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Isle of exception: sovereign power and Palm Island

Deirdre Tedmanson (University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia)

Critical Perspectives on International Business

ISSN: 1742-2043

Article publication date: 2 May 2008




This paper aims to trace the genealogy of state violence on Palm Island to argue forms of “colonial” control over Indigenous governance and organisational life persist in Australia. Using Agamben's theories of homo sacer, sovereign power and state of exception, the paper seeks to reveal the biopolitical nature of two centuries of abuses against Indigenous Australians. Arguably, past and recent tragedies on Palm Island show how juridico‐political regimes continue to subvert the citizenship and human rights of many Indigenous Australians – their sovereignty, governance structures and organisations. The purpose of the paper is to develop a greater focus in postcolonial writing on current political issues, by combining critical theory with grounded narratives of lived experiences and contemporary events.


Insights from political theorist Agamben are used to critically analyse the management of violence on Palm Island. The paper draws on documents from the public record, such as historical accounts, legislation, parliamentary Hansard and records of government inquiries, as well as first hand media commentaries of recent events. These textual data form the empirical and evidentiary base from which broader theoretical conceptualisations of this case are discussed.


The paper finds the lingering effects of past exclusion/s are inscribed in the discursive environment and continue to animate the power relations that effect the life and death experiences of Indigenous Australians today. It finds utility and relevance in applying Agamben's theories of the camp, state of exception and homo sacer, to extend postcolonial understandings of contemporary Indigenous contexts. The legitimacy and derivative power of organizations is compromised during times of “exception” and this raises important theoretical issues worthy of further exploration from both a critical management studies and postcolonial perspective.


This paper applies Agamben's theories in an original way to the postcolonial context. It extends theoretical understandings of racial oppressions and organisational consequences.



Tedmanson, D. (2008), "Isle of exception: sovereign power and Palm Island", Critical Perspectives on International Business, Vol. 4 No. 2/3, pp. 142-165.



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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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