Wednesday, June 3, 2009

“Mr Adams, whereabouts are we?”

Following Agamben's signposts in cycling's state of exception.

Abstract for talk at Doping and Legal Rights Conference, 20 – 21 August 2009, Department of Sport Science, Aarhus University, Denmark.

This paper seeks to take as its starting point Moller's view that the contemporary religious engagement in anti doping campaigns signals a farewell to the ideas of modernity, that is, it is a symptom of the crisis of modernity.

The paper will not seek to dispute this assessment of anti doping policy. What it seeks to do is to build upon Moller's work by taking his argument and examining it within the context of contemporary legal philosophy.

If we consider anti doping policy to operate in a situation where the old boundaries of the national state have been compromised and where there is a general movement to a supranational form of sovereignty, what is at play here is a symptom of the coming of what Hardt and Negri have described as Empire. It will be contended that in such a context the administration of anti doping law and policy appears to play a much more profound role as part of the contemporary system of governmentality, discipline and control. Following the work of Foucault and Agamben, amongst others, it will be argued that at its core what is at stake is a question of biopower and of the permanent state of exception.

By reference to Operacion Puerto, the events surrounding it and the reactions to it, we are able to discern that, what is at stake, is in fact the end of law in its modernist sense and the coming of a profound movement in respect of how we do law in a global system. Puerto reveals a space of 'critical opalescence', where media, law, politics all converge into 'a zone of indistinction'. It is about functionality and utility within a global system and not about rights and the rule of law.

With this movement, those who have taken it as their task to undertake the administration of doping decide at once a rule and a criterion – what becomes 'natural' is a rule that decides the fact and decides upon its own application without reference to any norm other that of preserving the integrity of the state's and capital's investment in the spectacle. As the coming of the Biological Passport tells us, the law of doping is neither now definable as a rule, nor as a breach, but upon what is said to be 'natural' or 'normal' values - in the world of cycling the formation and the execution of the rule are indistinguishable moments. That is the 'fight' against doping in cycling is nothing but an example of what Agamben describes as the permanent state of exception in which we live. It is not until we come to grips with this situation that we will be able to commence to formulate a meaningful and sustainable anti doping policy.


Agamben, G 1998, Homo Sacer, Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Stanford University Press, Stanford.
Agamben, G 2005, State of Exception, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.
Agamben, G 2002, Remnants of Auschwitz, The Witness and the Archive, Zone Books, New York.
Deleuze, G 1988, Foucault, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.
Foucault, M 2008, The Birth of Biopolitics, Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire.
Moeller, V 2004, The Anti-Doping Campaign – Farewell to the Ideals of Modernity?, in Hoberman, J & Moeller, V, Doping and Public Policy, University Press of Southern Denmark.
Hardt, M & Negri, A 2001, Empire, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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