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Homo Sacer, the Myth of Human Rights, and the Status of the Stateless: A Postcolonial Feminist Analysis

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Italian political theorist Giorgio Agamben has, in recent years, revived the concept of “bare life” in modern political philosophy, as embodied by "homo sacer" in the context of the contemporary nation-state. Drawing heavily from Michel Foucault, Agamben’s homo sacer is the figure who is both outside of the law’s protection and simultaneously implicated in state violence, a sort of exceptional limit figure postulated as a universalizing figure of marginalization and political exclusion. As this paper explores, Agamben’s theorization of homo sacer ignores those figures who are outside of and excluded from the notion of political personhood he advances, particularly women and non-Europeans. Accordingly, this paper analyzes precisely the ways in which Agamben’s homo sacer fails to serve as the universalizing figure that she is intended to exemplify, and instead neglects the very figure who most embodies the notion of homo sacer today: the female refugee.


Sabeen Ahmed    
Vanderbilt University
United States


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