Events of the Body Politic: A Nancian Reading of Asylum-seekers’ Bodily Choreographies and Resistance

Body and Society 17 (4):83-104 (2011)
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This article thinks the place of the body, agency and movement in politics through the body of the asylum-seeker. Asylum-seekers do not have ample space to politically voice their experiences, but their bodies and ways of taking agency are fluid. The Agambenian idea of exceptional space and bare life privileges the power of the sovereign, leaving little space for agency for its subjects. It leads to an impasse, as it offers no viable option of thinking the possibilities of opposing sovereign rule. We have resorted to Jean-Luc Nancy’s philosophy in order to read to the contrary: to sketch the potential of the body to move beyond the reach of sovereign power and to communicate itself and its relations to others. The untenability of the sovereign subject pointed to by Nancy’s ontology of bodies allows seeing the asylum-seeker’s body as expressive and moving body that reorganizes its relations to others and turns it to an active agent from which events of the body politic emerge. With its focus on crisscrossing movement of the body and between bodies, the notion of choreography assists us in envisioning that the space for political agency and community do not pre-exist, but are articulated through bodies’ movements. We argue that either purely textual analysis or focus on administrative rationality is bound to leave possible expressions of political agency aside, and thus to ignore the challenge the bodily choreographies of asylum-seekers pose to political theory. We illustrate our argument with vignettes from Fernand Melgar’s 2008 documentary film The Fortress.



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