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Atmospheric governance : gassing as law for the protection and killing of life.

Nieuwenhuis, Marijn (2018) 'Atmospheric governance : gassing as law for the protection and killing of life.', Environment and planning D : society and space., 36 (1). pp. 78-95.


Breathing is the activity which all forms of animated life share in common. The breath has been symbolised across cultures as the meaning of life itself. If breathing is imagined as life, gassing is the very opposite. Gassing is the intended (or unintended) means to prevent or obstruct breathing. Perhaps it is for this reason that the Nazi concentration camps are remembered as expressions of technological as much as metaphysical terror. The 2013 and 2017 Syrian chemical attacks show how gassing remains a ‘red line.’ This paper deals with the historical significance and complexity of air and breathing in law. Human dependency on the air has in early treaties been protected at times of war between ‘civilised’ nations but was exploited as an instrument against the breather during colonialism. Today, non-lethal-weapons, a more-than-technical term, are used extensively to discipline the biological body into political order. Engaging with the work of Foucault, Sloterdijk and others, I seek to make sense of the legal status of this contradictory political technology, which does not directly attack the body but rather conditions the atmospheric requirements for its animation. I argue for a move towards understanding law atmospherically as an extension of the body.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:Nieuwenhuis, Marijn (2018). Atmospheric governance: Gassing as law for the protection and killing of life. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 36(1): 78-95. Copyright © The Author(s) DOI: 10.1177/0263775817729378
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:02 June 2020
Date of first online publication:31 August 2017
Date first made open access:02 June 2020

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