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Scenes of emergency: Dis/re-assembling the promise of the UK emergency state

Anderson, B. (2021) 'Scenes of emergency: Dis/re-assembling the promise of the UK emergency state.', Environment and planning C: politics and space., 39 (7). pp. 1356-1374.


The paper traces the development of UK ‘state of emergency’ legislation through three ‘scenes of emergency’: the introduction of the Emergency Powers Act in 1920, a revision to the Act in 1964, and discussion within government departments about possible changes to emergency powers in 1973. Through these scenes, and contra to existing work on the state of emergency as an occasion for the intensification of sovereignty, I show how the introduction of and revision to ‘state of emergency’ legislation were occasions for a double concern – with the excessiveness of the state, as per Foucault’s analysis of liberalism, but also for the excessiveness of events. In ‘scenes of emergency’ a specific ‘state effect’ was dis/re-assembled: the promise of the providential state that protected life through control of events. As emergency legislation was subject to deliberation and contestation, other versions of the state surfaced: beginning with the interested, classed, state and the tyrannical state as emergency powers were introduced and ending with the anxious state that loses faith in the efficacy of emergency powers in a world of changing events. As well as arguing that work on governing emergencies should be orientated to ‘scenes of emergency’ in which that which governs relates to excess, the paper suggests that assemblage approaches to the state should be concerned with dis/re-assembly.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (
Date accepted:07 August 2020
Date deposited:04 September 2020
Date of first online publication:22 September 2020
Date first made open access:21 September 2020

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