Bare Life, Bare Architecture: Deconstructing the Violence of Architecture in Al-Khalil, Palestine

by Yuka Sugino

Faculty Intro:

“Yuka’s essay was written for a course entitled “States of Exception,” co-taught by myself and Professor Yousuf Al-Bulushi (Peace Studies). In her marvelous essay, Yuka takes the concept of “bare life,” drawn from the work of contemporary Italian philosopher, Giorgio Agamben, and extends its usage into the domain of architecture. For Agamben, bare life constitutes the state of existence of those who have been excluded from a political community—stripped of their legal rights and the protections they offer. Those caught in such conditions, despite being placed outside of the law, nevertheless retain an extra-legal relationship with the law by having been excluded from it. This is the quasi-legal status that bare life names, and which Yuka discovers operating within the architecture—or as she refers to, “architectural strategies”—of the West Bank city of Hebron.” – Steven DeCaroli

From the Author:

“The political philosopher Giorgio Agamben theorizes on the role, structure, and establishment of the state, and the way in which state power controls and dominates in the current era. He builds on Michel Foucault’s biopower and Hannah Arendt’s conceptions of the refugee to develop ideas surrounding homo sacer (the sacred figure in Roman law) into the ways in which the modern state can render bare life through the deprivation of rights in a process of a state of exception.

Weaving these complex ideas together with the rise of the Israeli state, the role of architecture, and the lived experiences of Palestinians in the city of Khalil (or Hebron) in the West Bank, this paper argues for the importance of acknowledging a kind of bare architecture that ultimately works as an apparatus for state violence. I pull from the philosopher Achille Mbembe, architect Eyal Weizman, visual culture theorist Ariella Azoulay, and other scholars to emphasize the role of designed spaces and architectural strategies in creating conditions of bare life.

This paper connects a rich range of topics that I have become passionate about throughout my four years at Goucher: the role of architecture and design in imprinting memory, behavior, and identity; the state’s creation and use of space; and Palestinian liberation from Israeli apartheid. I am thankful to have had the guidance of Professors Steve DeCaroli and Yousuf Al-Bulushi, who co-taught the course and allowed us to deeply pursue topics of interest to us. Further, there would be nothing without my indebtedness to Professors Zahi Khamis and Flo Martin, as well as my loved ones in Al-Khalil, who opened my eyes to the injustice and the struggle in the Holy Land.”

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