This article examines the debated relationship between liberal- democratic politics and states of exception in conditions of emergency. After Walter Benjamin and Giorgio Agamben, it is often maintained that today we live in a situation of perennial exceptionalism, where emergency measures have become a regular practice even by governments we name ‘democratic’. In these circumstances, exception is deemed to threaten democracy and hinder individual and collective political agency. Yet, such interpretation remains rigidly focused on the expanded governmental powers ushered by the exception. The article first unpacks how the relationship between exception and democracy has been differently addressed by juridical and biopolitical approaches. Then, it attempts an alternative heuristic: it discusses possibilities of democratic associative practices in emergency by looking at the notion of resistance that Michel Foucault links with power. This route remains unexplored in the literature on the concept of the exception.
Inquiring the Relationship between Exception and Democracy
On prison securitization and its zones of legal silence
When a state of emergency in Ecuador's prison system was declared in 2007, municipal leaders in Guayaquil built the country's first “supermax” prison, La Roca, for the administrative segregation of inmates considered a security threat. I suggest that administrative curtailment of access to these so-called “worst of the worst” prisoners merits legal comparisons with the juridical status of detainees in US “black site” facilities, the inter-American drug wars now paralleling the global war on terror insofar as prisoners' rights are concerned. Contrasting my brief visit to La Roca with political-economic and media analysis, my article draws two conclusions: (1) that limited physical access to prisoners, stimulated by administrative “zones of legal silence”, demands an ethnographic focus on daily conditions of prison life using inconsistencies in administrative rhetoric; and (2) that measures to securitize the prison system have augmented prison directors' powers to coerce inmates and to confound understandings of their living conditions.