Authors Name: 
Eoin O'Leary
Trinity College Dublin
Social Sciences
Award winner

Political action from spaces of bare life: Situating the figure of the refugee/asylum seeker in power analysis


The dramatic protest of six asylum seekers, stranded in Greece, who sewed shut their lips in November 2015 must challenge us to attempt to understand such actions, what they say about the place of the refugee/asylum seeker in contemporary politics and how the particular marginalisation, disempowerment and rightlessness of refugees/asylum seekers might be combatted. The writings of Hannah Arendt and Giorgio Agamben provide significant insights into this particular situation of the refugee/asylum seeker: deprived both of formal rights and of fundamental human qualities, reduced to ‘bare life’ and ‘abandoned’ outside but still under the law. An Agambenian reading of lip-sewing might suggest it as resistance in the embracing of bare-life; however Arendt offers a reading of such actions as an attempt to leave bare life behind and (re)enter the sphere of ‘meaningful action’. This Arendtian perspective provides a deeper insight into the particular disempowerment and rightlessness of the refugee/asylum seeker. It also opens up channels for assisting the refugee/asylum seeker in the search for recognition as a significant, individual political being and, in this, Anglo-Saxon theories of power and empowerment, traditionally quiet on the subject of the refugee/asylum seeker, can be highly informative.