470 Stephens Hall
Associate Professor, Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work, CUNY-College of Staten Island
This talk addresses, historically-theoretically and ethnograpically, significant changes in state structure and, particularly, state emergency powers since the advent of the nuclear age. Several key considerations of the contemporary state of exception consider nuclear weapons as a crucial or necessary cause of increased and less limited state discretionary powers, due to their modification of the temporal (drastically reducing warning time) and power (tremendous increase in destructive force) aspects of warfare. These factors act especially on executive powers within constitutional democratic governments. The state of exception has little meaning in despotic or totalitarian regimes since, as Clinton Rossiter notes, “it is unnecessary to suspend rights that do not exist or to to augment powers that are already absolute.” As such the state of exception is a creature of democratic nations, but a peculiar one in that it entails the circumscription, setting aside, or outright supplanting of democratic procedures. No wonder that Georgio Agamben, and a long line of legal and jurisprudential literature before him, consider the tension inherent in this form of government since it is both said to be crucial for the maintenance of democracy in instances of crisis, and thus within the prescribed democratic institutions, and also said to be outside of the written and specified forms of democratic government since it inevitably suspends or disregards protections and limits that, in other times, are the very definition of a democratic regime.
Additional sponsorship comes from: Berkeley Program in Science and Technology Studies Office for the History of Science and Technology