[URBANTH-L] AAA 2008 CFP: Impunity, Complicity, and the Exception: Rethinking Arenas of Sovereignty Beyond the State

Haley Duschinski hduschinski at gmail.com
Fri Mar 21 13:28:33 EDT 2008

American Anthropological Association (AAA), 19-23 November, 2008

Impunity, Complicity, and the Exception: Rethinking Arenas of Sovereignty
Beyond the State

Co-Organizers: Haley Duschinski (Ohio University) and Ken MacLean (Clark

Session for Submission: Association for Political and Legal Anthropology

Please note: we are particularly looking for submissions at this point that
focus on Latin America.


Sovereignty, Agamben reminds us, resides in the exception - a
double-movement that exempts the sovereign from the field of rule and then
defines the parameters of "bare life," i.e. those who can be killed but not
sacrificed. It is this "state of exception," he argues, which defines what
forms of human life the sovereign will protect and those it will not. In
recent years, a significant body of scholarship has emerged around this
provocative re-definition of sovereignty, which intersects and productively
extends prior work by Schmitt, Arendt, and Foucault, among others. This
critical engagement with the question of how sovereign power is
operationalized has refocused attention on the continued relevance of the
nation-state and its boundary-making practices in the globalizing present.
However, many questions remain as to the applicability of Agamben's insights
in other cultural contexts given the constitutive role Western political
philosophy, jurisprudence, and historical experience plays within his
arguments regarding sovereignty. This panel explores these concerns by
turning an anthropological eye towards the making and unmaking of
impunityspecific local contexts in Central America, Africa, South
Asia, and
Southeast Asia.

Impunity, in human rights discourse, refers to a condition in which those
responsible for ordering or carrying out acts of violence are immune to or
exempt from punishment. The guilty parties are, quite literally, placed
outside the law because the state is either unwilling or unable to prosecute
them for their actions. To better understand this from an anthropological
perspective, we approach impunity as a set of cultural practices that
categorizes certain populations as being excluded from the domain of
citizenship and thus, to varying degrees, expendable. At the same time these
practices also define their mirrored other: the formal and informal security
forces that enact state-sponsored forms of violence and, in doing so,
demarcate the boundaries of "bare life."  Together, these practices help
produce culturally specific regimes of impunity that raise challenging
questions concerning how zones of exception—the space between nature (zoe)
and culture (bios)—are constituted, maintained, and challenged in other
settings of sovereign power.

The papers on this panel address a series of questions that seek to
elucidate and expand Agamben's work on sovereignty by examining what happens
when the foundational categories and their concomitant cultural practices
are "provincialized" and "internationalized" in contemporary arenas of
sovereignty.  In what ways do existing international human rights,
humanitarian, and refugee frameworks structurally produce or reproduce
regimes of impunity at both the sub-national and transnational scales? Do
these "zones of exception," which may or may not be spatially contiguous
with existing political boundaries, differ from those described by Agamben?
What changes when the primary focus of our attention broadens or shifts to
include corporations, international financial institutions, private security
firms, and/or third-party states that are complicit in human rights abuses?
In what ways do contemporary efforts to assert regulatory authority over
entities that produce their own "state effects" challenge us to rethink what
sovereignty is becoming?

Please send abstracts (250 words) for 15-minute presentations to Ken MacLean
(KMacLean at clarku.edu) or Haley Duschinski (duschins at ohio.edu) as soon as
possible, by Monday March 24 at the latest.

Haley Duschinski
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Ohio University

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