Innocence, Evil, and Human Frailty: Potentiality and the Child in the Writings of Giorgio Agamben

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With his concept of ‘potentiality,’ Agamben offers a promising means of approaching questions of power and agency. Yet arguably, by situating potentiality as a reserve created through the sovereign ban, Agamben neglects the inter-subjective context of ordinary everyday agency. This means that while Agamben’s theory is particularly well suited to the analysis of interactions between states and their citizens, and those excluded from citizenship, it provides poor tools for understanding how social disparity develops within communities, understood as networks of individuals of varying capacities and ways of being. By revisiting Aristotle’s discussion of potentiality from which Agamben’s concept is drawn, the essay develops from potentiality ways of thinking about agency. The essay focuses upon a class of individual who are increasingly seen to embody the political community’s potentiality, to the extent that their ability to exercise agency is reduced: that is, the ‘innocent child’—glossed at once as humanity’s future and best hope, and as its most vulnerable and unrealised quotient. While human potentiality is thought only in terms of childhood innocence, not only will these individuals’ agency be stymied, but citizens will also continue to separate themselves from their own unrealised potentials and frailties.
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Faulkner, Joanne
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