By Valerie and J. Wells
About the authors:
Joseph-Achille Mbembe was born in Cameroon in 1957. He got a Ph.D. in History at the University of Sorbonne in Paris and a D.E.A. in Political Science at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques. He is currently at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Etymology to consider:
Questions from authors’ background & etymology:
Though both authors were educated in Europe, Agamben was born in Italy 3 years before WWII ended, and Mbembe was born in present-day Cameroon 3 years before it became independent from France and Britain. How do you think the context of their childhood environments and later schooling influence their perspectives?
Etymology shows that “sovereign power” literally means “to be able to be above.” How does this influence your understanding of those words and that phrase? What does it mean to be above another person? Is hierarchy necessary for organizing groups of people?
Etymology shows that law refers to something fixed, and truth refers to something constant. What does this say about the relationship between law and truth? And if justice is the administration of law, what does this say about justice?
Questions from the reading:
What are some differences & similarities in how Mbembe and Agamben use or refer to Foucault's biopower?
What is the role of citizenship in the relationship between the State and violence? How is state violence justified?
How do the authors view homo sacer, and what do you consider to be the sacred human life?