Homo sacer (Latin for the ‘sacred man’ or ‘accursed man’) is a phrase taken from Roman law. It is used to describe someone who is banished, and may be killed by anybody but not used in a religious killing (sacrifice). Described by Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben in his book Homo Sacer; ‘sovereign power and bare life’ as a person who is living a ‘naked life’ and is an outcast of society.
Someone becomes Homo Sacer by breaking a legal agreement or oath; people who illegally cross the borders between countries have often been referred to and treated as Homo Sacer. In Shahram Khosravi’s book Illegal traveller he talks about how someone forced to leave their country to find a better life elsewhere can become ‘homo sacer’, which can lead to a feeling of separation from the rest of society.
This makes the person an outlaw; they have no civil rights and lose their protection from the state. They are often victims of abuse and unfair treatment both through this loss of rights but also from everyday citizens.
- Giorgio Agambens’ ‘Homo Sacer: Sovereign power and bare life, Stanford University Press; 1 edition (April 1, 1998)
- Shahram Khosravi’s ‘illegal traveller’ first published 2010 by Palgrave Macmillan