City at a Time of Crisis



Tracing and researching crisis-ridden urban public spaces

in Athens, Greece.

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by Akis Gavriilidis

In December 2008, Athens became world news for the first time in recent years, for a reason that was soon overshadowed by the financial and debt crisis that came immediately after. I think it would be useful to revisit this event now, when it is not so loaded any more in terms of public attention and affect.

This reason was a totally unpredicted, contingent event: the pointless murder of a youngster by a policeman, which sparked a wave of massive and angry protests for several days in Athens –including in neighbourhoods where no demonstrations had ever taken place in living memory- as well as in all major Greek cities, and several minor ones. These consisted in mass rallies, mainly by equally young people with no previous experience in social protest, occupation of public buildings, “sieges” of police stations, but also considerable damage on private property and some looting of shops by the demonstrators and/ or others. The difficulty to tell a demonstrator from an “other” was precisely an important part of the whole picture, as no political or other body or organisation had made any official call for these protests. But this does not mean they were “spontaneous” in the usually pejorative sense that this term has in the left-wing tradition; many of these actions displayed a high degree of efficiency, accurate coordination, and organisational skills. But they were prepared, and performed, by a subject-non subject; a subject that did not pre-exist, it came to being through this very action, only to dissipate and vanish afterwards. This dissipation was not the mark of a lack or a failure, but rather formed a constitutive part of the mobilisations from their inception. This punctual and circumstantial existence was their only possible form of existence.

What I would like to focus on, though, is a specific aspect concerning the response –or lack of it- by the Greek state to these events.

In the beginning, the state-controlled (or -affiliated) mass media tried to conceal, or misrepresent/ downplay, the event. Soon, as this became impossible due to the circulation of the news through the social media, government officials, including the Public Order minister and then the Prime Minister Karamanlis, tried to appease protests by showing their “understanding” and promising that the perpetrators would be arrested and justice would be administered. (Which, incidentally, was indeed the case eventually: the killer was condemned to life imprisonment, two years later). Almost most importantly, the Chairman of the Piraeus Chamber of Commerce, when asked by a journalist what he was thinking about the lootings and whether these would have a catastrophic impact on the market, replied that “human life is more important than commercial goods”.

Of course, what contributed to such magnanimous stance was possibly the tactics that the Karamanlis government opted for: they instructed the police not to use excessive force or try to totally clampdown the protests, or even prevent lootings, and they subsequently compensated shop holders with state budget funds for all the damages they had suffered.

This is a typical liberal tactics. Possibly, it is a liberal-Western “reading” of a typical Eastern and, more particularly, Chinese idea. It is useful to remember here that François Quesnay, the leading figure of the Physiocrats, was also called “the Confucius of Europe” in his time.

“Laissez-faire” [Let people do], in the first place, was not specifically a motto in favour of free market or private entrepreneurship as opposed to the state’s economic activity, but concerned in general the way the state should react to crises in order to ensure security.

In this respect, we could refer to some remarks on this notion by Giorgio Agamben (who explicitly invokes Foucault’s analyses on the birth of liberalism).

if we take the concept of security, which is so much talked about today and which is almost the slogan of Western governments, this is a term derived from the concept of state of exception: security is "public salvation". But here, Michel Foucault showed very nice which is the origin of this concept: he showed in his lectures that security as a technique of governance was introduced by the physiocrats on the eve of the French Revolution. What was the problem of the time? It was famines; how to avoid the occurrence of famine. Until then, people had never thought in this way; they collected cereal beforehand, etc. The physiocrats had this perhaps ingenious idea: we will no longer seek to avoid famines. We will let them happen, but then we will be ready to govern them, to orient, to ensure they go towards a right direction.

The basic idea [of Western governments] is rather "we will let disasters, riots, happen,or even we will help them happen, because this will allow us to intervene and govern them towards the right direction". For example, American politics for twenty years is clearly this: it never prevents the appearance of disorder, destruction, instead it helps to produce them, but afterwards tries to benefit from them in order to direct them towards"security".

We need to bear this in mind: governments today do not aim at maintaining order, but at managing disorder.

(Giorgio Agamben, interview –in French- to the Greek TV channel ET3; . my translation)

In this sense, the Greek state reacted to this contingent and unpredictable crisis by first letting people do, and subsequently trying to turn their doing in its favour, to capitalise on the movement and the exodus of people.

I think it would be useful to ask oneself whether this is a general pattern of the action of states during the last decades, and even earlier, and, if this is the case, to what extent this leads us to reconsider the relationship between the political and the economic.

According to a conventional view, shared or used even by some of its proponents, neoliberalism consists in “less state” (it being usually understood mainly as “less state intervention in the economy”). This, in turn, gave rise to a whole series of criticisms that try to reveal the hypocrisy of neoliberalism, in so far as it limits itself to the “economy” and does not extend this “reduction” of the state to the police and the repressive apparatuses as well.

The example of the Greek December 2008 does not seem to confirm this simplistic dichotomy. The tactics of the Greek state as regards shop lootings, described above, does not exactly consist in “less state”. The state is not a substance, whose presence can be increased or decreased at will. It is a relationship, an action upon actions. Which means it can occasionally consist in a withdrawal, and/ or a redeployment of these forces; a de-territorialisation and reterritorialisation. But, in this example, both the “political” and the “economic” are present in each of the two spaces (the one from which state forces withdrew from, and the one they moved to). Karamanlis did not abandon an “economic” space in order to move to a “repressive” one (or vice versa); he undertook certain actions in view of a specific assemblage, a situation combining elements of both “politics” and “economy” –and, of course, language, communication, and affect, which are elements crucial for both of these domains. He did not only make a decision settling a private debt, but also a gesture admitting the existence of a public one. By compensating merchants for damages that it did not (directly/ visibly) induced, the Greek state was making an oblique statement that it recognized its responsibility for the murder of Grigoropoulos, giving a “coded message” to appease protesters, and, at the same time, with the same move, was trying to use the force and the action of the protesters, and the fear it could create to the “forces of the market”, in order to “re-launch the economy”, to reassure the small-and-medium enterprise holders that it cares about them and won’t let them down.

In addition to the above, it would be also useful to reflect on the action –or lack of it- from the part of the people themselves on the basis of this example. In the leftwing-antiauthoritarian tradition, (and in Greece even more so), the fact that power is able to manage the people’s affect, communication, movement, and exodus, was always a source of embarrassment, deep concern, even despair; and then, at a second level, a source of mutual accusations and contests between radical political groups on who is the most radical. Any capture of a popular mobilisation by capital and state is universally read as evidence that this mobilisation was “not the real thing”; it was insufficient, not well prepared, with a low level of revolutionary theory or organisation, its leaders were petty-bourgeois, if not outright traitors who sold off, so we have to draw our lessons and next time try to do better.

This is the horror of “co-optation”, for which in Greek anti-establishment parlance we use the much abhorred term “ενσωμάτωση”, (literally “incorporation”), which marks the irrevocable defeat and extinction of any contestation and any anti-systemicity, using the metaphor of recipients where bodies are enclosed successfully in their totality without any traces, without rests.

Such accusations were indeed voiced by certain groups from the left, but even from conservative mainstream journalists and commentators, against the December protests, and were repeated even more strongly for the case of the “Aganaktismenoi” [The Indignant Ones] protesting at Syndagma square a couple of years later, and also for the Occupy movement, the Arab springs, etc. Either with disappointment or with malignant irony, modernists were very eloquent in enumerating the lacks of such primitive, naïve and irrational manifestations of the multitude which had no clear political goals and no hierarchy of priorities or set of concrete demands.

The point I want to suggest is that this apparently anecdotal, fragmentary, non-strategic character of the movements of the multitude is not an accidental lack or an imperfection that could or should be “corrected”. It is here to stay; it probably was always here. There will always be something lacking, and there will never be a perfectly organised, comprehensive action of the masses that will take hold of the state and definitely redress all its wrongdoings.

Approaching the movement of people as de-territorialisation could be a useful antidote to the paralysing despair and low self-esteem caused by the fear of "ensomàtosi". Precisely this perceived lack is at the same time the reason why “incorporation” is never perfect: in the same way, there is always something left out of the recipient, something exceeding, or missing, or both; and this discrepancy is what makes new actions possible.


by Sarah Green, University of Manchester

Athens, 1963. A vibrant city, cosmopolitan city, a city full of tensions, rumblings of revolution, or at least a sense that people were beginning to have enough of the right-wing rulers who had been pushed into government by the powers that be in the 1950s – by the USA mostly, which was following the Truman Doctrine, trying to ensure strong, conservative government to prevent the communists getting in.1 But it was not only the Americans; others had an interest in Greece, whether that interest was based on romantic ideals, cold war ideologies, or realpolitik. It was an edgy space in 1963, one that had been built, in its modernist guise, on a tangle of partly contradictory, and thoroughly cosmopolitan, aims and ambitions. Bastéa2 says the core architecture of Athens built during the 19th century reflects a mixture of transnational and nationalist ideals of what Greece and the Greeks should be, and it would be interesting to ask, today, in the 21st century in the midst of crisis, whether those ideals were ever realised in any meaningful sense. Yalouri, who closely studied the variety of uses to which the Acropolis has been put, both symbolically and otherwise, also noted the strongly transnational influence on Athens, from the moment of Greek independence right up to the present day.3 Many others have said the same about the whole country. Athens is a transnational city par excellence - which is to say that transnational political interests have had exceptional levels of involvement in the way the Greek state has developed over the decades. That holds today as well, but the way in which that involvement, or interference some might say, has manifested itself, is rather different now. But I am getting ahead of myself.


I arrived in Athens in 1963 at the age of two, with my English family: father, mother and two older brothers. There were many foreigners like us there at the time: people who somehow felt a little uncomfortable in their own country, whether for social, political, economic or legal reasons. Such people often found their way to Athens. It was not an easy city, but it was easy enough to exist there as a foreigner without too many questions being asked. Athenians were used to foreigners, transients who came and went, and who lived mysterious lives doing who knows what. Nobody much cared, really. Certainly not the police or any government types.


Even during the military regime of 1967-74, there was not much interest in these transient migrants, the people passing through, or even settling in, for a time. That included the poor migrants as well as the more wealthy and highly educated political refugees and ex-patriots (note that wealthier migrants are usually called ex-patriots). The Greek authorities owed nothing to these foreigners, who knew better than to expect anything from the Greek state in any case; the foreigners in those days were really a matter of indifference in all senses of the word. So long as they were not committing crimes, and in particular, selling drugs or getting up to any other kind of behaviour defined as troublesome by the Greek police, foreigners were allowed to just exist in Athens, and do what they liked. That is not what the law said, of course; it is not what the bureaucratic system required, either; but it’s how people lived. It was even relatively easy to live without the right visas and other paperwork. So long as you did not get in the way of anybody powerful, life went on.


My family first stayed in Piraeus in 1963, for a few months before we moved to the island of Lesvos for several years. Piraeus, as Renée Hirschon richly reported in her ethnography, Heirs of the Greek Catastrophe - a book title that may well be needed again for another population of Greeks in the coming years of the 21st century - was one amongst many areas in and around Athens that had experienced a huge influx of refugees from the Asia Minor crisis in the 1920s.4 Prosfiges. That was the period when the Greek word for ‘refugees’ began to carry particular weight and significance in the country. As Hirschon records on the first page of her ethnography, land was put aside for these refugees in the outskirts of Athens and in Piraeus. These people were officially defined as ‘coming home,’ in a sense: Greek Orthodox peoples sent to Greece when the Ottoman empire, their former home, ceased to exist, as a place. But as Hirschon also records, Greece felt foreign to the newcomers, and they confronted significant levels of prejudice. This was not for the first time, of course: Bastéa reminds us,5 as do both James Faubion and Michael Herzfeld in different ways,6 that in the early period of the Greek state in the 19th century, there were heated disagreements about who counted as a Greek and who did not, which was based as much on how recently people had migrated to Greece, and what part they played in the war of Independence, as it did on any concepts of blood or soil. The 1920s arrivals were something of a repetition, then, of migrants who are, to a greater or lesser degree, Greeks.


That 1920s period marked two things about the relation between Athens and migrants. The first is that it established a material, embodied link between the city and other parts of the world, as well as between the city and transnational organizations such as the League of Nations, which oversaw the compulsory movement of populations between Turkey and Greece.7 And second, it established a social context in which strangers arrived in the city in very large numbers, all at once. The sheer quantity of people was a major characteristic of the migration during that period. Much the same is also true today: a perception of the sheer numbers of the new arrivals to Athens, particularly of people who have no safe place to go, has taken many people’s breath away.


Of course, a crucial difference between the 1920s mass migration and the current period is that in the 1920s, the influx of population was carried out by transnational agencies as an official policy agreed within the Lausanne Convention of 1923, which had the explicit aim of exchanging large portions of Orthodox and Muslim populations between the new Greek and Turkish territories. In the current period, there are no coordinated transnational policies that are intended to move populations from one place to another. Rather, there is a post-Bretton Woods chaotic scramble for resources and power, an ongoing battle, just about everywhere in the world. Some people call that chaos the outcome and clear logic of neoliberalism (and in anthropology, Chris Gregory and David Graeber are two of the better known ones who call it that).8 This neoliberal, no holds barred, scramble for resources has created multiple regions in the world where life has become so harsh, either because of ongoing violent conflicts or because of extreme lack of resources or opportunities, that people are driven out to look for something else, some way to survive. Many of them head for Europe. And as an outcome of a range of border control programs deployed in recent years around the outer edges of the European Union, the vast majority of undocumented people trying to enter the EU from these troubled places have been trying to enter through Greece over the last five or six years. The majority of those people end up in Athens, one way or another, at least for a time. As in the 1920s, the sheer numbers of migrants has made it feel like a crisis, piled up on top of the financial crisis. And the media helps to encourage that sense, reporting it as a crisis within a crisis. The European Union has made the migration crisis worse in Greece, many say, through its Dublin II Agreement, which requires undocumented migrants to be returned to the country of first entry into the EU.


Unsurprisingly then, the majority of the Greek border police have been deployed in Athens in recent years, for that is where the migrants are. It is not really possible to fully patrol the borders at the edges of the territory, neither in the Evros region in the northern mainland, nor the multiple areas of access to Greek territory by the sea. Even with the additional work of Frontex, that EU-commissioned border security organization which carries out various operations at the edges of the EU’s territories, huge numbers of undocumented travelers still make it onto Greek territory. In truth, most of them do not think of it as Greek territory, but as EU territory. That does not matter to the people in the Greek population who regard the issue as an ‘invasion’ of foreigners on their national land, but it does matter in understanding what kind of border work is being done in trying to manage this influx of people: it involves the management of a transnational border (an EU border) that has had pressure put upon it by peoples driven out of their own places by the chaos created by a political economy that has little respect for borders of any kind - political, social, environmental, economic. In any case, both for political and pragmatic reasons, the border police have to be in Athens, and have to look like they are doing something.


It was different in Athens a few years ago, in 2008, just before the financial crisis changed things dramatically. In Sintagma Square in August 2008, the police were the ones who dealt with the undocumented migrants. They were dressed like police as well, rather than dressing like armed military, and there were not very many of them. The illegal traders would put out their stalls to sell their goods - handbags, umbrellas, children’s toys, cigarette lighters, household crockery and cutlery, all kinds of things. And the Athenians would browse these stalls, looking to see if there was anything interesting in amongst all these things that were made in China and arrived into the hands of the migrants, who were not from China, by mysterious routes. Then the police would arrive, the traders would pack up within 20 seconds and run away at high speed. When the police were gone, the traders would come back, and the whole thing would be repeated again in a little while when the police patrol returned.


That’s how it was just five years ago. It’s hard to remember Sintagma Square in that way now. Omonia was a little harsher, there were already quite a few tensions developing there, and in Exarheia too. But the harshness with which the border police now deal with the issue is something else again: an order of magnitude different from the earlier period to such a degree that it has become a different kind of phenomenon. The cat and mouse game of 2008 allowed a mutual recognition that everyone involved had a job to do. The dynamic in more recent years seems to be based on no recognition at all: the perceived sheer scale of the problem has made it impossible, it seems, to see any of the people involved in it as people. They are migrants or they are border guards, and neither category appears to recognize the other one as anything other than a category.


Everyone knows it is not only the borders guards who are confronting the more recent migrants. Members of Golden Dawn are out on patrol regularly, wearing their uniforms that echo and borrow from the military style of past dictatorships. They go out in order to defend Greece and the Greeks, they say; they go out in order to ‘sort out’ the migrants, as an act of patriotism. Except for their tendency to valorize violence, they remind me of Harel Shapira’s account of the Minutemen of Arizona, in his book, Waiting for José.9 The Minutemen (named after the men who needed to be ready in a minute to defend America in the earlier period of that country’s history)are patrolling the US-Mexican border on behalf of their country, they say. The Minutemen (some of whom are actually women) are unpaid, unofficial, and their aim is to stop migrants from crossing into the United States. Shapira points out in his ethnography that many of the Minutemen are much like the rest of the population in their political and social views; the difference is not nearly as sharp as some of us would like to believe. A similar point was made by Douglas Holmes about the growth of the far right in Europe, in his book, Integral Europe.10 The reasons that the police, border guards and general population end up being harshly prejudiced against people who have left deeply troubled parts of the world and come to Europe in search of something better, is not a straightforward matter. It is full of moral, social, economic, and political knots and tangles that makes it actually quite difficult to disentangle from ourselves, to keep ourselves separate from it. Edward Said suggested a long time ago (in Orientalism)11 that many ideologies have a tendency to avoid confronting the negative, dark, side of ourselves by ascribing those characteristics to others, to the ones we can legitimately condemn for being in some way lacking - usually morally, but perhaps in other ways as well - for example, having some deficiencies in modernity or education. Of course, the ignorance of prejudice and bigotry must be challenged whenever and wherever possible; but there is an equal responsibility to examine whether elements of that ignorance and prejudice reappear in the way that the bigotry is challenged. It’s a knotty issue.


Besides the battles going on in the streets and in the ‘no-go’ areas of Athens, the areas that ‘decent people’ would never go, there are also other places where the migrants can be found, behind closed doors and away from the gaze of the heavily armed border guards. For example, there are care workers of all kinds working in the homes of the people who possess more money than time. Those migrants are protected by their patrons, some say; others say they are something between prisoners and slaves, having replaced their own family and home for somebody else’s, in the hopes of sending money back and making things better for the next generation. Those people might get out on a Sunday afternoon, to breath a little in the park, but not always. They are an invisible small army, keeping things going in Athens, despite everything else falling to pieces. In focusing on what happens in the streets between border guards and migrants, the less eye-catching aspects should not be forgotten.


Concluding remarks


There are three main points about this situation with migrants in Athens that this short intervention is trying to make.


First: it is not the first time there has been the sudden arrival of large numbers of people from elsewhere in this city. Deeper historical comparisons would be worth making. Both in the past and in the present, particular forms of relations and separations with other parts of the world are as important in understand what is going on with migration in Athens as studying the events in Athens itself.


Second: one distinctive aspect of the migration on this occasion is that it is part of a particular form of political economy, which some call neoliberalism, that is nowhere near as focused or organized in its movement of populations from one place to another as previous political and economic interventions have been.


Third: the scale of the arrival of migrants in Athens is a key element of the current perception of it as a ‘crisis’ . This has also changed the nature of the border guards’ response, as well as increasing its scale.


Finally: the implication of all of this is that the borders being both crossed and policed in this situation are different in quality from the 20th century model of state borders for quite some time. In particular, it is one example of how different parts of the world are entangled with one another (knotted, meshed) rather than being separate entities that are interrelated.



Bastea, Eleni. 2000. The creation of modern Athens: planning the myth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Clogg, Richard. 1986. A short history of modern Greece. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Faubion, James D. 1993. Modern Greek lessons: a primer in historical constructivism. Princeton, N.J.; Chichester: Princeton University Press.

Graeber, David. 2011. Debt: the first 5,000 years. New York: Melville House.

Gregory, C. A. 1997. Savage money: the anthropology and politics of commodity exchange. Amsterdam; London: Harwood Academic Publishers.

Herzfeld, Michael. 1986. Ours Once More: Folklore, Ideology, and the Making of Modern Greece. New York: Pella Publishing Inc.

Hirschon, Renée. 1989. Heirs of the Greek Catastrophe: The Social Life of Asia Minor Refugees in Piraeus. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

—. 2003. 'Unmixing peoples' in the Aegean region. In Crossing the Aegean: an appraisal of the 1923 compulsory population exchange between Greece and Turkey (ed.) Renée Hirschon. New York; Oxford: Berghahn Books, pp. 3-12.

Holmes, Douglas, R. 2000. Integral Europe: fast-capitalism, multiculturalism, neofascism. Princeton, N.J.; Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Said, Edward W. 1991. Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Shapira, Harel. 2013. Waiting for José: the Minutemen's pursuit of America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Yalouri, Eleana. 2001. The Acropolis: global fame, local claim. Oxford ; New York: Berg.





¿Cómo llega una crisis financiera global a penetrar los espacios cotidianos de una ciudad? Nuestro documental final de 35' traza las múltiples transformaciones del espacio publico Ateniense afectado por la crisis y los que lo atraviesan.

Futuro Suspendido se divide en tres secciones. 'Privatizado' explora el impacto de los proyectos de privatización en masa que precedieron las Olimpiadas de 2004, situándolos en el contexto de las actuales planes de privatización. "Desvalorado" mira a los espacios de inmigrantes en la ciudad que son cada vez más reducidos y como esto llega a desvalorizar sus vidas como resultado. "Militarizado" demuestra cómo, ante la crisis, la desvalorización se convierte en una condición generalizada.

A través de su recorrido cinematográfico del Atenas de hoy, "Futuro Suspendido" sigue la trayectoria del complejo autoritario-financiera y cómo esto a reducido el espacio público de la ciudad, lo que alimentó la desesperación social y la ira en cambio.

Futuro Suspendido es parte de un proyecto de investigación de El equipo se consiste de Christos Filippidis, Antonis Vradis, Dimitris Dalakoglou, Ross Domoney y Jaya Klara Brekke. La musica para Futuro Suspendido fue compuesto por Giorgos Triantafyllou.


El documental esta publicado bajo la licencia de Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND.



by Athena Athanasiou

States of crisis
The state of crisis as a mode of neoliberal governmentality raises difficult questions about the links between precariousness and action, shame and solidarity, dispossession and intimacy. More specifically, it compels a consideration of how precariousness might shape political action, how a sense of shame might (or might not) trigger practices of solidarity, and how dispossession might (or might not) become the occasion for re-imagined and re-activated intimacies. Current regimes of neoliberal governing through crisis management bring forth the (economized, but also gendered, sexed, and racialized) subject as a performative political arena of vulnerability and precariousness. They also bring forth the ways in which subjects are interpellated into crisis politics as subjects of vulnerability and precariousness.

In this context of crisis discourse, new configurations of crisis and critique are emerging with reference to questions of what counts as crisis and how critical responses are articulated. In other words, the question of thinking critically in times of crisis emerges and persists. This question(ing) involves also taking into consideration that critique is always already in crisis, as it pertains to interrogating the terms which determine what counts as an ontological claim. Thus, critique is about provoking crisis to established truth claims, including the truth claims of crisis.

In this sense, I suggest that we consider Judith Butler’s engagement with Michel Foucault’s well-known essay “What is critique?” They both pose the question of critique with reference to forces of subjectivation, self-formation, and de-subjugation. Foucault writes: “Critique will be the art of voluntary insubordination, that of reflected intractability. Critique would essentially ensure the desubjugation [désassujettissement] of the subject in the context of what we would call, in a word, the politics of truth.” [1] And Judith Butler responds thus: “But if that selfforming is done in disobedience to the principles by which one is formed, then virtue becomes the practice by which the self forms itself in desubjugation, which is to say that it risks its deformation as a subject, occupying that ontologically insecure position which poses the question anew: who will be a subject here, and what will count as a life, a moment of ethical questioning which requires that we break the habits of judgment in favor of a riskier practice that seeks to yield artistry from constraint.” [2] To echo Butler’s formulation, I would like to argue that what is at stake in current regimes of crisis is precisely a contested domain where subjects “risk their deformation as subjects”, “occupy ontologically insecure positions”, and, at the same time, “yield artistry from constraint”. In this text, I propose to explore current neoliberal governmentality as a distinct assemblage of power, knowledge, and subjectivity.

Biopolitics and governmentality of crisis
The current regimes of crisis provide the grounds for a critical re-engagement with, and a critical re-imagining of, who counts as part of the public; how the political is performed; how and where it “takes place”; what qualifies as political subjectivity, and how it is gendered, racialized, and classed; how are bodies subjugated and de-subjugated in these times of neoliberal governmentality and precarization?

In light of this questioning, I argue that neoliberalism is not just a mode of capitalist financialization in the strict sense, but rather a more encompassing regime of truth and a more diffuse matrix of social intelligibility, which includes particular modalities of power, subjectivation, governance, self-governance, and self-formation. Such modalities take the interwoven forms of biopolitical (self-)management, self-interested and competitive individualization, securitization, responsibilization, a reconfigured relation between public and private, and a particular logic of economy and the market.

As “crisis” becomes a complex assemblage of power relations which both manage life and expose to death, the “state of exception”, which is usually deployed to signify the element of emergency at the heart of the normative administrative discourses of crisis, proves to be not exceptional but rather ordinary, systematic, canonical, and foundational. The normative terms of subjectivity emerging from such configuration are defined by exclusionary norms of gender, capital, and nation. It is through such (un)exceptional forces of power and subjectivation that crisis becomes the production of life and death as economic and political currency, as an economic and political ontology of life-and-death itself.

In the analytics of biopower developed by Michel Foucault, if sovereignty seeks to rule on death, biopolitics is about administering “life” through managing surplus populations. In Security, Territory, Population, Foucault suggests that liberalism is the paradigmatic mode of governmentality for the exercise of biopolitics. Liberal forms of governing, contrary to the police-like political doctrines of Raison d’État, entail a limiting of the power of the state. The role of the state and state institutions is to ensure and safeguard the pervasive functions of the market. As Foucault writes: “One must govern for the market, not because of the market” (Birth of Biopolitics, p. 121).

In this context, one must account for and critically engage the significant trajectories in Foucault’s method from the introduction of the concept as an aspect of his engagement with the problem of sexuality in The History of Sexuality (1976) and, especially, from a more totalizing treatment of biopolitics as a modern configuration of power in Society Must Be Defended (1976) to the lectures of 1978 (Security, Territory, Population) and 1979 (Birth of Biopolitics), where different co-present modes, structures, and techniques of power (i.e., the disciplinary, the juridical, security, population) are presented in their hierarchical correlations, re-articulations and transformations. In Security, Territory, Population, biopolitics is interrelated with questions of governmentality (the linking of governing [“gouverner”] and modes of thought [“mentalité”] and what Foucault calls “apparatuses of security”; in fact, biopolitics tends to be analytically displaced by the idea of “governing” and the organized practices (mentalities, rationalities, and techniques) through which subjects are governed. In this text, Foucault addresses the “pre-eminence over all other types of power –sovereignty, discipline, and so on- of the type of power that we can call ‘government’” (STP, p. 108). In The Birth of Biopolitics, Foucault seems to deploy governmentality to signify power relations in general. In this text, he continues to pursue the theme of a governmental rationality which seeks maximum effectiveness (in mastering life) by governing less, and focuses on a detailed analysis of the forms of this liberal governmentality, including the role of neoliberalism in twentieth century politics.

So in order to deal with the multiplicity of directions in Foucault’s work on biopolitics and his closely connected discussions of governmentality, it is important to account for the ways in which biopolitics, in the form of a crisis-oriented normalization, gives the ground for today’s re-articulation and re-configuration of governmentality. This perspective runs counter to a teleological conceptualization of governmentality as a form of rule which gradually displaces those technologies of power, namely sovereignty and discipline, that are considered archaic, more “repressive”, “authoritarian”, “irrational, and “uneconomic” than governmental technologies. In this light, neoliberal rationalities and techniques of power involve an articulation between “productive” and “destructive” aspects of power, discipline and freedom, choice and competition, authoritarianism and self-determination, subjectivation and subjection.

Neoliberal governmentality denotes an authoritative apparatus of producing dispensable and disposable populations, and, at the same time, producing and demarcating the normative codes of the human by regulating the (economic) vitality, affectivity, potentiality, embodiment, vulnerability and livability of subjects. Within the purview of this governmentality, the biopolitical imaginary and administration of life and death is reinvented, revitalized, and reconfigured, as resources and vulnerability are differently and unevenly distributed among different bodies – differently economized, racialized, and gendered bodies.

Thus, in the Greek neoliberal context of plurality of power technologies, steep economic disparities and deprivation, the normalization of poverty and the widespread condition of precarity are combined with, and supplemented by, various forms of securitization, such as tightened migration policies, the abjection of undocumented immigrants, as well as an intensified politics of racism, sexism and homophobia. Economic hardship and austerity measures required under the bailout, loss of jobs, pay cuts, disposable labour, unemployment, pension reductions, poverty, evictions, loss of dignity, and the dissolution of the public healthcare system are attended by an overall authoritarianism: emergency legislation is deployed to curtail rights; a citizenship law repeals citizenship rights for second-generation migrants and increases the number of years of residence and schooling that the children of immigrants need to prove before they are eligible to apply for citizenship; governmental invocation of an emergency law and the “threat of civil disorder” forces strikers back to work; the Health Minister targets HIV-positive women as a “public health bomb”; and the police detains trans people in order to “clean and beautify the city”.

Emergency politics, emergent politics
As crisis management turns into a crucial mode of neoliberal governance through a political and moral economy of life itself, at the same time, new radical movements are emerging in different parts of the world as well as different topologies where these movements are being performed. As people are forcefully relegated by the market logic to subjugated subjects and disposable bodies with no rights, new modes of agonistic embodied citizenship have been emerging, through which challenges to neoliberal policies have been posed.

Crisis becomes an arena in which different forms of publicness are enacted and negotiated. As emergent subjectivities, affective communities, and spaces of non-compliance take shape in various multilayered city-scapes of crisis, different forms of civic protest address a range of concerns including austerity, the privatization and corporatization of public space, poverty, precarity, social injustice, and state authoritarianism.

In this sense, as present neoliberal regimes increasingly expose to death, through differential exposure to the injuries of poverty, demoralization, and racism, a performative politics of protest emerges, one which mobilizes the radical potentiality of transforming such injurious interpellations. Assembled bodies in the street, but also in various collectivities and alternative networks of solidarity (often organized in ways alternative to the archetype of the heroic activist), reclaim the unconditionality of public space, demanding a democracy with demos, and enacting a demos with differences.

The tension between, on the one side, the differential distribution and regulation of the terms of precariousness as an instrument of neoliberal governmentality and, on the other side, the struggle to reclaim the terms of a livable life without erasing vulnerability is precisely what I would like to call “precarious intensity”. Precarious intensity implies an agonistic (instead of antagonistic) way of attending to vulnerability; an agonistic engagement which often takes place within a contested public space, or within a contested realm of embodying public space.

The state of crisis, where people are (differentially) faced with economic dispossession, the political violence of authoritarianism, and a state of deadly living, has inspired a philosophical critique of neoliberalism based on a theoretical reconsideration of Foucault’s conception of biopolitics, especially its emphasis on making live and letting die. But how might we rethink biopolitics as a performative resource for agonistic political engagement and contestation? How might we think together a politics of emergency and a politics of emergence? [3] And, to further complicate this line of inquiry, how should we reconsider this question taking into consideration that “emergence” is also one of the administrative, managerial, and affective modes deployed by neoliberal governance?

The figure of the emergent resonates with Jacques Derrida’s notion of arrivant, as a disposition to the other, and an openness to what lies outside of oneself. In this regard, it indicates the moment of the possibility of an impossibility: a radical transformation of the social and political (rather than merely economic) ontologies upon which neoliberal governmentality is founded. Taking up such line of investigation would help make us attentive to the manifold, plural, and contradictory ways in which “emergence” might signify and complicate the unexpected, the dissonant, and the subversive; how it could be reclaimed by an aporetic ethics and poetics and thus be activated as a trans-formative critique of the fixed totality and propriety inherent in states of emergency that structure and regulate our present governmentality.


[1] Michel Foucault, “What is Critique?” in The Politics of Truth. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e) (1997): 41-82 (p. 47).

[2] Judith Butler, “What is Critique? An Essay on Foucault’s Virtue” (Transversal, 2001).

[3] Bonnie Honig, Emergency Politics: Paradox, Law, Democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.




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




 Πώς διεισδύει η παγκόσμια οικονομική κρίση στους καθημερινούς χώρους της πόλης; Το τελικό μας ντοκυμαντέρ, διάρκειας 35 λεπτών, ιχνηλατεί τις πολλαπλές μεταμορφώσεις του Αθηναϊκού δημόσιου χώρου σήμερα.

Το ντοκυμαντέρ χωρίζεται σε τρία μέρη: το πρώτο μέρος, με τίτλο “Ιδιωτικοποίηση”, διερευνά τις συνδέσεις ανάμεσα στην ανάπτυξη που χαρακτήρισε την περίοδο της Ολυμπιάδας του 2004 και τα σύγχρονα προγράμματα ιδιωτικοποίησης που λαμβάνουν χώρα μέσα στο πλαίσιο της οικονομικής κρίσης. Το δεύτερο μέρος, με τίτλο “Υποτίμηση”, εξετάζει τους τρόπους με τους οποίους συρρικνώνονται, σήμερα, οι αστικοί χώροι για τους/τις μετανάστες/ριες, και την επακόλουθη υποτίμηση της ζωής τους. Το τελευταίο μέρος, με τίτλο “Στρατιωτικοποίηση”, καταδεικνύει πώς με αφετηρία την κρίση, η υποτίμηση μετατρέπεται σε μια γενικευμένη συνθήκη—πώς η άνοδος του οικονομικο-αυταρχικού συμπλέγματος συρρικνώνει το δημόσιο χώρο στην πόλη, τροφοδοτώντας ως αποτέλεσμα την κοινωνική απόγνωση και οργή.




How does a global financial crisis permeate the spaces of the everyday in a city? This documentary film traces the multiple transformations of crisis-ridden Athenian public space and those who traverse it.

In three parts, Future Suspended navigates its way through the past and the present of the crisis as it gets inscribed in Athens dwellers' minds, and as it plays out in their everyday lives. The first section, Privatised, explores the legacy of mass privatisation projects that preceded the 2004 Olympics, placing them in the context of present-day privatisation schemes.

Part two, Devalued, examines the ever-shrinking spaces of migrants in the city and the violent devaluation that comes as a result. The final third, Militarised, explains how, at the exact moment when the state recedes from its welfare functions, this devaluation of Athenian lives becomes a generalised condition.

Combining geography, anthropology, urban theory and research with visual research methods and digital design, the project has attempted to read the enormous (and often devastating) social and political change playing out before our eyes through the marks it leaves on spaces of the everyday.

The rise of racism and xenophobia and the establishment of unprecedented policing are viewed through supposedly prosaic urban sites: the Athenian metro, the city's old and new airports, its highways, squares and streets.


Future Suspended from Ross Domoney on Vimeo.






Future Suspended is the 32 minute-long documentary by the team on Athens, from Olympic spectacle to the dawn of the authoritarian-financial complex. Released online mid-February 2014.

Six première screenings this week!



  • In Barcelona, on Tuesday February 11, 8.30pm @La Otra Carboneria.
    Al carrer Urgell nº 30, cantonada amb Floridablanca, <M> Urgell L2 - See more at:

    Al carrer Urgell nº 30, cantonada amb Floridablanca, <M> Urgell L2 - See more at:


  • In Athens, on Thursday February 13, 9pm @Empros Theatre2 Riga Palamidi Str, Psiri.



  • In Edinburgh, on Friday February 14, 6pm-7.30pm @Lecture Theatre 017, Hunter Building, Edinburgh College of Art, Lauriston Place EH3 9DF.  




From Olympic spectacle to the dawn of the authoritarian-financial complex. Our final 32 minute-long documentary on Athens will be released online mid-February 2014.



What is it that I may find so difficult to articulate from my visits to the Athenian metro? What kind of untold force makes it so hard, at times, to even face up to the realities beneath? Life down there, after all—just like the life above, at the street level—goes on, at least on the face of it. Just like before, the train carriage finds itself acting as the same crucible containing and swirlingly transferring faces old, new, tired or exhilarated, asserted or puzzled. Just like before, the passenger will ever so often attempt to erect for herself a momentary curtain of anonymity in the middle of spaces public; a sideways gaze, an amassing of words barely reaching beyond the empty, the mundane; a self-inflicted passivity. But something is different—and this difference is, I think, as ground-breaking as inconspicuous it may at first appear to be. There is silence in the metro, words that make a presence through their absence. And if this was an absence that existed before, in the context of crisis it takes on an entirely unprecedented form; amidst the barrage of words, statements and discourses that have for so long attempted to grapple with the crisis, the most devastating of conditions now become those that remain unarticulated, unuttered.


d. The Event and (its) Language.


“Thought is the suspension of the voice in language”

(Agamben 2006: 107)


In the opening words of Language and Death, Giorgio Agamben quotes Martin Heidegger in what he had in turn considered to be the vital human quality: for Heidegger, mortals “sind jene, die den Tod als Tod erfahren koennen”; mortals are those who can experience death as death. Animals, Heidegger claims, can neither experience death nor can they speak—an apparent distinguishing characteristic that Agamben takes on during his book’s remainder. This elevation and equation of the understanding of death on the one hand, and of the ability to communicate this same understanding on the other may of course conceal a major fallacy: the fallacy of equating an inborn condition with its eliciting through its verbal articulation. A fallacy, in other words, of equating what was a previously unarticulated cause with its subsequently articulated effect.

How may our conceptualisation of something as ostensibly distant as death can ever be linked to something as close to our everyday as language, or to the ways that we interact through it? To conceptualise death means to conceptualise the ultimate, it means to comprehend the moment from which there is no return—that very moment of leaping from something into nothing. The uttering of language represents, in its event-like reading, a reverse process: it represents that split-second elevation of being from nothing into something.

The beauty in Handke’s writing lies in his ability to overcome this something/nothing dichotomy. In fiction, just like in life, two foundational possibilities exist which are mutually exclusive while simultaneously excluding any third possibility when combined. Possibility (A) is that something will happen. Possibility (B) is that nothing will happen. Handke circumvents the need for his narrative to fall under either option (A) or (B). What does/not happen is not what is at stake. As Joseph Bloch wanders around the unnamed city that Handke has built around him, entering and exiting spaces interior (houses, hotel rooms, cinemas and the like), drifting into and out of streets, things do constantly happen—but in essence, nothing does. What could have been major events defining the narrative become mere parentheses, backdrops. There is no head-turner throughout the novel. Quite the opposite. Bloch used to be famous, a well-known football goalkeeper. He is now firmly in the time of his fall from grace, introduced to us as a construction worker at the precise moment, even, when he loses that job. A glorious past, an indifferent and slumping present. He is Bloch by name and block by the state that he is in—waiting while knowing there isn’t really anything to wait for. Athens would have been an ideal host city for Bloch. At the exact same time when everything changes, this storm of activity is masked under the banal, concealed within the action-less everyday.

In the absence of action, nothing happens. In the absence of language, nothing is said. As the city slumps into its time of austerity, its dwellers become ever-so more unnerved: it is as if bodies strive to imitate, in their docility, the uneventfulness of the place in which they reside. A serenity of inaction carrying the scent of fear and resignation.

I ask myself, once again: what makes it so hard to come to peace with this ostensible serenity of the dweller, of the commuter, of the passenger? What, after all, can be so disconcerting in the mundane small-talk, what kind of feelings may the long silences really conceal or instill?

The politics of austerity have pushed for, and eventually succeeded in bringing about the breakdown of a social bond. They have pushed for for the sweeping atomization of the individual. Right at this moment, a full four years into the process, each stands not with, but against all; every single entity is faced up against the whole. And nowhere may this be more evident than in this space of forced conviviality, the metro. Here in the metro carriage, day in, day out, the expectancy for the unexpected to occur gives way to the certainty that nothing will happen: perhaps better even, that no matter what happens, no matter how gruesome or shocking, nothing will be forceful enough to disturb the passenger’s somnolent tranquility. And even: action in extremis can and will only force more inaction. Within a state of exception (this abnormal state, this escape from normality where everything morphs into an exception), what was previously normal becomes an exception in return—a new state of normality that is anything but. What to do, how to act within this new environment? A gruesome dilemma. To remain inactive in face of devastating change means to render oneself docile—irrelevant, if not complacent. But to act, to try break out and away from the generalised exception can only stand as an exception in itself—an exception within the exception that confirms the rule; a double negation that logically equals its very own elimination.

In the final lines of the novel, Bloch watches a amateur division football game from its sidelines, a mere spectator to the spectacle of which he was previously a protagonist. As he watches he is joined, or perhaps he joins another spectator. Suddenly, a penalty kick is awarded to one of the two teams. A decisive moment, potentially interrupting and capable of determining the entire time-flow of the football game. How Bloch and his co-spectator have found each other, or who this second character actually is are both equally and entirely unimportant. What matters (and here’s a spoiler warning...) is the line of reasoning Bloch puts across to his fellow spectator at the sight of the penalty kick. He unveils all the mental dilemmas, the internal dialogue that he believes to occur in the goalkeeper’s mind at [beim] the penalty kick. The essence of this dilemma lies at this single world: beim. Most often translated into the English language as at, bei/m originally shares a root with by—both in their essence describing chronological as much as spatial proximity. This agony at is an agony the novel grapples throughout and faces at its culmination—an agony lasting a split-second moment, to be sure; an agony encapsulated in this near-magical elevation, the condensation and the amalgamation of time into distance. What gives Heindke’s character the shivers is the elfmeter, the word describing both the act of executing a penalty kick but also the distance—eleven meters—between the spot of the execution spot and the goalkeeper. It is in this sense that the elfmeter is time articulated through distance, it is the distance between the person (the goalkeeper) and the football (the kick spot) which denotes the moment for the act itself (the penalty kick).

Through the novel, Bloch expresses his agony over inaction; even committing the most gruesome of murders cannot help him escape the sense that nothing truly happens. No matter what he does, there will be no event. Anything that actually happens is swiftly relegated to a mere description, a sole linguistic articulation, the uttering of something into nothing. Anything that he says, vanishes.

And so, what Bloch expresses is the agony for the untold, for the unuttered: voice is if not the prime means of human interaction, our so-called natural way of communicating with one another. Its suspension leaves us with anxiety over what is supposed to be there, but is not. The moment when we utter language, just like the moment when we have to make a decision, lies at the very end of our thought predicament. The decision itself may not even involve action: a goalkeeper faced with a penalty kick can be equally effective when choosing to stay put, or move in either direction—it is the whole process building up to the decision that comes to determine the result. For Bloch, for the goalkeeper he now watches, as for the striker opposite him, the penalty’s outcome is all but entirely decided upon even just before the ball is touched, before it gets fired toward the goal posts. It is decided upon the prior knowledge of each others’ style and habits, the outcome is down to the twitching of a muscle, the jiggle of a hand, the nervous positioning of a limb revealing intention to move in either direction.

To believe that a decision is made in a moment, to understand history through its articulation through an event, to understand language entirely and exclusively through the uttering of words is a fallacy—an abrupt simplification stripping one and all of the element of process, the state prior to the state of being: the state of verging toward...





1. The utter violence of the unuttered.
What is it that I may find so difficult to articulate from my visits to the Athenian metro? What kind of untold force makes it so hard, at times, to even face up to the realities beneath? Life down there, after all—just like the life above, at the street level—goes on, at least on the face of it. Just like before, the train carriage finds itself acting as the same crucible containing and swirlingly transferring faces old, new, tired or exhilarated, asserted or puzzled. Just like before, the passenger will ever so often attempt to erect for herself a momentary curtain of anonymity in the middle of spaces public; a sideways gaze, an amassing of words barely reaching beyond the empty, the mundane; a self-inflicted passivity. But something is different—and this difference is, I think, as ground-breaking as inconspicuous it may at first appear to be. There is silence in the metro, words that make a presence through their absence. And if this was an absence that existed before, in the context of crisis it takes on an entirely unprecedented form: amidst the barrage of words, statements and discourses that have for so long attempted to grapple with the crisis, the most devastating of conditions have become those that remain unarticulated, unuttered.
    As an adjective, the utter is the absolute, the total, the complete; as a verb, it signifies the act of articulating, of emitting those sounds that will eventually put one’s thoughts into solid words. To utter is to mediate between our thought and our word, through language. Sharing a root [-ut] with out, the verb to utter (to extract one’s thoughts out of her body, her mouth) is therefore paralleled to the absolute: voice (this articulation of meaning through language) is paralleled, if not equated altogether, with meaning itself.

a. Public space and public realm
    In this sense, the silence of the metro carriage (a silence hereby understood, for the sake of argument, as the absence of words—and that alone) would signal a nothingness of meaning—if there is no word uttered, there is nothing to be reflected upon. In other words (better even: in no words): what might a social scientist be doing in spaces where people have stopped talking to one another, what could possibly remain for them to explore in this negative space, the space of the absence of words? This question, the question of communication between us (or, in the recent Athenian case, in the absence thereof) leads us straight into the question of the public, in its purest of forms. Public space is the space of plurality, the space where singularities convergence. For Arendt (1998) this plurality is twofold, on the one hand signaling equality and on the other hand distinction. We all belong to the same species, hence we are similar enough to understand one another. Even so, each of us remains unique, and it is only thanks to the plurality formed by this individual uniqueness that we can enjoy meaningful interaction between us—and it is Word, this uttering of our thoughts through language, that allows us to meaningfully communicate our action to one another. Action, then, entails speech. Yet this entailment in itself presupposes, by definition, a chronological sequence—and our only-too-often encountered confusion lies in that sequence is overridden: action is assumed to equate speech. In its negative, its opposite reading, this is an an assumption that, holding a thought without expressing is an action left incomplete, if even conducted at all. The action of thinking is utter, it reaches a completion only at that miraculous moment when it is articulated, right when and only (at) once it is uttered.

b. The miracle of crisis
    A “miracle” is far from a coincidental parallel drawn to the moment when speech is born, that moment of acting through uttering a thought. Think of Badiou’s Event, that fleeting moment of rupture when “truth” becomes discernible. This miracle-like “process from which something new emerges” (Bensaïd 2004), this conceptualisation of the shift in a predicament permeates, of course, much of the contemporary crisis discourse. The crisis is presented to be miracle-like—appearing out of nowhere, a moment of judgment (the twin Christian parallel is worth holding in mind) wherein the past is wiped out, superseded, annihilated under the force of the crisis-event. Even more important, perhaps, is the assumption that the ‘moment’ of  crisis will become past, as swiftly as it was thrust into the present: this is an understanding of history as a series of—for the largest part—disjointed chronological strips torn apart by miracle-events: inexplicable, unpredictable and unstoppable.

c. The actor and her fearsome stage
    How does life feel like in this history-burdened setting? How does it feel to move around, to act in a space boiling, from afar, from the seething force of the event, the future-to-be that lands into the present? How is one expected not to resist or react, but to merely go about their routine, having internalized as fact that they play a role, a second role in the historical Event unfolding not before, but right under them?
    In Peter Handke’s The Goalkeeper's Fear of the Penalty, Joseph Bloch is an ex-goalkeeper, spending a whole long day, the day when he is fired from his subsequent job (as a construction worker) aimlessly wandering around the streets of his unnamed city. Bloch is not even sure if he was affirmatively laid off; the insinuation lied, he believed, in the distancing of his (former?) peers on the day that he showed up for work. The rest of the day comprises of an ever-increasing distancing of Bloch from his environ. At a split-second in-between his endless perambulations, he chokes a lover. We are told of this almost in passing, but Bloch has, nevertheless of course, killed a person. The killing is no culmination, it is not a special event; it is described with the passivity and the distance that permeates the rest of the book. Nothing more, nothing less. Page after page, the breakdown in communication between Handke’s character (more like: between Bloch and everyone else) is gradual, but assertive. Page after page, his intermittent conversations become even more so, then awkward, then futile. At a point, words are eliminated altogether, replaced by drawings and symbols...
    At the face of it, in terms of their coming together as a visual inlay, as a whole, Handke’s characters continue uninterrupted: they congregate, they interact, they drink, they eat, they have sex [one of them gets murdered], they if awkwardly still talk, they part ways: they faithfully, rigidly, blindly follow the soothingly familiar mundane circles of the everyday. Before they know it, they have extracted themselves from their own environ—present in body, absent in mind: “he was so far away from what happened around him that he himself no longer appeared in what he saw and heard. ‘Like aerial photographs’, he thought [...]”. Soon enough, Handke’s insinuation is clear. For Bloch, the attempt to pretend that life goes on, just like before, is the question of utmost importance—not only is he trying to push away his fall from grace, goalie to construction worker, famous athlete to laid off laborer: in the mundaneness of his bore-some repetitions, in the withdrawal of the articulation of any act, his negation of speech, he seems to hope, he might be able to hide his hideous act itself: “If he kept up his guard, it could go on like this, one thing after another”.
    If he kept up his guard, it could go on like this. Ever-more so, in the absence of any collective thread to catch those individuals falling from grace at our moment of crisis, this pretense, the “keeping up of the guard”, becomes the ultimate—and needless to say, futile—line of defense. In this hammering of the social entity, the social whole, the individual response can be no more than to pretend that it is not something actually happening; or better even, to somehow hope that hiding into this “keeping up of their guard” will at the very least ensure they will not be the ones picked in the crisis-moment, they they will survive it, more or less unscratched...


    Agamben, Giorgio (2006)[1982] Language and Death: The Place of Negativity. Minneapolis and Oxford: University of Minnesota Press

    Arendt, Hannah (1998)[1958] The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

     Bensaïd, Daniel (2004) “Alain Badiou and the Miracle of the Event”, in Hallward, P. (ed, 2004) Think Again, Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy, London/New York: Continuum

    Handke, Peter (2007)[1970] The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux


The crisis-scape research team is delighted to announce its end-of-project conference, to take place in central Athens on May 9-10, 2014.

The conference will be free and open to all, with no registration required. It will span over two days and will be divided in sessions that explore facets of the crisis and the ways in which this plays out both on the Athenian landscape and on a more theoretical, as much as a global context.

Over the next months, we will publish a series of brief interventions from our conference participants on this website. Keep visiting for the interventions and for the full conference schedule.

Confirmed speakers so far include:


The crisis-scape research team is delighted to announce its end-of-project conference, to take place in central Athens on May 9-10, 2014.

The conference will be free and open to all, with no registration required. It will span over two days and will be divided in sessions that explore facets of the crisis and the ways in which this plays out both on the Athenian landscape and on a more theoretical, as much as a global context.

Over the next months, we will publish a series of brief interventions from our conference participants on this website. Keep visiting for the interventions and for the full conference schedule.

Confirmed speakers so far include:


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


In modern Greece we often deal with little or large semiological civil wars or with a semiological poly-phrenia since different institutions employ the same language for very different processes. For example ancient Greek words referring to hospitality may either refer to e.g. touristic industry’s slogans (i.e. philoxenia, xenia hotels etc.) or to refer to the most brutal and xenophobic police operation that Greece has ever seen, named by the commanders ‘Xenios Dias’ after the ancient Greek god of hospitality.

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