Cormac Deane

The Legal Abyss: The Homo Sacer in 24 

Year: 2008

Keywords: , , , ,


Birkbeck College, University of London
(at time of presentation)

Personal profile:

Cormac Deane Profile October 2014 (pdf)

Cormac Deane is Lecturer in Culture and Media Studies at the Institute of Art, Design and Technology. His research includes screen aesthetics and theory, digital media, systems theory, legal theories of sovereignty and exception, and the depiction of ‘terrorism’ in contemporary media.

He is the translator of the final work of Christian Metz, L’énonciation impersonnelle, which will be published by Columbia University Press in 2015. Recent articles have appeared in Television Aesthetics and Style (Bloomsbury 2013), The Journal of Sonic Studies and Special Effects: New Histories, Theories, Contexts (BFI 2013). He is also the author of The Field Day Archive, a book-length description of the activities and archives of an Irish theatre and publishing company.

Cormac runs the Irish Screen Studies website, which is associated with the Irish Screen Studies Seminar. See and on Twitter @IrishScreenStud.

A recipient of the Government of Ireland Postdoctoral Fellowship Award Scheme of the Irish Research Council in 2013-14, he received his PhD in 2010 at Birkbeck College, University of London, where he was a member of the London Consortium.

Cormac can be contacted at


Refractory: A Journal of Entertainment Media

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The Roman legal concept of the homo sacer, which has most recently been elaborated by Giorgio Agamben, is invoked in the minor character Joe Prado in season 4 of the US television series 24. The homo sacer, literally the sacred man, is deprived of normal civic rights in such a way that he becomes the medium through which the forces of law and order, in this case the Los Angeles Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU), are able to act as if in a state of exception. Over two episodes, Prado, who is suspected of aiding terrorists, suffers abduction, incarceration without charge, intimidation, withdrawal of protection, injury and torture at the hands of CTU, all in the name of national security. Through the use of screens within screens, and of ambiguously defined spaces of detention, 24 portrays the legal abyss where any action is deemed legal if it is carried out by the state, particularly if it is carried out by a state within the state, such as CTU. The open violation of rights that is normalized in 24, and which has deep roots in Western legal culture in the form of the homo sacer, has counterparts in Guantànamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.