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bare life


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Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben's concept for life that has been exposed to what he terms the structure of exception that constitutes contemporary biopower. The term originates in Agamben's observation that the Ancient Greeks had two different words for what in contemporary European languages is simply referred to as ‘life’: bios (the form or manner in which life is lived) and zoē (the biological fact of life). His argument is that the loss of this distinction obscures the fact that in a political context, the word ‘life’ refers more or less exclusively to the biological dimension or zoē and implies no guarantees about the quality of the life lived. Bare life refers then to a conception of life in which the sheer biological fact of life is given priority over the way a life is lived, by which Agamben means its possibilities and potentialities. Suggestions made in 2008 by Scotland Yard and the Institute for Public Policy Research in Britain that children as young as five should be DNA typed and their details placed in a database if they exhibit behavioural signs indicating future criminal activity is a perfect example of what Agamben means by bare life. It reduces the prospects of the life of a particular child to their biology and takes no interest in or account of the actual circumstances of their life. See also homo sacer.

Further Reading:

G. Agamben Means without End (2000).

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.


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