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Agamben, Giorgio (1942–)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD3594-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2017
Retrieved June 22, 2024, from

Article Summary

Born in Rome in 1942, Giorgio Agamben is one of the most important and influential figures in contemporary continental philosophy. Profoundly influenced by both Martin Heidegger and Walter Benjamin, he has been publishing books since L’uomo senza contenuto (The Man Without Content) was released in 1970. Through the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s he treated a wide range of topics, including aesthetics, literature, language, ontology, nihilism, and radical political thought.

He rose to international prominence after the publication of Homo Sacer in 1995. Translated into English in 1998, the book’s analyses of law, life, and state power appeared uncannily prescient after the attacks on New York City and Washington, DC in September 2001, and the resultant shifts in the geopolitical landscape. Provoking a wave of scholarly interest in the philosopher’s work, the book also marked the beginning of a 20-year research project, which represents Agamben’s most important contribution to political philosophy.

Consisting of nine books, the Homo Sacer series begins by highlighting an aspect of Ancient Greek Agamben claims is crucial for understanding the trajectory of Western politics: the difference between zoē and bios, or natural and political life. Agamben argues this distinction was crucial for setting up the polis as a properly political space, because it excluded natural life from its sphere of concerns, confining it to the sphere of the oikos, or home. In a characteristic move, however, he claims that this act of exclusion, because it founds the polis, also implicates natural life in it.

Employing an original philosophical method drawn out of the work of Heidegger, Benjamin, and Michel Foucault, the series tracks the historical genesis and contemporary consequences of this failed attempt at exclusion, developing provocative accounts of politics and privacy, civil war and terrorism, the state of exception, economy, sovereignty, and work. Though he draws a grim picture of the violent and dominating tendencies inherent in the Western tradition, Agamben also works to find within its tensions and paradoxes the resources for living and thinking differently.

Citing this article:
Abbott, Mathew. Agamben, Giorgio (1942–), 2017, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD3594-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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