Nicola Perugini – The Apparatus of Distinction and the Ethics of Violence: On the Construction of Liminal Subjects and Spaces

PTRG seminar series: 14 Dec 2016

Photo: Moyan Brenn

The last Political Theory Research Group seminar of 2016 brings Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon’s interesting paper The Apparatus of Distinction and the Ethics of Violence into discussion. At the very beginning of the paper, the authors quote that “Enemy Leaders look like everyone else. Enemy combatants look like everyone else” and it is this new reality of modern wars that challenges the notion that we are able to make distinctions between combatant and non-combatant, and military and civilian sites. In this paper, they argue that, due to the introduction of the new technology, a status of liminal subjects and spaces is created to legitimize the violence in war.

The discussion of the paper is critical and inspiring. One of the heatedly debated issue points to authors’ legal realist position. The authors argue that the reclassification of civilian as legitimate target of wars is not the exception to the international law, but appearance of new technology and epistemic operations have the liminality which renders civilians in some situations targeted as combatants. The critic, however, holds that no matter what changes brought by the introduction of new technology in war, civilians remain their legal status and will not become enemy in international law. The other issue discussant raised is about the coherence of the paper, because some commentators show a concern that some quotations in the paper have complete different assumptions and the authors should specify the relationship among them. The author’s general reply to these comments is that the new situation of war has brought many changes and we need a new approach to understand the notion of international law, human shield and war.

Written by Chiming Zhong