, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 113-132
Date: 02 Apr 2009

Up Against the Wall: Bare Life and Resistance in Australian Immigration Detention

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This article is based on interviews with former Australian immigration detainees conducted by the author. The interviews explored the experience and understanding of resistance while in detention. The article calls into question Agamben’s twin conclusions that nothing short of a complete re-founding of ontology is required to liberate humanity from biopower and that this refoundation will spring from bare life. Contrary to Agamben’s depiction, the camp proves to be a place of determined and often successful defence of a relation of politics and life based not on the camp and biopower, but on solidarity and freedom. Detainees in Australian immigration detention, like prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps, refused to abandon their politics. Rather than seeking to transform bare life, they rejected it and made their own decision on life and politics.

I am grateful to Fleur Johns, Stewart Motha, Peter Fitzpatrick and Ben Golder for astute comments on drafts and to Ariane Welch, for valuable comments and invaluable editing.