At the closure of his essay, We Refugees, a title for which Giorgio Agamben states his indebtedness to Hannah Arendt, Agamben enacts a disturbing displacement of identity such that the citizen is challenged to “acknowledge the refugee that he himself is”. Likewise, in his essay, The Camp as the Nomos of the Modern, Agamben enacts an analogous and equally disturbing displacement, this time explicitly spatial, whereby the camp comes to be “securely lodged within the city’s interior”. It is the ancient Greek term nomos that operates as the pivot around which both of these displacements occur. Not only does nomos designate the laws that regulate that life lived by the legitimate citizen, but in a very concrete sense nomos refers to the appropriation of land, that is, property ownership. While examining the etymology of nomos Hannah Arendt draws attention to a fragment of text by Heraclitus that reads “the people should fight for the law as for a wall”. Through the term nomos, law, property ownership, and the figure of the wall become conjoined toward the regulation of life through the strictures of biopolitics. It is a wall of a particular kind that I wish to address with this paper, the barbed and surveilled wall that surrounds the contemporary refugee camp. The contested biopolitical terrain of the camp in the Australian context is arranged according to three conditions. First, the camps associated with the infamous ‘Pacific Solution’, the offshore ‘desert island’ camps of Nauru, Christmas Island, Manus Island and other excised islands. Second, the isolated, out-back desert camps, formerly Woomera and now Baxter, and also Port Headland, and finally, the camp that we find hidden in our suburbs, Villawood (Sydney) and Maribyrnong (Melbourne). Historically, both of these suburban camps have been impermanent home to newly arrived migrants whose freedom to move in and out of the community was less restricted. It is this third camp as spatial and political problem that I wish to treat here in order to map how, by architectural increments, through the increasingly formidable wall that segregates the camp, asylum seekers are stripped of all political representation and reduced to bare life.
Giorgio Agamben, “We Refugees,” in Symposium, (Summer 1995 v49 n2 pp. 114 – 120. Also published as “Beyond Human Rights”, in Means Without End, trans. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000). See also Hannah Arendt, “We Refugees” in The Menorah Journal, vol. 3 (1943).
Agamben, “The Camp as the Nomos of the Modern”, in Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, p. 176.
Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, p. 63 n62.
Fremantle, Western Australia: Curtin University , 2006.
refugee, Giorgio Agamben, biopolitical, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Hannah Arendt
Society of Architectural Historians. Australia, New Zealand. 29 September - 2 October 2006