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Estela Schindel: "Airports, detention Centres, shopping malls: Architectures of exception for the society of control"

This paper addresses the way in which the state of exception is integrated into contemporary cities focusing on those spaces in which liminal, extraterritorial conditions are being increasingly integrated to the city architecture -and thus become less the exception than the norm.

The work is based on the definition of state of exception developed by Giorgio Agamben and its related figures of the homo sacer (the one excluded from the rule of Law) and the zone it inhabits: the liminal or dislocated spaces. Agamben considers both the state of exception and the homo sacer not as concrete, historical manifestations but as juridical-political configurations which can emerge at any time. So as any State, following his conceptualization, defines the line which separates the citizen of rights from the homo sacer, or the bare life, I will suggest that also the cities can be read as perpetually re-defining places of inclusion and exclusion.

For Agamben, the homo sacer has been banished from the “polis” and inhabits a space between the city and the countryside, a threshold of indistinction between law and nature, exclusion and inclusion. However, the “spaces of exception”, or beyond the law, do not any more affect only liminal or borderland areas in geographical sense but can be found amidst our cities. This is the case of detention facilities for terror suspects or asylum seekers, but also of airports –which increasingly perform not only as frontiers but also as detention centres with an often unclear status. 

Considering the Agambenian definition of the “state of exception” as one ruled by the powers of fact, also the proliferation of spaces controlled by private security companies –and not the State- give place to novel configurations of extraterritorialities and exceptionalities (as in the case of some gated communities or even shopping malls, whose rules of access and exclusion are dictated by themselves, as in an “extraterritorial” State).

Furthermore, since Gilles Deleuze posed that the disciplinarian societies characterized by Foucault are giving place to control societies, we know that the power no longer needs to “fix” people to places but is increasingly exerted through dynamic, perpetually moving devices. That means that the architectures of “exception” must also reflect this change of paradigm: the control tends less to confining the excluded person outside the city-borders, but rather to monitoring its derive through the inner city.

While extraterritoriality has a long term precedent in the diplomatic rights (every embassy is an “exception” of the Law) and its more perverse manifestation in the illegal detention facilities (not only Guantanamo but also clandestine detention centres in the middle of the cities as in my hometown Buenos Aires during the military dictatorship); “exceptionality” will be considered here by analysing the above mentioned, “normalized” contemporary architectures.

About the Author

Graduated in Communications at the University of Buenos Aires; there, assistant teacher in Modernity and the History of the Ideas, Philosophy of Technology, and Art History and its relation to the Media. In Berlin since 1999, has got a PhD in Sociology from the Freie Universität Berlin as a DAAD Scholarship-holder in 2004. Since then, free lance teaching and research work, mostly at the Lateinamerika-Institut of the FU Berlin.

Seminars dictated addressed issues such as Collective Memory and Urban Space, Modernity and the City in Latin America, Gender, Representation and Space, and Figures of Radical Exclusion (Clandestine Immigrants, Displaced Persons and the Disappeared).

Conceived and coordinated the Symposium “Urbane Erinnerungskulturen: Berlin und Buenos Aires” which took place at the European Academy Berlin in 2005 (A book based on this conference will soon be published by Metropol Verlag) and was a founding member of the artists’ collective Migrantas (www.migrantas.org) which deals with immigration and visibility in the public space. Currently, works also for the Spanish redaction of Deutsche Welle-TV and as an independent consultant for the German agency of international cooperation InWEnt.

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