Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Theory and Criticism


Dr. Christopher Keep


Outlawry is a legal penalty that banishes wrongdoers from the community; it refers to a refusal to obey the law and a withdrawal of legal rights. Although outlawry is obsolete in western criminal law, Giorgio Agamben links it to modern biopolitics. As outlawry is appropriated to preserve the law, and as the law takes life as its object, the subject of politics disappears. Yet biopolitics also occurs alongside a threat to sovereignty posed by outlawry, and a shift away from the subject as a site of emancipatory politics, toward a politics of difference. Taking a post-structural approach, this project examines outlawry as a deconstructive concept. Outlawry exposes the law’s inability to be at one with itself, its undecidability, and its dependence on fiction and force to come into being and to maintain itself. Staging outlawry in the terms of Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin, and Jacques Derrida, the first chapter develops outlawry as deconstructive concept with an undecidable relationship to justice. Chapter two looks to Judith Butler’s performative subject and Louis Althusser’s theory of subject interpellation to re-think the relations between subject and law in light of outlawry. Chapter three examines the overlap between sovereignty, outlawry and the beast (la bête) discussed by Agamben and Derrida, and considers political concepts that might deter the conserving power of outlawry in favor of its deconstructive force. Finally, I turn to Levinasian ethics and Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of becoming-minoritarian to sketch a politics of outlawry that revises the law according to an ethical responsibility to the Other, the political agency of those who are excluded from the law, and their demand that structures of power be altered. Outlawry need not result in sheer abjection; for both the subject, and the anarchic demos, it can be a source of political vitality and social transformation. Yet as the atrocities of modernity bear witness, from the Shoah to Guantanamo Bay, outlawry can lead to ‘the worst.’ Outlawry marks the fault line between justice and injustice; if we are to achieve an ethical future, we must remain politically vigilant, self-critical and open to alterity.