criminal displacements



Carl Schmitt stated in 1950 that appropriation, delimitation, and production of the land are the three constituent movements of law: where no boundaries have been physically demarcated in the territory law can not act. He considered the oceans an example since their waters can not keep the outline of a trace. This statement would have been unthinkable though without the developments that, over the previous five centuries, linked the concepts of land and territory with that of property through a technical and scientific progress that was making easier and easier the precise delineation of borders and other traces, their mapping and diffusion.

But what if we look at the organization of nomadic peoples or communities in exile? In these cases there is no legal body tied to any precise territorial boundary but a shared spatial construction of which its forms of materialization exceed the simple outline on the land. If the relationship between law and architecture is defined between the set of rules produced by society and the sphere of its application, we can not ignore that its limits can be static or dynamic, visible or invisible, determinate or vague…

The recovery of the concept of nomos in the twentieth century through the work of authors as diverse as Schmitt or Hannah Arendt has a direct consequence: the recovery of its link to the materiality of the earth. But should we reduce that grounded materiality to its mere physical support? Nomos implies a broader concept than the law as it covers customs, practices and conventions. Compared to other Greek laws originated in a higher authority, the nomoi were the norms or practices of the common, accepted because they came from shared agreements and customs which gave them prestige and authority.

Gilles Deleuze picks up this distinction between the right emanated from a higher authority and that which comes from men’s practice to defend the notion of jurisprudence. The accumulation and reinterpretation of successive sentences, real and material cases, compared to the abstraction of transcendental law: “I’m not interested neither in law nor the laws (the first is an empty notion, the others are accomplice notions), not even in right or rights, what interests me is case-driven jurisprudence. There lies the truly invention of law. “

Understanding the nomos as a social process inseparable from the production of a common spatiality means that the relationship between law and architecture appears as a constituent social practice in which bodies, customs and territory materialize in landscape.


Walter Benjamin wrote in his VIII Thesis on the Concept of History that “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “emergency situation” in which we live is the rule.” Giorgio Agamben will recover this idea in his research on the homo sacer adding that, when the exception becomes the rule, it ceases to mean a momentary spatio-temporal suspension of the law to become a complex topological figure in which, not only the exception becomes equal to the normal order everywhere, but also the state of nature and that of law, the outside and the inside, become relationships defined through ambiguity and vagueness.

This ambiguity, making it impossible to distinguish what is behind each appearance, is one of the defining characteristics of our present. Contemporary reality is immersed in such a tangle of fictions, tricks and deceptions that is not surprising to find the powerful disguised as resistance or the everyday man classified as a potential terrorist.

Gilles Deleuze defined the words “I would prefer not to” pronounced by the scrivener Bartleby, major figure of ambiguity, as a contagious formula with a destabilizing power to imbue all those with whom he comes into contact. Gradually “I would prefer not to” acquires the status of a virus whose power of infection resides in that same ambiguity of not knowing what is prefered or not prefered, because “it is not an affirmation nor a negation…, it makes them indistinct by digging a zone of indiscernibility, of indeterminacy…”.

In that emerging zone of vagueness and indeterminacy lies the possibility for criminal displacements. Displacements born out of the need to operate in and from that area of ambiguity defined by the post-democratic contemporary exception.


We find the same lack of differentiation in the etymological origin of the term crime, which in Roman law referred not only to the violation of law but also to its indictment and trial. This term derived in turn from kreimen, an Indo-European word expressing the action or effect of screening, separating or filtering.

crimes appear, in a spatial reading, as the crossing of a limit between different areas of the real. In treaties, codes, and other legal documents, this separation will take the shape of a line, a geometric abstraction essential for the workings of law. However, what can be described with geometric clarity in the text of the law rarely works as such in the field of the real, where the thickness and complexity it acquires overflows any strategy of control.

During World War I the western front moves only a few kilometers, and what is described as the “trench line” which crosses Europe from Switzerland to the Belgian coast has disappeared in favor of “the zone”: the direct knowledge of the battlefield has more importance than the strategist map. More than forty years later, at dawn on August the 13th, 1961, the construction of the Berlin Wall has materialized the line agreed years ago in Yalta. A line on paper will become an extremely complex spatial thickness capable of breaking in pieces the everyday running of a city and become a key stage of the Cold War.

These new legal zones are the result of an ongoing reconfiguration process between the bodies, practices and dispositifs forming them. To be able to analyze and act on them, it becomes necessary to look beyond scalar, disciplinary or historical divisions, from an expanded concept of landscape able to assert its ecological, political and social complexity.