“Bare life” derives from Giorgio Agamben’s concept of homo sacer (1998): a permanent, yet invisible space of maximal political power. Here persons legally reduced to the status of mere life can be subjected to any manner of violence with impunity. Agamben suggests that we have all become “bare life,” because state powers sublimate conceptions of the natural life (zoe) within the human body politic (bios).
Agamben’s critique can be applied to conditions of life such as those suffered by the First Nations in Canada, political prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and the current refugee crisis. Achille Mbembe, expanding Agamben’s line of thought, argues in Necropolitics (2003) that we now face “the interest of maximum destruction of persons and the creation of death-worlds, new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead.” We ask, do these anti-human death worlds not also include our vast impacts on biodiversity and species extinction?
Affirmatively, vitalist writers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1987) privilege the creative potential in singularities: nomadic becomings that push beyond the all-too-human. Similarly, Rosi Braidotti (2011) speaks of “becoming-other-than-human.” She urges us to a “life beyond death” and to the formation of new post-human subjectivities, ethics and politics. Drawing from these writers, we ask: is it time to get beyond the singular importance of human life? If so, in what ways, and for what purpose? What is bare life? How can it be used?”
Agamben, Giorgio, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 1998.
Braidotti, Rosi. Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory (Second Edition). New York City, USA: Columbia University Press. 2011.
Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. Minneapolis, USA: University of Minnesota Press. 1987.
Mbembé, J. & Meintjes, L. "Necropolitics." Public Culture, vol. 15 no. 1, 2003, pp. 11-40. Project MUSE, muse.jhu.edu/article/39984.