Becoming bare life: Asylum, hospitality, and the politics of encampment

  • Darling J
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This paper examines the politics of contemporary encampment within the UK with reference to the positioning of asylum seekers as a group subjected to a biopolitical logic of 'compassionate repression'. The paper opens by examining the utility of presentations of the asylum seeker as an exemplar of Agamben's figure�of the homo sacer. Drawing on recent critiques of the British government's apparent turn to a 'deliberate policy of destitution', I argue that through such acts of sovereign abandonment asylum seekers are relegated to a position reliant solely upon the ethical sensibilities of others. I then proceed to consider ways in which such a positioning 'outside the law' has been employed by asylum seekers and local campaigners to make ethical claims and demands upon the relational nature of the citizen as a figure�of potential bare life. I then close by arguing that such an ethical gesture alone, of 'assuming bare life', is not enough and that the outright rejection of logics of distinction which Agamben suggests as a future politics offers little means to politically engage bare life beyond an irreconcilable ethic of the unconditionally hospitable. Opposed to this, I suggest the need to (re)engage with political theories which draw the political as always already an ethical practice in itself. Here, I examine the UK's involvement in the UNHCR Gateway Protection Programme, as an example of a conditional, and imperfect, act of hospitality, one grounded in distinction, yet one which holds both the risks of ethical practice and the possibility of political alteration at its heart.

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  • Jonathan Darling

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