Distinction and the Ethics of Violence: On the Legal Construction of Liminal Subjects and Spaces

Nicola Perugini, Neve Gordon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


This paper interrogates the relationship among visibility, distinction, international humanitarian law and ethics in contemporary theatres of violence. After introducing the notions of “civilianization of armed conflict” and “battlespaces”, we briefly discuss the evisceration of one of international humanitarian law's axiomatic figures: the civilian. We show how liberal militaries have created an apparatus of distinction that expands that which is perceptible by subjecting big data to algorithmic analysis, combining the traditional humanist lens with a post-humanist one. The apparatus functions before, during, and after the fray not only as an operational technology that directs the fighting or as a discursive mechanism responsible for producing the legal and ethical interpretation of hostilities, but also as a force that produces liminal subjects. Focusing on two legal figures—“enemies killed in action” and “human shields”—we show how the apparatus helps justify killing civilians and targeting civilian spaces during war.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1385-1405
Number of pages21
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2017


  • battlespaces
  • civilian
  • distinction
  • ethics of violence
  • international humanitarian law
  • liminality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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