Normalizing the Exception: Governmentality, Legal Discourse and Post-9/11 U.S. Security

45 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 4 Aug 2011

See all articles by Tyler Curley

Tyler Curley

University of Southern California

Date Written: 2011


U.S. leaders interpret the attacks on September 11, 2001 as acts of war against western civilization. They find that exceptional security measures are necessary to protect the liberal democratic way of life. In this paper, I develop a theoretical framework that places post-9/11 exceptionalism within a history of governmentality. Governmentality represents a strategy to provide security within a population. This strategy involves people in a war of movement, which determines who belongs in a society and the appropriate actions they can perform. The circulation of knowledge about individuals within and potential threats to society is integral. However, when the normal political, legal and ethical orders prevent leaders from obtaining this information, exceptionalism prevails. U.S. leaders regard the post-9/11 security environment in this light, and they harness legal expertise to redefine the appropriate means for identifying and eradicating dangers. These officials normalize exceptional security practices, by increasing the speed of politics and dissolving barriers to the collection of knowledge. Specifically, they utilize legal discourse to construct an institutional and ethical setting that permits unprecedented intelligence gathering techniques.

Suggested Citation

Curley, Tyler, Normalizing the Exception: Governmentality, Legal Discourse and Post-9/11 U.S. Security (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Tyler Curley (Contact Author)

University of Southern California ( email )

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