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Capitalizing on Bare Life: Sovereignty, Exception, and Gender Politics



Abstract:  This article examines the capital value of bare life as part of aid/development in (post)Taliban Afghanistan. I argue that the political production and spatial fixity of homo sacer “as the object of aid and protection” within specific geographic locations subsequently territorializes gendered bodies as a site for capital accumulation and exchange value through aid/development allocation. This occurs through a continual discursive reduction of “full or proper” human life to the remnants of bare life. This subjective reduction subsequently elicits capitalist-modernity as a prime method for rescuing bare life and transferring it to an image (and imaginary) of western political and economic life. Gendered multiplicities of bare life emerge from variant forms of political and economic opportunity among aid/development workers and Afghan recipients. I argue that the discursive framing of bare life is situated as a site for (re)constructing rights through “western” frameworks infused with geopolitical and economic exchange value.