The camp and the question of community

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7 Citations (Scopus)


Recent literature in camp geographies has sought to emphasize the significance of political agency among camp residents, particularly in refugee camps, as part of a critical reaction against the highly influential Agambenian conceptual vocabulary of exception and bare life. The concept of community has been integral to this body of work, with diverse accounts of the camp implicitly or explicitly positioning community as the natural scale through which camp resident and inmate agency is formulated, and yet there has hitherto been little research reflecting directly on the meaning that community takes on in the specific context of the camp. In this article we adopt Roberto Esposito's critique of the concept of community to problematize the assumption that camp communities necessarily constitute a space of empowerment and agency for camp residents and inmates. Drawing on Esposito's genealogical account of communitas (2010), whereby community is encountered not in terms of a property shared among individuals but instead as the loss of individuality and other forms of ‘the proper’, we suggest that the implementation of community, while generative of agency, is also fundamental to camp authorities and related regimes of power. Furthermore, we argue that the operation of camp communities includes its own forms of politics that are specific to the exceptional space of the camp and that potentially expose individuals to violence. We develop this argument through an experimental reading of communitas in relation to the two empirical contexts that have been most influential on the trajectory of camp studies within geographical debates, the concentration camp and the refugee camp, represented in this paper by Auschwitz and the contemporary archipelago of Serbian refugee camps respectively. The ambivalent account of power relationships emerging from these readings suggests that Esposito's rendering of community may have important analytic value in investigating the complexity of camp spatialities and the distinctive co-articulation of power and agency therein.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102222
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalPolitical Geography
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


  • Camp community
  • Camp geographies
  • Communitas
  • Nazi concentration camps
  • Roberto Esposito
  • Serbian refugee camps


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