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Derrida Contra Agamben: Sovereignty, Biopower, History


  • Amy Swiffen

    () (Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonnueve Blvd. W., Montreal, H3G 1M8, Canada)


This essay is concerned with criticisms of Giorgio Agamben’s biopolitical theory of sovereignty that are developed by Jacques Derrida in his final seminar titled The Beast and the Sovereign (2009). The implicit interlocutor for much of the seminar is theories of biopolitics. However, when these theories are addressed explicitly, it is through the work of Agamben. The article proceeds first with a brief account of the main issues that preoccupy Derrida in the seminar. In general, these relate to conceptualizing sovereignty and its relationship to the division between human and animal. The second section introduces the criticisms of Agamben, which are articulated initially in terms of the latter’s tendency to declare the origin of ideas and concepts. The third section outlines some central aspects of Agamben’s theory that are pertinent for evaluating Derrida’s criticisms. The fourth section turns to the conceptual and textual basis for the criticisms, which involve a way of thinking history and an interpretation of Aristotle. The final section of the paper extrapolates the implications of Derrida’s criticisms for thinking sovereignty and its future.

Suggested Citation

  • Amy Swiffen, 2012. "Derrida Contra Agamben: Sovereignty, Biopower, History," Societies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 2(4), pages 1-12, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jsoctx:v:2:y:2012:i:4:p:345-356:d:21945

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Harvey, David, 2007. "A Brief History of Neoliberalism," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199283279, June.
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    More about this item


    Jacques Derrida; Giorgio Agamben; sovereignty; biopolitics and biopower; law;

    JEL classification:

    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values
    • A14 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Sociology of Economics
    • P - Economic Systems
    • P0 - Economic Systems - - General
    • P1 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems
    • P2 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Systems and Transition Economies
    • P3 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Institutions and Their Transitions
    • P4 - Economic Systems - - Other Economic Systems
    • P5 - Economic Systems - - Comparative Economic Systems
    • Z1 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics


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