In this article I explore two postconflict societies – Northern Ireland and Lebanon – in regards to their different approaches to dealing with victims and victimhood. While in Northern Ireland the state and other agencies have constructed a victims’ sector, Lebanon’s political elites have advanced political amnesia to silence victims’ rights. To help conceptualize these divergent policies, I utilize two contrasting representations of the biopolitical, namely those formulated by Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben. Foucault’s original statement presents biopolitics as governance directed towards the production of collective life and well-being. Rather than promoting life, Agamben’s subsequent vision of the biopolitical sees modern sovereignty as established through its power over life. Foucault’s biopolitics, I argue, provides a framework to understand how the victims’ sector and victims’ subjectivity was constructed as part of the Northern Irish peace process. Agamben’s version of the biopolitical allows scope to examine how victims and their families in Lebanon are rendered as ‘bare life’ and positioned within the state of exception. Despite the lack of unpredictable agency accorded by both Foucault and Agamben to biopolitical processes, I explore the complex forms of contestation – including ‘destituent resistance’ – generated by victims’ social movements.
- Northern Ireland