Agamben, Giorgio (1942–)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD3594-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2017
Retrieved April 23, 2019, from

2. The Homo Sacer series

The Homo Sacer project consists of nine books, organized into four volumes:

  • 1 Homo Sacer. Il potere sovrano e la nuda vita (1995); translated as Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1998)

  • 2.1 Stato di eccezione (2003); translated as State of Exception (2005)

  • 2.2 Stasis: la guerra civile come paradigma politico (2015); translated as Stasis: Civil War as a Political Paradigm (2015)

  • 2.3 Il sacramento del linguaggio. Archeologia del giuramento (2008); translated as The Sacrament of Language: An Archaeology of the Oath (2011)

  • 2.4 Il Regno e la Gloria: Per una genealogia teologica dell’economia e del governo (2007); translated as The Kingdom and the Glory: For a Theological Genealogy of Kingdom and Glory (2011)

  • 2.5 Opus Dei. Archeologia dell’ufficio (2012); translated as Opus Dei: An Archaeology of the Office (2013)

  • 3 Quel che resta di Auschwitz. L’archivio e il testimone (1998); translated as Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive (1999)

  • 4.1 Altissima povertà. Regole monastiche e forma di vita (2011); translated as The Highest Poverty: Monastic Rules and Form-of-Life (2013)

  • 4.2 L’uso dei corpi (2014); translated as The Use of Bodies (2016)

A number of problems emerge recurrently across the Homo Sacer series: the relationship between law and life; the connection between the human capacity for language and its status as a political animal; the nature of potentiality; sovereignty and political theology; economy, government, and biopolitics; the alienating and expropriating effects of capitalism; work and use; happiness; messianic time; exceptionality and exemplarity. Agamben also returns across the series to a number of key thinkers, including Heidegger, Benjamin, Guy Debord, Michel Foucault, Hannah Arendt, Karl Marx, Carl Schmitt, Thomas Hobbes, Franz Kafka, and Aristotle. Yet the series does not forward a fully systematic or indeed entirely unitary account of these problems, nor of the contributions of these thinkers in responding to them: rather, ideas and arguments are taken up and developed in various ways across the series, with outcomes that sometimes consolidate, and sometimes complicate the findings presented in other texts.

One constant is methodological: throughout the texts, we find Agamben zeroing in on particular historical paradigms – such as monasticism, the homo sacer of Roman law, the oath, the concentration camp, the state of exception, civil war, and economy – in an attempt at illuminating the broader logics in which they participate. Indeed, this methodological consistency is a way of explaining the shifts and complications that mark his conceptual accounts. As he zeroes in on examples, Agamben does not simply gather evidence to confirm a general theory, but continually makes discoveries that add layers of complexity to previous arguments.

This procedure – and the characteristically fragmentary yet wide-ranging style that emerges out of it – can be explained in part by his mediation of rather disparate philosophical commitments. On the one hand, Agamben’s work continues Heidegger’s broad critique of the history of being as nihilism, figured in terms of repeated failures in Western thought at coming to grips with what he calls ‘inoperativity’: that human beings have no historical destiny, essential purpose, or divine tasks to carry out. On the other hand, Agamben has inherited from Benjamin and Foucault a commitment to attending to specificity. Like Heidegger, he is interested in thinking beyond the confines of the Western metaphysical tradition; unlike Heidegger, he finds resources for thinking differently in detailed analyses of historical particulars. The examples Agamben isolates from history, politics, theology, and the history of philosophy are not just fodder for his critique of Western metaphysics: he attends to them in their singularity and complexity as part of an attempt at thinking beyond its totalizing tendencies.

Citing this article:
Abbott, Mathew. The Homo Sacer series. Agamben, Giorgio (1942–), 2017, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD3594-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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