuge of truth. Yet this strong bond with natural “truths” and natural laws was not confined to the functions and specificities characterising the technical world. It occupied, in addition, a large part of the practices of social meaning-assigning in themselves. Perhaps the most typical expression of the said occupation lies in the widespread biologising practices that emphatically accompany the processes of anxious meaning-assigning of social relationships and human nature—grounding, as the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins would have it, the processes of meaning-assigning to the “sclerotic framework of a corporeal determination of cultural forms”.[17] The modernist obsession to describe cultural forms, moral behaviours and social structures through knowledge of the biological world phenomena would grow along with this knowledge itself. As the delving into life phenomena continued, the status those offered to the symbolisms and the meaning-assigning of human hypotheses was inflated. Today, the figure of the young refugee and migrant finds its paradigmatic position at the conjuncture between this knowledge and these symbolic intentions. Right where a mere dental examination seamlessly meets complicated law regulations. Yet this meet-up did not take place all of a sudden.

At approximately the same time when the renown Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen would come to light, Europe would play host to some crucial political transformations. The forming of the nation-state signalled a series of unprecedented technical-administrative reconfigurations, at the core of which one can discern a tremendous interest in the phenomena of life and the functions of the human, by now as a biological species. In studying the importance of sexuality as the field where the disciplines of the body and the controlling of population phenomena meet—and in describing these new adjustment controls as a biopolitics of the population—Foucault identifies that exact era as western world’s “threshold of the biological modernity”. The modern human is no longer merely “a living animal”, as Aristotle had claimed, but “an animal whose politics places his existence as a living being in question”.[18] We therefore see that the Declaration of Rights of 1789, which concerned us so much earlier on, and which attempted to inscribe the “inalienable” rights of human to the mere fact of their birth (and that alone), cannot be understood out of the context of the new role taken on by the meaning of human (human as body and human as species) within the emerging biopolitical framework of that time. Both are articulated in the light of a tremendous concern for the human’s biological background, one that is not only limited to the narrow confines of a bureaucratic project that is requested to take charge and to safeguard the quality of life of its population: instead, as revealed to us by the Declaration, this project tries out new interpretations and introduces novel political meanings.

On that same period, Foucault would once again refer to the notion of biopolitics—extracting elements from the specific environment formed by the strong interest in life phenomena. And he chose to do so, at his 1975-76 lectures, through the phenomenon of racism: racism as a state choice and as a state mechanism for the management of a domestic enemy.[19] Soon enough, Foucault realised that within this new form of power relationships undertaking the functions—and by extension, the very meaning—of (organic) life in an unprecedented productive and protective manner, one ought to seek the ways in which death continues to be intentionally applied; this renown, absolute right of the sovereign. The introduction of the notion of racism takes upon itself the task of filling this void, proving that life can harmoniously coincide with death within the exact same discursive-governmental framework. Yet it is my life and the death of the Other. Or, to be precise, my life through the death of the Other.[20] This is racism’s signature function. The detailed description of which Foucault leaves incomplete, since during his succeeding lectures, in which he takes on processing the characteristics and particularities of biopolitics anew, he appears to be allured by the productive affirmations and the laws that organise the world of political economy.[21] Some allure that henceforth only allows him to approach death as a mere population phenomenon,  as a stand-alone natural dimension to be managed by the liberal state—not as some catastrophic result of one of its select tactics.[22]

Yet we know that the emergence of liberalism did not by any means suggest the withdrawal of racism. To the contrary: racism comprises a purely modern phenomenon and a statuary element of liberal governance, meticulously hidden behind the infamous values of equality and universality. Identifying the crucial gap formed by Foucault’s choice not to study the emergence of the bourgeois class in Europe as a quintessential product of its colonial practices,[23] Ann Laura Stoler points at the links tying liberalism to nationalism during that crucial period of transformations for european states. And so, she claims that “[t]he most basic universalistic notions of ‘human nature’ and ‘individual liberty’, […] rested on combined notions of breeding and the learning of ‘naturalized’ habits that set off those who exhibited such a ‘nature’ and could exercise such liberty from the racially inferior”.[24] In this way, she shows that the moral principles that govern liberal democracy are constituted within the colonial context, first of all as racialised principles—and that the notion of citizenship ought to be conceived only through its gendered, class and racial connotations.[25] In this way, the colonial environment proved to be a testing ground for the philosophy of bourgeois liberalism[26], since regulative colonial policies not only allowed for the conditions of subjectification of the colonized, but at the same time constructed the european bourgeois identity itself, in all its different versions.[27] Nevertheless, cross-reading Foucault’s observations and covering his gaps through Stoler’s careful commentaries we may for a second ponder upon the importance pertained, at that time, by the discussion over the defence of society reserved for state racism—and by extension, its health—through some very systematic policies of constituting and conceptualising the enemy within. Some enemy that, in the biopolitical horizon of its interpretation, henceforth becomes biologised.[28] A construction that is vital not only for the functions of racism but for the constitution of the liberal nation-state per se. Stoler suggests that we trust those who interpret “the racialized ‘interior’ frontiers that nationalisms create, not as excesses of a nationalism out of hand, but as social divisions crucial to the exclusionary principles of nation-states”.[29] Racism does not comprise an accident in the process of the formation of the modern state—but rather, an integral part of this very process.

The importance of all these observations, and their relationship to the naturalisation that has concerned us up until this point, commence from the meeting point between this biological emergence and its undertaking with the new conceptualisations of danger; a meet-up that is constitutive for the modern national state. They commence, in other words, from the fact that within the biopolitical framework shaped on the one hand by the political-administrative transformations of the second half of the 18th century and on the other, by the ways in which state racism welcomed these transformations a century on, the ways in which the enemy (within) were questioned were updated themselves. In a condition, in other words that is characterised by “the acquisition of power over man insofar as man is a living being”[30] and due to the fact that the biological element henceforth enters a field entirely controlled by the state mechanisms, racism henceforth constitutes a phenomenon that is radically different to what was so far known as the “race struggle”[31]—and this racism now comes to be articulated not through a warlike relationship but through a biological-type relationship instead; fully compatible to the modern specifications and demands of biopower.[32] The enemy, in this case, is not merely a political-military opponent. They are a threat within the social body itself. Some threat that is, first and foremost, biological—and whose presence is henceforth articulated hygienically, becoming the subject of a number of relevant regulations. It is for this reason that Bauman claims that “racism is unthinkable without the advancement of modern science, modern technology and modern forms of state power”, making it clear that it “is a thoroughly modern weapon used in the conduct of pre-modern, or at least not exclusively modern, struggles”.[33] The transformations characterising the conceptualisations of the enemy are in this way proven to be inextricably interwoven to a sum of new techniques and ways of conceiving and describing it, which are in turn founded upon the knowledge rapidly produced by the field of life sciences. The sectors of medicine, of physical anthropology and of public health were assigned, in this way, a prime role not only for the needs of a “convincing” documentation and meaning-giving of biological differences but also, in the constitution of the modern national state in itself, through the particular questioning of its domestic threats. Talking about the immense importance of the combination of medicine and hygiene in regard to issues of sexuality control during the 19th century, Foucault writes that it comprises “if not the most important element, an element of considerable importance because of the link it establishes between scientific knowledge of both biological and organic processes (or in other words, the population and the body), and because at the same time, medicine becomes a political intervention-technique with specific power-effects”.[34]

And so, amidst the environment shaped by the above transformations, the constitution of the modern state may only be understood through the terms of the health of its population. Some population that appears as a new size, with its own characteristics, whose management requires a particular form of knowledge that is from now on offered by the newly-emergent fields of statistics and demography.[35] The state, as a guarantor of the life and the health of its population, urgently takes on a dual protective role that functions in a self-constitutive manner. On the one hand, it meticulously constructs the biologicised enemy within. On the other hand, it intervenes in order to protect society from the danger it gestates itself, focusing upon the “dangerous” and the “degenerative” bodies. Sometimes upon those bodies that “violate the law”, sometimes upon those bodies that are ill and transmit, and sometimes upon those that merely “differ”.[36] All these variations of the bodily are described in common in theories concerning degeneration and hereditary, in fears for the diffusion of immorality and criminality, and in the discourses over social deregulation.[37] In the practising of these theories and discourses, the modern state builds a near-clinical image for its self, for its lustiness and for its integrity—articulating this practically in terms of belonging and exclusion. It therefore makes some sense for us to study the role played by biosciences in the above constitution—since it is these sciences that are the most qualified to suggest the new biological enemy of the state, that come as the ultimate attempts to naturalise hierarchies, to turn differences ideological and to legitimise exclusions, utilising the prestige and the precision fitting to their observations.[38] The rich knowledge concerning the natural backdrop of the human was born inside the same framework that led to the formation of the nation-state. We ought, therefore, to conceive the biomedical discourse as a discourse that is largely racialised, in order to conceive the role that it plays in the conceptualisation and in the constitution of natural identity itself.

As Alison Bashford stresses out, “[n]ation forming has found one of its primary languages in biomedical discourse, partly because of its investment in the abstract idea of boundary, identity and difference, but also because of the political philosophy that thinks of the population as one body, the social body or the body of the polity”.[39] In the framework set by technologies and the discourses of state-liberal racism, and always under the influence of a widespread rhetoric concerning degenerative dangers, the displacement or the extermination of the “degenerative” does not mean, as Foucault shows us, merely the prevalence over a given enemy—but it signals, in addition, the strengthening and the consolidation of life itself.[40] The fields of medicine and hygiene immediately take on, as a result, to materially articulate the terms of the said consolidation. Some undertaking that becomes all the more urgent in the light of the new capacities in transportation and communications.[41] For example, in studying the importance of the institution of hygienic quarantine in the constitution of national identity, Bashford, demonstrates the ways in which this contributed to the conceiving of the notion of national integrity. Through its protective and its prohibitive lines, it “made…”, as she writes, “…otherwise often abstract national or colonial boundaries very real”.[42] The global migration characterising the Interwar Period is treated as an equally crucial biomedical issue. Under the influence of eugenics and early genetics, the racially understood social body, which is now possible to be conceived more “literally” (that is, biologically) is faced with intruders who either carry transmissive diseases, or are judged to be of some “questionable” moral quality.[43] Under the constant fear of the “degenerative” influence of these “dangerous” social groups, drastic measures were taken for the limitation of migration. Some action that is tremendously relevant in the environment formed by the increased migratory flows today, making timely the hygienic importance of borders in turn; borders that “are there to protect life itself”, now more than ever.[44] In studying the particular example of Australia, Bashford concludes that in the end, its own population was constituted through these technologies of border and hygiene control. Some constitution that is on the one hand literal—“with the restriction of entry of certain people on grounds of race, and on public health grounds”. On the other hand, it is imaginary—through the image “of the Australian national body as pure but requiring protection, as white, but precariously so”.[45]

We are therefore dealing with a literal as much as a metaphorical function—both of which maintain their particular importance. Admittedly, the presence of organic metaphors in these observations does not come as a surprise. The anthropologist Mary Douglas, for example, claims that the body comprises a privileged field for the extraction of meanings and symbolisms—in particular, in regard to perceptions concerning social boundary-setting. “The body…”, writes Douglas, “…is a model which can stand for any bounded system. Its boundaries can represent any boundaries which are threatened or precarious. The body is a complex structure. The functions of its different parts and their relation afford a source of symbols for other complex structures”.[46] The body that comes under fire, that is threatened, that endangered—its exposed and vulnerable physical orifices in particular—acts, in this way, as a particularly effective condenser for many of the symbolisms related to the violation of boundaries. Bashford reaffirms this symbolic potential through her observations on health and hygiene, where the references to the notion of the pathogenic catapult their own symbolic capacities.[47] Hygiene, she claims in this way, is applied as discourse on boundaries and their violations, hence acting as a primary framework of meaning-assignment that discovers one of its preferential fields of application in the form and in the function of national borders. It shows, therefore, that these do not comprise mere metaphors. “Far from being a straightforward metaphor, the use of the term ‘hygiene’, particularly in the context of nationalism, was a result of the deep connection between the political and cultural imagining of bodies and nations, as well as a long history of an ‘imaginary geo-graphics’ of exclusion”.[48] And so, beyond their metaphorical and the symbolic dynamics health and illness organise, through their regulatory clinical imaginaries, some entirely tangible exclusions—and if need be, death itself. Because as Esposito assures us, the immunising logic fundamentally involved in the construction of modern meanings leads to the negation of life itself, once this traverses a certain threshold. Right where protection and death coexist in harmony, in a zone of absolute indistinction.[49]

In this way, we witness a primarily metaphorical presence of the body (and its nosology) in the political discourse that accompanies the formation of the modern nation-state. We also have a number of entirely material articulations of this discourse which realise, in space as much as in time, the relationship between body and meaning. Referring to a contemporary articulation of the discourse over hygiene, which he terms moral hygiene, Jeffrey Schaler notes that these metaphorical constructions extend the limits and the responsibilities of public health “by applying a medical metaphor to every sphere of life, and then, quite absurdly, taking the metaphor literally”.[50] During this inconspicuous move from the metaphorical to the literal world, a tremendous expansion is granted to biomedical discourse and its applications. And late modernity has admittedly offered us the most totalitarian and the most destructive, perhaps, moment of the expansion in question—one that describes a much more literal and perceptible presence of the biological in the foreground of the production of meanings. The policy of nazism showed some unprecedented meticulousness in assigning the human body with this particular philosophical mission, giving birth to an entirely new way of political thought as a result. The notion-al and notion-assigning responsibilities undertaken by the body during those crucial years are unparalleled. Along with them, the responsibilities of those that would usually study it were also extended. As we shall see, in this case the body does not invade the labs of conceptual constructions as a physical symbol or as a mere metaphor, but as a strict literalism.[51] And without meaning to draw any immediate parallels to that absolute thanatopolitical example of the 20th century, we would claim that the interweaving of body and law as articulated in the aforementioned medical examinations of age estimation, carries with it some of the poisonous aura of this literalism. What characterises the here and the now of our body, which is inescapable, constitutes our unique position in the world.[52] This is the lesson of the nazi racial ideology. And this is also the meaning of the medical opinions in question. It does not comprise, in other words, an organic metaphor, but an organic literalism: a biological index that indicates subject positions.

“After all…”, asks Esposito, “…isn't it a biological given, blood precisely, that constitutes the ultimate criterion for defining the juridical status of a person?”.[53] The question describes the absolute superimposition, according to the Italian thinker, of the two semantic roots of the immunization notion—that is, the biological and the juridical one. And it proves that in the nazi case—as in the case of the examinations of age estimate, one could add—we find ourselves faced with a dual mechanism, one facet of which is occupied by the absolute biologisation of the juridical and the other, by the absolute juridicalisation of the biological.[54] The nazi example, taking on the formidable focusing upon the biological procedures that constitute the human, elevates the demand for the protection of life—some life which, apart from constituting a signifying metaphor for the german Volk, is matched quite literally with care for its health, as articulated through a long list of related laws and regulations. For the health of every individual body, which would henceforth comprise both the guard and guarantor of the health of the german national “body” as a whole. Which is why Hans Reiter, one of the top officials in charge of the Reich’s hygienic policy, would stress upon the importance of everyone endorsing this new way of biological thinking; since what was at stake was no less than “the ‘substance’ of the same ‘biological body of the nation’”.[55] The body therefore steps into the foreground of political procedures in some unprecedented manner, turning nazism into a “realization of biology”[56] or, as Rudolph Hess declared, “nothing but applied biology”.[57] The hygienic mechanism of national-socialism ought to defend health and the purity of this biological legacy that emerges as destiny and from now on, as the foremost political duty.[58] In this way, this presence of the fatal and of the inescapable becomes a subject of undertaking.

“The body is not only a happy or unhappy accident that relates us to the implacable world of matter. Its adherence to the Self is of value in itself. It is an adherence that one does not escape and that no metaphor can confuse with the presence of an external object; it is a union that does not in any way alter the tragic character of finality”.[59] This is how Lévinas describes the ontological repercussions of nazi philosophy in regard to the new importance acquired by the relationship between the human and her/his body. This obsessive inscription of meaning onto the body comprised a systematic philosophical-medical project that on the one hand demonstrated some unprecedented faith in the notion of the race, and on the other some non-negotiable trust in the biomedical tools for the needs of racial protection. Closely following developments in genetics and eugenics, the nazi medical personnel took on both the task of the strict biological definition of the german race, as well as that of the turning of this definition into a political aim. Agamben writes that “[n]azism […] did not limit itself to using and twisting scientific concepts for its own ends. The relationship between National Socialist ideology and the social and biological sciences of the time—in particular, genetics—is more intimate and complex and, at the same time, more disturbing”.[60] The disturbing effect caused by this particular relationship concerns the fact that “these concepts are not treated as external (if binding) criteria of a sovereign decision: they are, rather, as such immediately political”.[61]

And so, the immune mechanisms that raised an unprecedented demand for the protection of human life from the dawn of modernity, in the case of nazism experience their most intense and their most murderous embodiment. As care for life is equated with the complete annihilation of any degenerative factor, ceaseless hygienic interventions are rendered inextricably interwoven with the mass death practices characterising the Reich. Practices that are equally medicalised and scientifically designed, that were applied with the certainty that they protect the health and the integrity of the national body, freed from the presence of assorted degenerative threats[62]— primarily the “jewish threat”. The discourse over the threat in question was no hollow wording; it claimed to equally be in a position to identify and to biologically substantiate the latter. And the ambition for a naturalised interpretation of this absolute degenerative biological evil was born long before the nazis took power. As revealed by a letter sent by Hitler on September 16, 1919 to his friend Adolf Gemlich, the time had come at that moment for old-fashioned emotional antisemitism to be overcome, since it did not help in the understanding of the real degenerative effect the Jews had on the german nation. As the still young Hitler would stress out, “[a]ntisemitism as a political movement may not and can not be determined by flashes of emotion, but rather through the understanding facts”.[63] The most important of these was the unquestionable fact, for Hitler, that jewishness henceforth ought to be understood in racial, not in religious terms.[64] This new understanding would gradually pave the way for the mass medicalised extermination of the Jews. As Bauman writes, “[o]nly in its modern ‘scientific’, racist form, the age-long repellence of the Jews has been articulated as an exercise in sanitation; only with the modern reincarnation of Jew-hatred have the Jews been charged with an ineradicable vice, with an immanent flaw which cannot be separated from its carriers”.[65] Hitler, then, echoed the scientific spirit of his time—he was by no means a pioneer with the demand articulated in the letter in question. Already from the end of the 19th century, the rich anti-semitic discourse attempted to substantiate the “jewish question”, claiming that the threat posed by the Jews not only stemmed by their biological nature, but that it was, in addition, inalterable.[66] On the basis of this inalterable condition, the Jewish proved to be unreceptive and hence worthy of displacement and extermination. The appeal to biology, then—in this, as much as in other examples—was not suggested merely by the symbolic capacities offered by the endless array of organic metaphors, but also by racism’s inherent need to describe its subject as irreversible. Some irreversibility offered open-handedly in biomedical science’s field of study: in the field where one would locate what Lévinas calls inescapable, final and eternally given.



[1]: See for example Koslowski Rey, The Evolution of Border Controls as a Mechanism to Prevent Illegal Migration, Migration Policy Institute, Washington DC, February 2011, p.9. Available at

[2]: See Nuzzolese Emilio, Solarino Biagio, Liuzzi Claudia & Di Vella Giancarlo, Assessing Chronological Age of Unaccompanied Minors in Southern Italy, Am J Forensic Med Pathol, Volume 32, Number 3, September 2011, pp.202, 203.

[3]: The report titled Review of Current Laws, Policies, and Practices Relating to Age Assessment in Sixteen European Countries states in this regard: “age assessment is used in Europe mainly to establish whether or not (and for how long) an individual is under 18 years of age and therefore eligible for protection under the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC) and other relevant international, European, regional and national legal instruments”. Specifically in the case of Italy, it stresses out that “[i]n practice, most age assessment cases related to separated children are initiated because authorities suspect that an individual who claims to be a child is aged above 18. Sometimes age assessment is requested to establish whether the child is aged above or below 14 in relation to criminal responsibility”. See Review of Current Laws, Policies, and Practices Relating to Age Assessment in Sixteen European Countries, Separated Children in Europe Programme (Thematic Group on Age Assessment), May 2011, pp.4,16. Available at

[4]: See the lecture of January 23rd, 1974 in Foucault Michel, Psychiatric Power – Lectures at the College de France 1973-74, trans. by Graham Burchell, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2006, pp.242,259

[5]: Ibid., p.244

[6]: In the same regard, when attempting a brief perambulation in the conceptual dynamic of the crisis, Agamben reaffirms its medical use—which, along with its theological dimension comprise its two semantic roots. In either case, the term is connected to the notion of judgement, which in the medical field concerns the doctor’s opinion when the illness’ trajectory has reached the stage of struggle between life and death. See in this regard Agamben Giorgio, The Endless Crisis as an Instrument of Power: In conversation with Giorgio Agamben, 04 June 2013, available at

[7]: “The physician speaks only to utter the truth […] He names and he orders, that's all”, writes Foucault in this regard. See Foucault Michel, Speech Begins after Death – In Conversation with Claude Bonnefoy, trans. by Robert Bononno, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis & London 2013, p.35

[8]: Concerning the error margin, the aforementioned report by the SCEP is affirmative: “In a number of cases, the margin of error is not indicated at all, or in an unclear way: for example, the certificate issued states the ʻcompatibility with the adult ageʼ without indicating any age range”. Review of Current Laws, Policies, and Practices Relating to Age Assessment in Sixteen European Countries, ibid., p.16

[9]: Nuzzolese, Solarino, Liuzzi & Di Vella, ibid., p.206

[10]: See Review of Current Laws, Policies, and Practices Relating to Age Assessment in Sixteen European Countries, ibid., pp.16-17

[11]: See in this regard the chapter Identity without the Person, in Agamben Giorgio, Nudities, trans. by David Kishik & Stefan Pedarella, Stanford University Press, Stanford California 201, p.49-50

[12]: See Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, ibid., pp.373,374,382

[13]: Agamben, Nudities, ibid., p.52. Let us at this point recall that many years ago, the Italian thinker had expressed the exact same question. He wrote, then, that “[t]he fact that must constitute the point of departure for any discourse on ethics is that there is no essence, no historical or spiritual vocation, no biological destiny that humans must enact or realize. This is the only reason why something like an ethics can exist, because it is clear that if humans were or had to be this or that substance, this or that destiny, no ethical experience would be possible—there would be only tasks to be done”. Agamben Giorgio, The Coming Community, trans. by Michael Hardt, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis & London 1993, p.43

[14]: Esposito, ibid., p.149. See also Esposito Roberto, Interview with Timothy Campbell, trans. by Anna Paparcone, Diacritics, Vol.36, Issue 2, Summer 2006, p.54

[15]: Foucault Michel, The Subject and Power, Critical Inquiry, Vol.8, No.4 (Summer, 1982), p.784

[16]: Sahlins Marshall, The Western Illusion of Human Nature: With Reflections on the Long History of Hierarchy, Equality, and the Sublimation of Anarchy in the West, and Comparative Notes on Other Conceptions of the Human Condition, Prickly Paradigm Press, Chicago 2008, p.107

[17]: Sahlins Marshall, The Western Illusion of Human Nature: With Reflections on the Long History of Hierarchy, Equality, and the Sublimation of Anarchy in the West, and Comparative Notes on Other Conceptions of the Human Condition, Prickly Paradigm Press, Chicago 2008, p.107

[18]: See Foucault Michel, History of Sexuality – An Introduction, Vol.1, trans. by Robert Hurley, Pantheon Books, New York 1978, p.143. See also Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, ibid., p.243

[19]: See Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, ibid., p.254. Foucault also refers to racism in passing in the first volume of The History of Sexuality—yet he chose not to go into further detail. See Foucault, History of Sexuality, ibid., pp.145-146. Yet it would not appear that Foucault’s intentions would include any detailed description of the racism phenomenon nor any recognition, by extension, of the transformations and different uses characterising the notion of race or racism through history. A fact that may give birth to analytical gaps particularly in the environment nowadays formed by the oft-encountered distancing of prevalent contemporary racist discourses from explicitly racial references, and their focusing primarily upon cultural differences instead. We could say that Foucault refers to what Tzvetan Todorov terms racialism, emphasising upon the ideological characteristics of the phenomenon and its relation to scientism, from which it aspires to extract whatever validation it may enjoy. For the distinction between racism and racialism, see Todorov Tzvetan, Race and Racism, trans. by Catherine Porter, in Back & Solomos, ibid., p.64-70. For the transformations regarding the notion of race see Banton Michael, The Idiom of Race – A Critique of Presentism, in Back & Solomos, ibid., pp.51-63

[20]: Achille Mbembe claims in this regard: “[t]he perception of the existence of the Other as an attempt on my life, as a mortal threat or absolute danger whose biophysical elimination would strengthen my potential to life and security—this, I suggest, is one of the many imaginaries of sovereignty characteristic of both early and late modernity itself”. See Mbembe Achille, Necropolitics, Public Culture, Vol.15, No.1, Winter 2003, p.18

[21]: This is proven by Foucault’s intention to change the title of the lectures of the next incoming year, distancing himself from the triptych Security, Territory, Population, and wishing to talk about “a history of ‘governmentality’”, emphasising upon political economy as a form of knowledge that would from that point on offer new capacities for governmental intervention. It is also proven by the fact that the series of lectures for the academic year 1978-79, titled The Birth of Biopolitics, was in the end devoted “entirely to what should have been only its introduction”—that is, to the notion of liberalism. See respectively, Foucault Michel, Security, Territory, Population – Lectures at the Collège de France 1977-78, transl. by Graham Burchell, Palgrave Macmillan, New York 2007, p.108 and Senellart Michel, Course Context, in Foucault Michel, The Birth of Biopolitics – Lectures at the Collège de France 1978-79, transl. by Graham Burchell, Palgrave Macmillan, New York 2008, pp.328,331

[22]: Referring to the first volume of Foucault’s History of Sexuality, and shedding light upon the paradoxical turn in the French thinker’s thought, Agamben writes: “Until the very end, however, Foucault continued to investigate the ʻprocesses of subjectivizationʼ that, in the passage from the ancient to the modern world, bring the individual to objectify his own self, constituting himself as a subject and, at the same time, binding himself to a power of external control. Despite what one might have legitimately expected, Foucault never brought his insights to bear on what could well have appeared to be the exemplary place of modern biopolitics: the politics of the great totalitarian states of the twentieth century”. See Agamben, Homo Sacer, ibid., p.71. One could finally claim that in light of this development, Mbembe’s question of whether the Foucauldian notion of biopower is sufficient becomes timely; a question that stimulated him to introduce the notions of necropower and necropolitics. See Mbembe, ibid., p.12

[23]: To be precise, Foucault makes some brief references to colonialism as a racialised practice during his 1975-76 lectures, but chooses not to delve further in the matter. See for example, Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, ibid., pp.60,63

[24]: See the chapter Cultivating Bourgeois Bodies and Racial Selves, in Stoler Ann Laura, Race and the Education of Desire – Foucault's History Of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things, Duke University Press, Durham & London 1995, p.131

[25]: Ibid.

[26]: Ibid. p.98

[27]: At the same time, choosing to study the functions of biopower along the side of the notions of the state of exception and the state of siege, Mbembe describes the colonial environment as a field of repeated exercises of exception, in which one can discern some of the fundamental material preconditions for the technologies of mass extermination developed as part of modernity. Perceiving the notion of race as crucial in the meaning-assigning of social segregations, and facing the institution of slavery as one of the earliest biopolitical experimentations, he sees in the colony not only a distinguished topos for the constitution of identities but also, a field for the questioning of humanness itself. See Mbembe, ibid., pp.16-25

[28]: Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, ibid., pp.61-62,80,216

[29]: Stoler, ibid., p.130

[30]: Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, ibid., p.239

[31]: Ibid., pp.59-62

[32]: Ibid., p.255. Respectively, in commenting upon the interweaving of law and medicine in the shadow of the nazi euthanasia programme, Esposito notes: “it isn't so much that medical killing falls under the category of war as that war comes to be inscribed in a biomedical vision in which euthanasia emerges as an integral part”, in Esposito, ibid., p.133

[33]: Bauman, ibid., pp.212,213

[34]: Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, ibid., p.252. Alison Bashford writes, in this regard, that the field of public health as constituted in the 19th century by the English sanitarian Edwin Chadwick, comprises a crucial tool for liberal governance. See Bashford Alison, Imperial Hygiene – A Critical History of Colonialism, Nationalism and Public Health, Palgrave, London 2004, p.8

[35]: The problematisations of the body in the context of the constitution of the nation-state can only take place, as Stoler show us, in terms of gender and sexuality. As the degenerative obsessions were structurally involved in the attempts to form the new states, it was women who took on the duty of defending racial purity and safeguarding family morality. At the same time, the [n]ationalist discourse staked out those sexual practices that were nation-building and race-affirming, marking ‘unproductive eroticism’ […] ‘not only [as] immoral, [but as] unpatriotic’. See Stoler, ibid, pp.130-136.

[36]: The problematisations of the body in the context of the constitution of the nation-state can only take place, as Stoler show us, in terms of gender and sexuality. As the degenerative obsessions were structurally involved in the attempts to form the new states, it was women who took on the duty of defending racial purity and safeguarding family morality. At the same time, the [n]ationalist discourse staked out those sexual practices that were nation-building and race-affirming, marking ‘unproductive eroticism’ […] ‘not only [as] immoral, [but as] unpatriotic’. See Stoler, ibid, pp.130-136.

[37]: It is important to hereby recall that the field of criminology, as constituted by the Italian Cesare Lombroso, displayed for a few decades a strong belief in the inscription of criminal predispositions into human physiological characteristics. The notion of the born criminal, and the belief in the ability for criminal characteristics to be inherited, comprised the fundamental notions behind the Lombrosian theory. Eugenics as well as the numerous theories on degeneration invested heavily on this capacity of genetic transmission—turning matters of penal treatment and social organisation into issues of biomedical interpretation and management. A typical example of such is offered by the inscription of “criminal” behaviour in the physiological characteristics of the French anarchist Ravachol, as described by Lombroso: “his face features a rather clear asymmetry, is characterised by an evidently narrow temple, the extravagant eyebrow arcs, the nose inclining to the right, the curved and unaligned ears—and finally, the enormous, square-shaped lower jaw that sticks out, all constitute in this head the typical characteristics of the born criminal”. See Lombroso Cesare, Gli anarchici, trans. By Takis Mpouzanis, Isnafi, Iopannina 2011 (in Greek), p.45

[38]: As an example, Stoler mentions that germ theory acted as a prime colonial ideology—and referring to Jean and John Comaroff, she reminds us that “the technologies of colonial rule and the construction of certain kinds of scientific knowledge were […] ‘cut from the same cultural cloth’”. See Stoler, ibid., p.112. Stoler tries to show that the european bourgeoisie was constituted in racial, class and gendered terms, through its colonial practices—highlighting the key position occupied in this formation by the control of sexuality matters through hygiene as well. The sectors of medicine and public health intervened in a regulative manner and were met by an unprecedented impetus at the end of the 19th century, with Pauster’s discoveries inaugurating a large-scale campaign around cleanliness—the eventual aim being, as historian Georges Vigarello writes, the radical reform of human contact. See Vigarello Georges, Le propre et le sale – L' hygiène du corps depuis le Moyen Age, trans. by Spyros Marketos, Alexandreia, Athens 2000 (in Greek), p.247

[39]: Bashford, ibid., p.4

[40]: Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, ibid., pp.252,255. Bauman writes in this regard: “The killing of the bearers of illnesses and degeneration, just like the killing of bacteria or viruses, comprises an operation that serves and augments life. Man does not think of this as murder, but as the salvation of life”. See Bauman Zygmunt, Death, Immortality and Other Life Strategies in Makrynioti Dimitra (ed.), The Political Management of Death, Nisos, Athens 2008 (in Greek), p.148. Let us finally recall that even Carl Schmitt had conceived the effects and the paradoxes of such a notional abuse. He therefore wrote that “[h]umanity as such cannot wage war because it has no enemy, at least not on this planet. The concept of humanity excludes the concept of the enemy, because the enemy does not cease to be a human being. [...] When a state fights its political enemy in the name of humanity, it is not a war for the sake of humanity, but a war wherein a particular state seeks to usurp a universal concept against its military opponent. At the expense of its opponent, it tries to identify itself with humanity in the same way as one can misuse peace, justice, progress, and civilization in order to claim these as one's own and to deny the same to the enemy”. See Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, ibid., p. 54.

[41]: Later on, Bashford would stress out that the population question that emerges in the Interwar Period, and begins to comprise a subject of systematic study for the then newly appearing League of Nations, is primarily problematised within the framework formed by population movements and flows, rather than through issues of reproduction and regulation of sexuality. The dramatic increase and the facilitation of movement on a planetary scale forces the League of Nations to manage the “international hygiene” as “hygiene of immigration” and to approach the population matter in terms of “space, density, movement and land”. See Bashford Alison, Global biopolitics and the History of World Health, History of the Human Sciences, Vol.19, No.1, 2006, p.80

[42]: Bashford, Imperial Hygiene, ibid., p.124

[43]: Ibid., p.145. The connection to the moral sphere is achieved precisely through this arbitrary biologisation of moral behaviours, identical to the scientific determinism described earlier on by Todorov. Referring to the notion of knowledge-based politics, he notes: “Having established the ‘facts’, the racialist draws from them a moral judgement and a political ideal”, in Todorov, ibid., p.66. On a similar note, Esposito writes in describing the short-circuit characterising the biologising strategy: “What appears as the social result of a determinate biological configuration is in reality the biological representation of a prior political decision”. See Esposito, ibid., p.120. And so, we return to the connection between biology and law and to the uncontrollable notional exchanges characterising their relationship. Biology, then, speaks because it has been authorised to do so. And the problematic raised in this discussion concerns precisely this authorisation.

[44]: Mitropoulos Angela, Contract & Contagion – From Biopolitics to Oikonomia, Minor Compositions, Wivenhoe, New York & Port Watson 2012, p.122

[45]: Ibid., p.162

[46]: Douglas Mary, Purity and Danger – An analysis of the concepts of pollution and taboo, Routledge, London and New York 1994, p.116. See also pp.4,123,126,165

[47]: In regard to the metaphorical uses of the notion of illness, see also Sontag Susan, Illness as Metaphor,  Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York 1978, pp.58-61

[48]: Bashford, Imperial Hygiene, ibid., p.5

[49]: Esposito Roberto, Terms of the Political – Community, Immunity, Biopolitics, trans. by Rhiannon Noel Welch, Fordham University Press, New York 2013, pp.59-62 και Esposito, Interview with Timothy Campbell, ibid.

[50]: Schaler Jeffrey A., Moral Hygiene, Culture and Society, Vol.39, No.4, May/June 2002, p.64

[51]: Esposito Roberto, Terms of the Political, ibid., pp.81,85

[52]: The observation can only vindicate Arendt when she had claimed that “[t]he new refugees were persecuted not because of what they have done or thought, but because of what they unchangeably were”. See Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, ibid., p.376

[53]: Esposito, Bios, ibid., p.183

[54]: Ιbid., pp.138,139,183

[55]: Ibid., p.113. See also Agamben, Homo Sacer, ibid., p.84

[56]: Esposito, Terms of the Political, ibid., p.73

[57]: Esposito, Bios, ibid., p.112

[58]: Agamben, Homo Sacer, ibid., p.86

[59]: Lévinas Emmaneul, Reflections on the Philosophy of Hitlerism, trans. by Seán Hand, Critical Inquiry, Vol.17, No.1, (Autumn, 1990), p.68

[60]: Agamben, Homo Sacer, ibid., p.85

[61]: Ibid.

[62]: The starting point in this acquitting procedure was Hitler’s personal order to Reich leaders Bouhler and Brandt, according to which they were called to take on the duty of expanding the responsibilities of the doctors in question so as “to allow the performing of euthanasia to patients with illnesses that are incurable, according to human judgement”. The document is dated September 1st, 1939; a fact revealing that along with the official commencing of the war, another war broke out—this time for the consolidation of the national body. See Cause of Death: Euthanasia – Disguised extermination of the mentally ill during the Nazi period (Prinzhorn collection), trans. by Emi Vaikousi, Indiktos 2011 (in Greek), p.15

[63]: Steinweis Alan E., Studying the Jew – Scholarly Antisemitism in Nazi Germany, Harvard University Press, Cambridge-Massachusetts-London 2008, p.7

[64]: The Jews, to be precise, were identified with the notions of the “abstract” and the “formless”, in contrast to the absolutely “concrete” substance of the german and every other race, in this way turning them into an anti-race. See Lacoue-Labarthe Philippe & Nancy Jean-Luc, Le Mythe Nazi, translation by Victor Kamhis, Estia, Athens 2008 (in Greek), p.60 and Bauman, Modernity, Racism, Extermination, ibid., p.217. Moishe Postone explains that in the environment created by the spread of racial theories and the rise of social Darwinism in late 19th century, a strong tendency was observed for the conceptualisation of history in biological terms. In the case of national-socialism and the paradoxical “anti-capitalism” this represented, the german people identified with the notions of Gemeinschaft, of race, of concrete labour, of land and blood—as opposed to the Jews who were equated with the notions of flow, global capitalism and the “rootless”, abstract financial capital. In the biological spirit of the time, and under the influence of a particular fetishism characterising this distinction nazism, according to Postone, attempted to articulate this concrete/abstract opposition in organic terms. It is therefore interesting to see that “[o]n the level of the capital fetish, it is not only the concrete side of the antimony which is naturalized and biologized. The manifest abstract dimension is also biologized—as the Jews”. See in this regard, Postone Moishe, Antisemitism and National Socialism: Notes on the German Reaction to “Holocaust”, New German Critique, No.19, Special Issue 1: Germans and Jews, Winter 1980,pp.108-112

[65]: Bauman, ibid., p.219

[66]: Typical such examples are those of Wilhelm Marr, Eugen Dühring, and Edouard Drumont. See Taguieff Pierre-André, L'Antisémitisme, trans. by Anastasia Iliadeli & Andreas Pantazopoulos, Estia, Athens 2011 (in Greek), pp.13-22,26-27




I. “The Abstract Nakedness of Being Human” – Modernity as Short-circuit

It was the early morning hours of October 3rd, 2013. The sun was rising over the Mediterranean. Amidst its natural tranquillity, even a god would have to try hard to discern the overloaded small boat that suddenly capsized off the shores of the quaint island of Lampedusa. A few hours later, the italian coast guard would collect hundreds of bodies of anonymous migrants that had been travelling with the renowned Europe as their final destination. The shipwreck of that aged boat could not have caused any surprise, not even to the most absent-minded reader of mainstream newspapers. Soon enough, they would struggle to even recall it in their memory, squashed as it would be among so many others. But something made this one stand out. The italian state, the same state that would in the past ram boats with their desperate albanian living cargo in cold blood,[1] or that would abandon to their fate—right in the middle of the Mediterranean—the boats originating from the shores of North Africa,[2] had this time round called for a day of national mourning for the loss of all these unknown foreigners. An entire nation, then, mourned for the loss of all those that it did not know; for people that were not even linked to it by any right of blood; but that had to the contrary scheduled a malign intrusion of its territorial integrity.

A strange event, if one were to take into account the fact that national mourning tends to be declared in the wake of the loss of some important person or some critical mass of what could be termed the national family. And yet, the italian government seemingly ignored this rule, “diverting” the very conceptualization of the national property of mourning per se, demonstrating thus some unprecedented internationalist magnanimity. Some magnanimity that could comprise the absolute moral rupture in the contemporary history of humankind.

The question of mourning should not appear as a mere functional management of the end of a physical cycle. It is called upon to bring into our everyday symbolic universe the loss of a beloved person. It ought to reconcile us with their definitive loss and to bring to words the wound this loss leaves behind. Françoise Dastur rightly claims that “it is legitimate for us to discern in mourning […] the roots of civilisation itself”.[3] Mourning, in this sense, comprises a world with its very own stakes;[4] a world that takes on the unbearable burden of positioning itself as an alleviative seam between life and death, as a reception area for the inescapable absence. Judith Butler claims that the process of mourning can compose a sense of political community and she shows us respectively how its ban can constitute an extension of violence: the very same violence that had led to death at the first place.[5] In this sense the recent tragedy in Lampedusa, one among so many others, proved to be a particularly fortunate tragedy—accompanied as it was by an excess of mourning (when many similar ones remained numbers at best, suspending between stone-cold medical bureaucracies and statistical register departments). It was in the end the number of the dead that gave Lampedusa the status of a noteworthy event, as prescribed by the media culture of “body counts”. It was also an unprecedented opportunity for Europe to regroup, distributing liabilities and looking a boiling periphery in the eyes.

And so, in the breakthrough marked by this tragedy, one could dare try an inversion of Butler’s  sensitive observations. Because this time round it was not the ban, but precisely the performance of the mourning that proved to be a continuation of violence. The institutions that called for national mourning are exactly the same that have forced, for years now, thousands of migrants to travel in such precarious and hazardous of ways, due to the violent exclusions resulting from the strict policies guarding Europe.[6] And this can only be described as a violation of the memory of the deceased. Yet the functionality of the incident in question had multiple benefits. In-between the international attention paid to it, Greek PM Antonis Samaras seized the opportunity to promote his steadfast anti-migratory agenda. He communicatively used a catastrophe, in other words, to promote the very policies that had caused it at the first place. Nearly two weeks after the said shipwreck Samaras visited Malta and Italy aiming at the coordination and the further shielding of Southern Europe against the uncontrollable inflowing waves of migrants. A few days later, at the European Council Meeting in Brussels, he would present a seven-point plan for tackling illegal migration. He did also talk, as expected, about the humanitarian catastrophe in Lampedusa, attempting yet another manoeuvre. Speaking of the thousands of migrants reaching the european shores with nowhere to go, he said: “they are trapped, they have no past, they have no present, they have no future or prospects—and I consider this to be a major humanitarian catastrophe”.[7] A catastrophe, then, that will befall them one way or another—either during their journey or at their destination. Either way, it impinges on their lives as a fatal incident. It carries that inescapable quality that befits a natural phenomenon. And the Greek prime minister described it as such.

The mourning discourse produced over the bodies of the hundreds of anonymous migrants was a media deception, as it essentially comprised an international call for the furthering of the militarisation of the management of migratory flows through the strengthening of the control of sea crossings and the “discouragement of movement”.[8] It was a meticulous deception that took on the humanitarian challenge with the aim of turning migratory flows into the subject of military intervention par excellence, as nowadays dictated by the military and humanitarian industrial complex.[9] “This ‘grey zone’ between the military and the humanitarian”, claims Mariella Pandolfi in a conversation with Athina Athanasiou, “denotes a redrawing of the political field”.[10] From now on, the short-circuit of the contemporary culture of interventions finds one more application, this time by the “civilised” shores of Europe. The typical, by now, case of air-crafts hovering with no-one knowing whether they are to deliver bombs or humanitarian aid, hereby acquires the form of a domestic managerial mechanism that mourns in face of the countless dead. This, while it is precisely the same mechanism that produces this environment of risk and danger— rendering, with surgical precision, populations precarious and eventually doomed. What we are faced with, in this case, is not a typical intervention of the western military-humanitarian complex in an exotic troubled place, but the mobilisation of humanitarian discourse and a rhetoric of mercy and compassion for the purpose of homeland security in itself.[11] The use of the term “humanitarian catastrophe” and the “mourning” that accompanies it presuppose that one would start narrating the story from the end. And that they would stay there. “The choice of the term ‘humanitarian catastrophe’”, writes Pandolfi, “is an extreme image of this ‘mediatic’ tendency, often illusory by intention, that leads to the interpretation of violence in terms that are near-mechanical and natural […] as if this had not been the end product of a complicated interaction between the altering of international balances and political phenomena produced by specific historical events playing out at very unique places”.[12]

An obscuring of all political processes that cause these catastrophic events is attempted today within the moral-emotional framework outlined by humanitarian rhetoric, and by focusing on the urgent character of these events. The entering of morality into the field of politics[13] does not only safeguard the de-politicisation of the catastrophic phenomena that surround us, by re-assigning them meaning through an urgent interpretation of bad fortune and naturalness; it also offers the penultimate site for the legalisation of the suspension of the rule of law under the pressure of the “state of emergency”.[14] Necessity, this dark notion against which western political philosophy would always stand with uneasiness, nowadays constructs new fields for intervention. And it finds itself in an untangled interweaving with the notion of humanitarianism, some interweaving that has been meticulously constructed: “Both concepts, ‘humanitarian’ and ‘emergency’...”, writes Craig Calhoun, “...are cultural constructs and reflections of structural changes. They come together to shape a way of understanding what is happening in the world, a social imaginary that is of dramatic material consequence. Behind the rise of the humanitarian emergency lie specific ways of thinking about how the world works and specific, if often implicit moral orientations”.[15] In the example of the Lampedusa tragedy, the conspiracy of the state of emergency and of humanitarianism nevertheless acquires more complex articulations. As the generic and abstract request for the rescue of human lives competes with the specific demand for stricter border controls, the humanitarian short-circuit is exposed in its full glory. No-one is certain of whether the invocation of the emergency, in this case, aims at highlighting a collective human drama—and therefore constituting a call for immediate relief action, or whether it aims at safeguarding what national territorial integrity has established—and therefore perpetuating the conditions causing these dramas in the first place. In this intentional conceptual haze, mourning of any type can be performed unobstructed on the side of the furthering exclusions of sea crossings; exclusions that can only guarantee they will even-handedly offer reasons for fresh outbreaks of mourning in the future; a coexistence that does not form not even the tiniest of paradoxes.

It is then clear that the Lampedusa tragedy has revealed something much more substantial. It has shown to Europe (and its humanitarian staff in particular) that, having learnt how to safely operate at the distant humanist labs of the capitalist periphery while creating a profitable market and new mechanisms for the subjectification of the “other”, it now ought to gradually confront phenomena that will annoyingly repeat themselves at its geographical boundaries. Europe, this cynical confession of well being, which rushed to first utter a discourse concerning universality and global human rights, nowadays meets its discursive limits precisely in the awareness of its bewildered position within a truly universal, fluid and almost uncontrollable environment. Surrounded as it is by irksome flows, it reveals its true face: on the one hand attempting to safeguard its internal stability and on the other hand, to get rid of these inelegant tragedies. Not by preventing them, but by letting them happen “elsewhere”. Behind the humanitarian calls for the rescue of life lies a well-orchestrated operation for the management of death. Hereby death acquires a broader meaning which, to remember Michel Foucault, does not include “simply murder as such, but every form of indirect murder: the fact of exposing someone to death, increasing the risk of death for some people, or, quite simply, political death, expulsion, rejection, and so on”.[16] Today, more than ever, it is proven that Europe’s abstract pronouncements and its carefree anguish for the lives-that-must-be-saved unavoidably trip over the terror caused by whatever possibility for its internal destabilisation. “Since the ripple effects of poverty, environmental collapse, civil conflict, health crises, and so on respect no international boundaries, they can easily breach and destabilize the West’s carefully balanced way of life unless they are properly managed”.[17]

The intensification of border controls makes clear that the adverb “properly” above urgently calls for a redefinition of the “value of life” per se, readjusting the balance sheet of rescues and losses and intervening in the “social imaginary” that Calhoun described. This will henceforth be called to reconcile the audience of the humanitarian spectacle no longer with the unavoidable losses occurring under conditions extending beyond what is humanly possible, but with the losses resulting precisely from what is humanly possible. Humanitarian culture has been historically built precisely upon the notion of the “crisis”[18]: that is, upon the imperative facts dictated by an emergency event. Yet the case of Lampedusa, and the wider matter of the management of the migratory flows that it exemplarily represents, sketch out a crisis that is far more crude and more literal. A crisis that does not offer any luxury for one to observe it from afar; and a need that emergences much more imperatively in lieu of any such distance.[19] The “humanitarian catastrophe” that is playing out, for quite some time now, at the “vulnerable” thresholds of Europe, reveals the well-hidden operation of the humanitarian apparatus. The intentional concealing of the political characteristics in all other humanitarian examples, through the meticulous de-politicisation and naturalisation of every given tragedy, hereby returns in the form of an excess of the political that calls for vigilance, surveillance and protection of the (supra)national territorial integrity.[20] It returns, in other words, in the form of an excess of the Political in its Schmittian sense, one that marks refugees and migrants as Enemies against which Europe ought to defend itself[21]—and their moving as acts of war[22] which might then even lead to some dead.

The mourning therefore declared for these lost lives steps onto an evident asymmetry which, paradoxically, is proven intrinsic of humanitarian projects overall. In this particular tragedy, whatever lamentation takes place appears insufficient to cover up the causes that lead to it. And whatever humanitarian call made does not suffice to blur the waters in which thousands of migrants sink their hopes on a daily basis. Through the infuriating rhetoric of compassion, a hierarchy of lives emerges, one that is key for the self-conceptualisation of the humanitarian construction which Fassin describes in an exemplary way: “Thus, within the humanitarian arena itself hierarchies of humanity are passively established but rarely identified for what they are—politics of life that at moments of crisis, result in the formation of two groups, those whose status protects their sacred character and those whom the institutions may sacrifice against their will”.[23] In this way, in the case of Lampedusa the asymmetry—and the antinomy—that dictates the discourses of security as much as rescue finally becomes evident. And yet, it stretches the central (if often implicit) idea behind the overall operation of the humanitarian apparatus to its limits—as Calhoun points out, this presupposes hierarchical conceptualisations of what we would call “humanity”, referring to the idea of charity in particular.[24] The field of the natural disaster or the war zone, which turns into a field of humanitarian aid, may appear as an environment filled with objective dangers for whoever may happen to populate it; yet in fact, it separates subjects in two worlds, revealing a “complex ontology of inequality [...] that differentiates in a hierarchical manner the values of human lives”.[25] This curative moment of the emergence of “human compassion” may appear to interrupt the frantic routes of violence, and ostensibly gives back to “humanity” its lost cohesion. Yet it dictates, through its own “normative schemes of intelligibility”,[26] conditions of subjectification and hierarchies that eventually reassert the familiar conditions of the asymmetrical assessment of lives.[27]

In the case of Lampedusa, the humanitarian appeal acquires a more offensive form, since the above assessment is predetermined by the mechanisms that administer death in the Mediterranean. And so these are not, as they try to convince us, natural events: they are tangible results of an entirely normalised violence which, as Athanasiou writes, “is performed through the definition and the outlining of what lives are worth living”; through which lives are noteworthy and which ones are not.[28] Yet beyond the obvious function of “normative violence”[29] in our given example, the humanitarian construction acts in a normative way in itself, thanks to its gestating representations. The aim then is to prove that the tears and cries that followed this particular shipwreck off the shores of Italy not only failed to withhold the force of the violence that had caused them but to the contrary, offered this exact violence absolute legitimisation. This failure does not concern the excess of hypocrisy that trampled over everything alone; it also concerns that structural asymmetry residing in the very conception of the humanitarian idea itself. The devaluation of the lives of migrants that meticulously prepares these tragedies, as exemplified by the policies of Fortress-Europe now returns, via the humanitarian rhetoric, in the form of a more refined and indiscernible devaluation of the “other”. Some devaluation that nails those who survive such a catastrophe to the position of a victim, a position they are not allowed to escape. This victimisation is the essence of the humanitarian industry. Pandolfi writes in this regard: “In this colonization of political space, humanitarianism is a technology that produces a body that must be transformed through the beneficence of aid”.[30] Through this transformation, the figure of the refugee becomes the namesake of the victim of a natural misfortune. A victim that requires immediate help and ought to be subjectified through this help, and this help alone; as a passive “consumer”, that is, of humanitarian products.

This is not, therefore, just an embodied exposure to the material consequences of a catastrophe. It is also an exposure to the catastrophe’s own representation. In this way, the victimisation technique is accompanied by the careful management of witnessing, which turns humanitarian staff into the only voices of the victims—constructing and putting in place yet another derogatory division: a division “between those who are subjects (the witnesses who testify to the misfortunes of the world) and those who can exist only as objects (the unfortunate whose suffering is testified to in front of the world)”, leading to what Fassin calls “humanitarian reduction of the victim”.[31] For any humanitarian catastrophe, then, there is a corresponding catastrophe of meaning that succeeds it. A complete erasure of the meanings and the narrations of those who were confronted with violence, condemned to an enforced silence, merely compiling vivid images of an emergency on behalf of its humanitarian representation. “One of the most distinctive features of the emergency imaginary as it circulates in the global media...”, writes Calhoun, “ that it renders those who suffer in emergencies as voiceless masses”.[32] In silence, the protagonists of the catastrophes of this world are subjected to a biographical denuding that turns them into anonymous and a-historical figures, merely populating destroyed landscapes and standardised infrastructures of mass nutrition and relief. Figures that are “paradigmatically distant”,[33] with no personal stories, their only connecting thread being the fact they ultimately share the same fateful way of being related to the catastrophe. In their collective drama, humanitarian aid appears as the only way for them to become visible. “However, the very gesture that appears to grant them recognition reduces them to what they are not—and often refuse to be—by reifying their condition of victimhood while ignoring their history and muting their words. Humanitarian reason pays more attention to the biological life of the destitute and unfortunate, the life in the name of which they are given aid, than to their biographical life, the life through which they could, independently, give a meaning to their own existence”.[34]

This biological erasure is completed with the arrival of death—some death that is not even their own. When humanitarian discourse overrides the historicity of the lives lost as well as those that survived—in essence overriding the political conditions within which this historicity acquires its full meaning—then death inevitably means nothing.[35] Through these normative schemes reproduced by humanitarianism’s victimisation and de-subjectification, one could dare claim that eventually, death does not exist. Following Butler, who sheds light on the asymmetric rating of lives in the context of war, we could claim that the normative humanitarian schemes “work precisely through providing no image, no name, no narrative, so that there never was a life, and there never was a death”.[36] The protagonists of the Lampendusa shipwreck, stripped of their biographical armament, “enjoy” a mourning that breaks out as a twofold irony. On the one hand, it is provocatively declared by the perpetrators themselves. On the other hand, sunken as it is into the abstraction of humanitarian rhetoric, it can only describe the end of a typical biological course—leaving outside all those biological elements that would elevate death to an event with its own historicity, and mourning to its essential recipient and guarantor. The complete deassigning of meaning from death thereby comes to complete the humanitarian short-circuit. Right at the point where the rhetoric of mercy and compassion aspires to reveal the universal “value of life” is the point where it achieves its absolute devaluation and subjectification, focusing exclusively upon the mere event of biological existence.  The humanitarian tears shed for the deaths of hundreds of migrants off the shores of Italy, performed some mercy that “insinuates aid not toward individuals, toward citizens, not toward political subjects—but toward bodies, that is, toward human life in its most naked of manifestations”.[37]

We hereby enter into the heart of the humanitarian short-circuit. The obsessive adherence to the mere event of human biological existence as the starting point of whatever humanitarian provision—and by extension, as a main axis of our conceptualisation of humanity—challenges all those elements that make a human truly so. As stressed out by Calhoun, “this biological minimum is, perhaps, below the real minimum of the truly human, the capacity of speech and shaping social life.”[38] Such focusing upon this biological minimum is then not only insufficient to rescue the humanity that it invokes but, to the contrary—it casually marches toward the absolute political denuding of the human and to her definitive exposure to contemporary thanatopolitical landscapes. This denuding allows both the exposure of migratory populations to conditions of extreme precarity today, as well as the tying down of all who survive to a regime of impossibility of meaning. The equation of human nature with its literal biological backdrop, which has been driving the humanitarian project for more than two centuries, denies precisely all the wealth historically endowing humans and their particular complexities. Roberto Esposito stresses that “something like a definable and identifiable human nature doesn’t exist as such, independent from the meanings that culture and therefore history have, over the course of time, imprinted on it”.[39] And yet, at the sight of these survivors “we find ourselves confronted with a bare life that has been separated from its context”.[40] Or, to be more precise, we find ourselves confronted with a life whose context is proven to be the very event of biological survival itself.[41] Amidst this new “survivalist public sphere”[42] shaping up, Agamben’s dystopic claim is proven assertively: taking on the Foucauldian analyses that concern the functions of biopower he claims that “The decisive activity of biopower in our time consists in the production not of life or death, but rather of a mutable and virtually infinite survival”.[43]

We therefore stand before a structural antinomy. An antinomy that was not born all of a sudden following the Lampedusa shipwreck, but one that carries behind it an entire tradition which—as contradictory as this may sound—commences from the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1789. Hannah Arendt, whose gaze perhaps comprises the most incisive into the paradoxes of the Declaration, writes: “From the beginning the paradox involved in the declaration of inalienable human rights was that it reckoned with an ‘abstract’ human being who seemed to exist nowhere”.[44] The appeal to such a generalisable human substance is the one that, according to Arendt, paves the way for the deprivation of human rights—as much as this may sound like an oxymoron[45]—and it comprises the legitimising backdrop for the biographical denuding that the humanitarian construction enforces upon the “victims” of the disasters of this world. The idea, therefore, for one to resort to such an abstract notion of the human has led to the dead-ends in which thousands of migrants and refugees find themselves crammed today. “The conception of human rights, based upon the assumed existence of a human being as such, broke down at the very moment when those who professed to believe in it were for the first time confronted with people who had indeed lost all other qualities and specific relationships—except that they were still human”.[46] It is evident that the Declaration attempts to inscribe the “inalienable” rights of humans upon a supposedly universal human nature, referring to some supra-historical natural laws,[47] looking for the penultimate legitimisation in the definitive event of one being human, and that alone. As Arendt proves, however, this inscription has the exact opposite result since “the world found nothing sacred in the abstract nakedness of being human”.[48] And this, because at the exact same time when the plan for the conceptual construction of this new, abstract human being was activated, the philosophical and political foundations of the modern nation state were also being founded—with the emergence of the figure of the citizen becoming the essence of this foundation. With the emergence, that is, of an entirely political figure—the notion of political hereby denoting primarily a specific relationship—that describes not only the absolute bearer of rights, but also that modern form of sovereign power that conveys these rights. Therefore, the fact that the terms “human” and “citizen” were jointly hosted by the Declaration was insufficient in bridging the conceptual and legal chasm that separates them, leaving the former fully exposed to nothing.

In locating this discrepancy, Agamben writes: “In the phrase La déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen, it is not clear whether the two terms homme and citoyen name two autonomous beings or instead form a unitary system in which the first is always already included in the second. And if the latter is the case, the kind of relation that exists between homme and citoyen still remains unclear”.[49] It is precisely within the vortex of this ambiguity that we are requested to interpret the paradoxes of the humanitarian construction as well as tragedies that will keep increasing in an environment built on the basis of what Arendt calls “the politically most pernicious doctrine of the modern age, namely that life is the highest good”.[50] The persistence upon this notion of “nothing but human”, shortly before nationalisms would start sweeping Europe from one end to the other, can therefore only be met with scepticism.[51] The historical and political processes that followed the Declaration, and which gave form to a large part of the world as we know it today, made evident that only what is termed citizenship could safeguard these notorious “universal” human rights. A citizenship that already from its conception was chained to the notion of the sovereign nation-state, which would eventually establish itself as the absolute pre-condition for the absolutely unconditional. The fact that “[t]he Rights of Man, supposedly inalienable, proved unenforceable [...] whenever people appeared who were no longer citizens of any sovereign state”[52] can henceforth only be conceived within this framework. It is only through the unconditional inscription of “universal” rights upon the notion of the sovereign nation-state state that we can nowadays comprehend that paradoxical mechanism packing entire populations in a zone of total legal denuding, where they are left precisely with that “abstract nakedness of being nothing but human”—and that nakedness alone. Some packing that will become ever more violent in a world assuring us, as Arendt writes, that “for the time being, a sphere that is above the nations does not exist”.[53] One ought to seek part of the causes of the Lampedusa shipwreck within this inability to conceive and constitute a post-national or anti-national political sphere. It is this inability that nowadays traps thousands of refugees and migrants, eventually turning the conditions of their existence into a responsibility of the police and of humanitarian organisations.[54]

One then understands why the humanitarian rhetoric, through its popular techniques of depoliticisation and naturalisation of any given tragedy, and through its choice to continue highlighting this notion of “nothing but human” as its ultimate mission, offers the most effective of alibi to the perpetrators of the catastrophes of this world. For as long as the appeals to “human life” are not followed by critical attempts to de-construct the notion of the nation and efforts of re-inscription in a new political context, refugee and migrant populations will continue roaming as “nothing but human”—that is, as “life that cannot be sacrificed and yet may be killed”,[55] within the contracted killer fields that defend the contemporary nation states. The political denuding that stokes the humanitarian engine therefore acts in two directions. On the one hand, in the absolute erasure of the biographical wealth and the crude focusing upon the naked biological condition of the survivors which, as we saw, turns into an apolitical worshipping of survival. And on the other hand, in the choice to merely soothe the pain, leaving those quintessentially political conditions that caused it aside—and turning compassion into the ultimate apologist for brutality.[56] “The separation between humanitarianism and politics that we are experiencing today...”, writes Agamben, “ the extreme phase of the separation of the rights of man from the rights of the citizen, in the final analysis, however, humanitarian organizations [...] can only grasp human life in the figure of bare or sacred life, and therefore, despite themselves, maintain a secret solidarity with the very powers they ought to fight”.[57] Bare or sacred life becomes the fuel in the humanitarian engine. And the more this engine focuses upon the biological necessity of human existence, authorising the former as the only one qualified to describe the latter, the more political extermination will be foisted on in the form of humanitarian catastrophe. This authorisation ultimately outlines, in the most implicit of ways, the notorious End of History; some end that is entirely functional, imposed as an imperative political demand, thereby creating the infinite “meta-political” space nowadays occupied by the inescapable and the necessity gestated by the “truths” of biological life.[58]


By Christos Filippidis

Translation by Antonis Vradis


[1]: The website Fortress Europe wrote on this instance, in April 2008: “It was March 28, 1997. At the strait of Otranto, 25 nautical miles from the shores of Apulia, the italian navy ship “Sibilia” rammed and sank the albanian ship “Kater I Rades”. 108 people died. Only the bodies of 81 of them were retrieved. For more information, see (in Greek).

[2]: See for example the article NATO: Investigate Fatal Boat Episode, Human Rights Watch, May 10, 2011, available at

[3]: Dastur Françoise, La Mort: Essai sur la finitude, trans. by Vicky Sotiropoulou, Scripta, Athens 1999 (in Greek), p.17

[4]: It is in this aspect, for example,that a mourning act will be proven successful or not as Judith Butler points out, drawing from Freud’s work. See Butler Judith, Precarious Life – The powers of mourning and violence, Verso, London-New York 2006, pp.20-21

[5]: Ibid., pp.22,148

[6]: During the last two decades approximately 20.000 people have lost their lives in their attempt to reach Southern Europe from Northern Africa and the Middle East. See Shenker Jack, Mediterranean migrant deaths: a litany of largely avoidable loss, The Guardian, October 3, 2013, available at, and Sunderland Judith, Dispatches: Boat Migrant Tragedy Should Shake Europe's Conscience, Human Rights Watch, October 3, 2013, available at

[7]: See the article “Samaras in Brussels: He presented 7 points for tacking illegal migration”, To Vima, October 25, 2013, available at (in greek).

[8]: Only a week after the Lampedusa tragedy the European Parliament would approve the commencing of the operation of the notorious Eurosur system (from two words’ components: Europe & Surveillance). This is a new system of surveillance and data exchange for the Mediterranean, as an extension of the functions of FRONTEX, which was developed by the European Union and which will be based on the use of satellite images and drones for the surveillance of the open sea and the shores of North Africa. See the article titled “The european parliament approved the Eurosur system, which launches in December”, To Vima, October 11, 2013, available at See also the article EU: Needless Deaths in Mediterranean, Human Rights Watch, August 16, 2012, available at In addition and following the Lampedusa tragedy, the Mediterranean Task Force was introduced—among others, this force will apply pressure for the application of the greek-turkish protocol for the return of “illegal” migrants. See the article “Samaras in Brussels”, ibid. Let us remember finally that in September 2012, and while there was information that the first Syrian refugees were already at the shores of Turkey, two consecutive meetings took place in Athens with the participation of the ministers of National Defence, Public Order and Shipping. According to the minister of Public Order, Nikos Dendias, the aim of these meetings was to take measures in order to “shield the Aegean”, as he said. Judging by the tone of the three ministers’  statements one could discern some deliberate fogginess regarding the use of the term “illegal migrant” and “refugee”, and some total vagueness regarding whether they spoke about humanitarian or about military action. See the press release of the greek police on September 17, 2012, available at, and the article by Dionisis Vithoulkas titled “The meeting at the ministry of Defence regarding the migration issue has ended” To Vima, September 17, 2012, available at

[9]: See Pandolfi Mariella, Contract of Mutual (In)Difference: Governance and the Humanitarian Apparatus in Contemporary Albania and Kosovo, Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, 10.1(2003), p.372. An indicative picture of this military-humanitarian interweaving is located in the founding moment of the contemporary humanitarian culture, as this is outlined in the birth of the Red Cross in 1863. More specifically, the five-member committee founded on February 17th that year under the directorship of general Guillaume-Henri Dufour, and which would later evolve into the International Committee of the Red Cross, at first operated under the name Comite International Et Permanent Aux Blesses Militaires (International Committee for the Relief of the Wounded Soldiers). See Skaltsas Constantinos, The Geneva Conventions, Hellenic Red Cross, Athens 1989, pp.8,38. Let us remember, finally, that when commenting on the importance of the four Geneva conventions, concerning the fate of unarmed populations, Carl Schmitt claimed that these only provide the legal grounds for the humanitarian interventions of the International Committee of the Red Cross—saying, characteristically: Inter arma caritas (Charity in the midst of arms). See Schmitt Carl, The Theory of the Partisan – A Commentary/Remark on the Concept of the Political, trans. by A.C. Goodson, Michigan State University Press, Michigan 2004, p.16

[10]: Pandolfi Mariella, Social suffering in the contemporary world, an interview with Athina Athanasiou, in the newspaper inset Vivliothiki, newspaper Eleftherotypia, May 11, 2007 (in Greek). Concerning the notion of the grey zone, see also Pandolfi Mariella, From Paradox to Paradigm: The Permanent State of Emergency in the Balkans, in Fassin Didier & Pandolfi Mariella (eds), Contemporary States of Emergency – The Politics of Military and Humanitarian Interventions, Zone Books, New York 2010, p.163

[11]: In expanding the existent framework, Didier Fassin explains that “the distinctive feature of contemporary societies is without doubt the way the moral sentiments have become generalized as a frame of reference in political life. This is the phenomenon I term ‘humanitarian government’”, in Fassin Didier, Humanitarian Reason – A Moral History of the Present, trans. by Rachel Gomme, University of California Press, Berkeley & Los Angeles 2012, p.247.

[12]: Pandolfi Mariella, “Moral entrepreneurs”, souverainetés mouvantes et barbelés – Le bio-politique dans les Balkans postcommunistes, trans. by Babis Georgantidis, Sighrona Themata, issue 82, Athens 2003 (in Greek), p.26

[13]: See Fassin Didier, Humanitarianism as a Politics of Life, Public Culture, Volume19, No3, Autumn 2007, pp.508,511

[14]: “Morality now justifies suspension of the rule of law”, write Fassin and Pandolfi. See Fassin Didier & Pandolfi Mariella, Introduction: Military and Humanitarian Government in the Age of Intervention, in Fassin & Pandolfi, ibid., p.12.

[15]: Calhoun Craig, The Idea of Emergency: Humanitarian Action and Global (Dis)Order, in Fassin & Pandolfi, ibid., p.29

[16]: Foucault Michel, Society Must Be Defended – Lectures at the Collège de France 1975-76, edited by Mauro Bertani & Alessandro Fontana, Picador, New York 2003, p.256

[17]: Pandolfi, From Paradox to Paradigm, ibid., p.164. During his aforementioned visit to Brussels the Greek prime minister stated: “The periphery exports destabilisation to Europe as a whole”. See “Samaras in Brussels”, ibid.

[18]: See Pandolfi, Contract of Mutual (In)Difference, ibid. p.381

[19]: One could argue one such example has already made its appearance in Europe with the events that followed the breakdown of ex-Yugoslavia, and which led to the instalment of a permanent field of military-humanitarian intervention in the area. Yet the case in question, even if geographically abolishing any notion of distance from Europe, seems to comprise an exemplary way and a place for the application of the products of the humanitarian industry, as these were developed in the labs of the distant periphery. Pandolfi describes the balkan particularity through the examples of Bosnia, of Kosovo and to a lesser extent, that of Albania, as cases of hybrid intra-european colonization, orchestrated by the EU, NATO, UN complex. See Pandolfi, From Paradox to Paradigm, ibid., p.168

[20]: The discourse produced in Europe today concerning migration brings to the fore, once again, the importance of the border. A border that updates its meanings on the one hand within a globalised environment that also gestates “unwelcome” flows, and on the other hand as part of the common functions of the European Union that by now assign to certain border cases a supra-local and supra-national role. The uncontrollable population flows call, then, to a peculiar return to the guarantees of the “outdated” territorial state. Some return that most certainly does not vindicate Foucault in regard to the devaluation of the geographical element in his analyses regarding the transformations of the state. Stuart Elden will therefore rightly claim, in a critical reading of the Foucauldian work, that “Territory is more than merely land, but a rendering of the emergent concept of ‘space’ as a political category: owned, distributed, mapped, calculated, bordered, and controlled”. See Elden Stuart, Governmentality, Calculation, Territory, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2007, Vol.25, p.578. In regard to the update in the importance of the border and the drastic proliferation of checkpoints in the contemporary globalised world, see the chapter Ubiquitous Borders, in Graham Stephen, Cities Under Siege – The New Military Urbanism, Verso, London & New York 2010, pp.89-152.

[21]: “The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy”, writes Schmitt. See Schmitt Carl, The Concept of the Political, trans. by George Schwab, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London 2007, p.26

[22]: For example, the American military theoretician William Lind writes: “In Fourth Generation war [...] invasion by immigration can be at least as dangerous as invasion by a state army”. Adduced in Graham Stephen, The Urban “Battlespace”, Theory, Culture & Society 2009, (SAGE, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and, Singapore), Vol. 26(7-8), p.284. See also Graham Stephen, Foucault’s Boomerang – The New Military Urbanism, in Sörensen Stilhoff Jens and Söderbaum Fredrik (eds.), The End of the Development Security Nexus? The Rise of Global Disaster Management, Development Dialogue, No.58, Uppsala, April 2012, p.40

[23]: Fassin, Humanitarianism as a Politics of Life, ibid., p.516

[24]: Calhoun, ibid. p.35

[25]: Fassin, ibid., p.519

[26]: Butler, ibid., p.146

[27]: Alain Badiou writes in regard to this point: “Who can fail to see that in our humanitarian expeditions, interventions, embarkations of charitable légionnaires, the Subject presumed to be universal is split? On the side of the victims, the haggard animal exposed on television screens. On the side of the benefactors, conscience and the imperative to intervene. […] Who cannot see that this ethics which rests on the misery of the world hides, behind its victim-Man, the good-Man, the white-Man?”. See Badiou Alain, Ethics – An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, trans. by Peter Hallward, Verso, London & New York 2001, p.12

[28]: Athanasiou Athina, The Crisis as a “State of Emergency” – Critiques and Resistances, Savvalas, Athens 2012 (in Greek), p.61,82

[29]: Ibid, p.82

[30]: Pandolfi, From Paradox to Paradigm, ibid., p.167

[31]: Fassin, Humanitarianism as a Politics of Life, ibid., p.517

[32]: Calhoun, ibid., p.55

[33]: Ibid., p.33

[34]: Fassin, Humanitarian Reason, ibid., p.254

[35]: Commenting on the ontological state of dying in the context of the nazi extermination camp, Giorgio Agamben describes a condition that is radically separated from the experience of death. And yet, despite the vast differences between the two examples, we would risk interpreting the tragedies breaking out in the Mediterranean through his observations on Auschwitz—to the extent that an invisible thread seems to connect these two historical categories. Both are characterised by the absolute presence of a death that is violently stripped off its contexts, those that would have assigned it its any given meaning. Some stripping that forms, eventually, the appearance of a futile event and an “empty possibility”. See Agamben Giorgio, Remnants of Auschwitz – The witness and the archive, trans. by Daniel Heller-Roazen, Zone Books, New York 2002, pp.70-76.

[36]: Butler, ibid., p.146

[37]: Pandolfi, Social suffering in the contemporary world, ibid.

[38]: Calhoun, ibid., p.34

[39]: Esposito Roberto, Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy, trans. by Timothy Campbell, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis & London 2008, p.29

[40]: Agamben Giorgio, Homo Sacer – Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. by Daniel Heller-Roazen, Stanford University Press, Stanford California 1998, p.6. Commenting upon the notion of bare life, Eva Geulen notes: “naked or bare (and bared) life is not a prior substance, but instead what remains after the withdrawal of all forms”. Adduced in de la Durantaye Leland, Giorgio Agamben – A Critical Introduction, Stanford University Press, Stanford California 2009, p.203

[41]: Stressing upon the traumatic experience accompanying a violent event in our personal life, Cathy Caruth writes: “that trauma is constituted not only by the destructive force of a violent event but by the very act of its survival. If we are to register the impact of violence we cannot, therefore, locate it only in the destructive moment of the past, but in an ongoing survival that belongs to the future”. In light of these observations, one can easily assume that the impact of such violence becomes more crucial under the conditions imposed by the humanitarian assignments of meaning. Because it is not only that violence constantly recurs through the internal psychic function of the trauma. It is also that as part of the humanitarian fixation, the survivor ought to live with a constant external reminder, constantly carrying the event of their survival as their only identity. See in this regard, Caruth Cathy, Violence and Time: Traumatic Survivals, Assemblage, No.20, The MIT Press, April 1993, p.25

[42]: Pandolfi, From Paradox to Paradigm, ibid., p.160

[43]: Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz, ibid., p.155

[44]: Arendt Hannah, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Schocken Books, New York 2004, p.370

[45]: Waltern Benjamin had also foreseen the catastrophic extension of this unprecedented appeal to a universal human nature when he wrote that “The proposition that existence stands higher than a just existence is false and ignominious, if existence is to mean nothing other than mere life”. And he added: “However sacred man is (or however sacred that life in him which is identically present in earthly life, death, and afterlife), there is no sacredness in his condition, in his bodily life vulnerable to injury by his fellow men”. Here, the notion of the sacred preserves its dual significance, since Benjamin knew that “what is here pronounced sacred was, according to ancient mythic thought, the marked bearer of guilt: life itself”. See Benjamin Walter, Critique of Violence, in Selected Writings, Vol. 1, 1913-1926, trans. by Marcus Bullock & Michael Jennings, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London 2002, p.251. In regards to the ambivalent notion of the sacred, see Agamben, Homo Sacer, ibid., pp.49-54.

[46]: Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, ibid., p.380

[47]: Arendt’s distrust regarding the declaration of the (human) nature as an explanatory principle of the human condition is expressed in two ways. First, she claims that such an appeal is futile since serious doubts may be raised about the very existence of laws in nature overall. Second, she stresses out that “nothing entitles us to assume that man has a nature or essence in the same sense as other things”, making sure to clarify that human nature is not in any case equated to the human condition. See Ibid., p.378 and Arendt Hannah, The Human Condition, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London 1998, pp.9,10, respectively.

[48]: Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, ibid., p.380. Arendt adds that “[t]he survivors of the extermination camps, the inmates of concentration and internment camps, and even the comparatively happy stateless people could see […] that the abstract nakedness of being nothing but human was their greatest danger”. Ibid.

[49]: Agamben, Homo Sacer, ibid., p.75

[50]: Arendt Hannah, On Revolution, Penguin Books, London 1990, p.64. Many years earlier, and amidst the unpleasant experience of exile, Arendt would write, respectively: “Brought up in the conviction that life is the highest good and death the greatest dismay, we became witnesses and victims of worse terrors than death—without having been able to discover a higher ideal than life”. See Arendt Hannah, We Refugees, in Robinson Marc (ed), Altogether Elsewhere: Writers on Exile, Faber & Faber, Boston & London 1994, p.112. Available at

[51]: Regarding the post-revolutionary emergence of the notion of the nation in Europe see Hobsbawm E. J., Nations and Nationalism since 1780 – Programme, myth, reality, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2000, pp.14-45

[52]: Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, ibid., p.372

[53]: Ibid., p.379

[54]: See the chapter titled Beyond Human Rights in Agamben Giorgio, Means without Ends: notes on politics, trans. by Vincenzo Binetti & Cesare Casarino, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis 2000, p.19

[55]: Agamben, Homo Sacer, ibid., p.52

[56]: In an incomparably incisive observation—even if in an entirely different historical framework—Arendt would write in regard to compassion and its apolitical extensions: “As a rule, it is not compassion which sets out to change worldly conditions in order to ease human suffering, but if it does, it will shun the drawn-out wearisome processes of persuasion, negotiation, and compromise, which are the processes of law and politics, and lend its voice to the suffering itself”. See Arendt, On Revolution, ibid., p.86  

[57]: Agamben, Homo Sacer, ibid., p.78

[58]: Agamben writes in this regard: “The only task that still seems to retain some seriousness is the assumption of the burden—and the ‘total management’—of biological life, that is, of the very animality of man. Genome, global economy, and humanitarian ideology are the three united faces of this process in which posthistorical humanity seems to take on its own physiology as its last, impolitical mandate”. See Agamben Giorgio, The Open – Man and Animal, trans. by Kevin Attell, Stanford University Press, Stanford California 2004, p.77


Παρέμβαση: Επιτελώντας την κατάσταση έκτακτης ανάγκης in situ

I. Γλωσσολογικές (και άλλες) υποδείξεις

Ο Slavoj Žižek, στην εισαγωγική παράγραφο του βιβλίου του Βία – Έξι λοξοί στοχασμοί, διηγείται την εξής ιστορία. «Υπάρχει...», γράφει, «...μια παλιά ιστορία για έναν εργάτη που τον υποπτεύονται ότι κλέβει: κάθε βράδυ, την ώρα που φεύγει από το εργοστάσιο, το καροτσάκι που τσουλάει μπροστά του ερευνάται σχολαστικά. Οι φύλακες δεν μπορούν να βρουν τίποτα. Είναι πάντα άδειο. Τελικά, το μυστήριο λύνεται: εκείνο που κλέβει ο εργάτης είναι τα ίδια τα καροτσάκια...».[1] Ο Žižek, εν προκειμένω, αξιοποιεί το παράδοξο αυτής της ιστορίας για να αποκαλύψει τους κρυφούς μηχανισμούς νοηματοδότησης που ενεργοποιούνται για τις ανάγκες των εννοιολογήσεων της βίας. Στα πλαίσια μίας σχεδόν αυτόματης συνειρμικής διαδικασίας, η καθημερινή αποχώρηση του εργάτη από το εργοστάσιο με ένα καροτσάκι-μορφή, υπονοεί και προϋποθέτει εύλογα την απαραίτητη ύπαρξη ενός αντικειμένου-περιεχομένου. Ο Žižek αντιστοιχεί αυτό τον αυτοματισμό της σκέψης, για τις ανάγκες των λοξών στοχασμών του πάνω στη βία, στις «προφανείς εκφάνσεις της βίας» που καταλαμβάνουν το προσκήνιο του μυαλού μας, και οι οποίες μέσα στη δίνη των κυρίαρχων συμβολισμών αποκτούν τη γνωστή σε όλες και όλους ηθική και αξιολογική τους υπόσταση. Το άδειο καροτσάκι, πόσο μάλλον κατά την επανάληψή του, συνιστά, προφανώς, μία πράξη κενή νοήματος, αν την ερμηνεύσει κανείς σε ένα λίγο-πολύ αυτονόητο συγκείμενο. Αυτό, όμως, που κάνει ο εργάτης συνιστά μια παρέκκλιση στο πλαίσιο που ορίζει ο συγκεκριμένος αυτοματισμός. Ο εργάτης επιλέγει να κλέψει το ίδιο το καροτσάκι, αποδεικνύοντας πως αυτό που στην πρώτη ερμηνεία συνιστούσε μορφή-για-κάποιο-περιεχόμενο, αποτελεί γι' αυτόν, παραδόξως, το ίδιο το περιεχόμενο. Η ιδιότυπη διάρρηξη αυτού του σημασιολογικού συνεχούς βοηθάει τον Žižek να υποστηρίξει πως πρέπει να μάθουμε «να απαγκιστρωνόμαστε από τη σαγήνη αυτής της άμεσα ορατής «υποκειμενικής» βίας» και να προσπαθούμε να αντιλαμβανόμαστε «τα περιγράμματα του φόντου που προκαλούν τέτοια ξεσπάσματα».[2] Η προσπάθεια αυτή θα μας οδηγήσει αναπόφευκτα, κατά Žižek, στην αποκάλυψη μιας πιο θεμελιακής μορφής βίας, την οποία αποκαλεί «συμβολική», και η οποία «ενσαρκώνεται στη γλώσσα και τις μορφές της», και «χαρακτηρίζει τη γλώσσα καθαυτήν, το γεγονός ότι μας επιβάλλει ένα συγκεκριμένο σύμπαν νοήματος».[3]


Many years before the first clouds of the crisis would hover over the greek skies, amidst greek society's most glorious of moments and its most mundane of days, the lives and labour of migrants would be faced with their meticulous devaluation.



Landscapes of Emergency is a brief glance over the undeclared state of emergency that casts its shadow over the functions and the phenomena of public space in Athens today, at this time of crisis.


IV. Plastic Deformations of “Common Sense”

And so, we find ourselves at the cross-section between two crucial active processes that include, on the one hand, the shady characteristics of the financial crisis ––and hence, the articulations of the state of emergency as well–– and on the other hand, the persistent demands for the urbanisation of the military subject, with the necessary emphasis upon the asymmetric dimensions that characterise the contemporary environment of armed conflict.


III. Paradigmatic constructions at a time of crisis

Our brief but nevertheless demanding perambulation in both the world of linguistics and the field of epistemology aimed at setting the theoretical foundations for an alternative comprehension of the informal, undeclared and performative appearances of the state of emergency. We now ought to test out the limit of these, by peeking over the bleak present as outlined by the intensive police operations against select façades of public space in Athens and beyond. An opportunity to conduct such an exercise is offered by the coordinated eviction operations of specific squats that took place in the city of Athens in the period between December 2012 and January 2013 (whilst it is not yet possible for us to tell whether the current period, today, comprises a mere pause in the materialisation of this plan).


II. From language to paradigm.
The structural relationship between language (and therefore, its pragmatic function too) and law (and therefore, the state of emergency too) is also revealed in another, indirect way through Agamben's work. Many years before he attempted to offer some clarifications upon the central position of the notion of paradigm in his work, the Italian philosopher wrote: “exemplary is what is not defined by any property, except by being-called” [1].  It would therefore suffice to even briefly ponder over the definition above in order for one to see the similarity this holds with the exposure-to-language that Agamben focused upon in the late part of the same book, and to which he dedicated and continues to dedicate a large part of his work as a whole [2].


I. Linguistic (and other) suggestions


In the opening chapter of his book Violence: Six sideways Reflections, Slavoj Žižek adduces the following story: “there is”, he writes, “an old story about a worker suspected of stealing: every evening, as he leaves the factory, the wheelbarrow he rolls in front of him is carefully inspected. The guards can find nothing. It is always empty. Finally, the penny drops: what the worker is stealing are the wheelbarrows themselves...” [1]. Here, Žižek utilises the paradox of this story to reveal the hidden mechanisms of meaning-giving activated for the needs of the conceptualisations of violence. Part of a near-reflex associative process, the worker’s daily exiting of the factory with a wheelbarrow-form insinuates and logically presupposes the existence of an object-content. As part of his sideways reflections on violence, Žižek matches this automatism of thought to the “visible expressions of violence” that occupy the centre-stage of our minds and which, in the vortex of dominant symbolisms, take on their only too familiar moral and value form. The empty wheelbarrow ––let alone its repetition–– obviously comprises an act that is void of meaning, should one interpret it in a more or less self-evident context. Yet what the worker does comprises a deviation from the framework set by the automatism in question. The worker chooses to steal the wheelbarrow itself, showing that what had in its initial interpretation comprised form-for-some-content for him comprises, paradoxically, the content itself. The peculiar rupture in this meaning continuum helps Žižek claim that we must learn to disentangle ourselves from the fascinating lure of this directly visible 'subjective' violence” and to try to understand the contours of the background which generates such outbursts [2]. This attempt will inadvertently lead us, according to Žižek, to the revealing of a more foundational form of violence ––one that he terms “symbolic”–– which is embodied in language and its formsand that pertains to language as such, to its imposition of a certain universe of meaning” [3].

Page 1 of 2

Funded by

Partner Institution

About Us

City at the Time of Crisis is a research project tracing and researching the effects of the ongoing financial crisis on urban public spaces in Athens, Greece. Read more...