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Discounting Life: Necropolitical Law, Culture, and the Long War on Terror

  • Publication: Cambridge University Press
  • Research area: Law & Globalization

10/1/2022, Jothie Rajah, Cambridge University Press

Cover of Discounting Life: Necropolitical Law, Culture, and the Long War on Terror

Coming soon in October 2022!

A new book by ABF Research Professor Jothie Rajah

Purchase this Fall at the Cambridge University Press website.


  • “This is a phenomenal work of scholarship.  Through masterful and deeply original readings of law as expressed in photos, film, texts, and events, Jothie Rajah uncovers the coded law underlying the violence the U.S. has unleashed around the world during its long War on Terror.  Rigorous, erudite, and deeply creative, Discounting Life is a truly stunning book.”
    — Leti Volpp, Robert D. and Leslie Kay Raven Professor of Law, UC Berkeley

  • Discounting Life reveals the consequential weight of visual representation in the strategic discourses of counterterrorism after 9/11. Drawing on law, humanities and social science to probe key episodes in the War on Terror, Dr. Rajah examines the normalization of a complex politics of death with nuanced insight and originality.”
    — Carol J. Greenhouse, Arthur W. Marks ’19 Professor of Anthropology, Princeton University 

  • “This extraordinary account of necropolitical law, forged in the heartlands of US colonialism, imperialism and slavery, and reanimated in the long War on Terror that begins well before 9/11, provides a new lens through which to analyze law’s capacities to authorize the value of certain lives over others. A close reading of texts, images, and events unveils the mutually constitutive histories of racial violence and liberal legality that is both chilling and revelatory.” 
    Eve Darian-Smith, Professor of Global and International Studies, University of California, Irvine and author of Global Burning: Rising Antidemocracy and the Climate Crisis

  • “In Discounting Life, Jothie Rajah argues that the cultural and media framing of the ‘long War on Terror’ as the vanquishing of irrational, extraordinary, and exceptional enemies has led to the extension of U.S. sovereignty to a planetary scale. Through an extension of its ‘necropolitical law,’ Rajah argues that the U.S. justifies its right to determine who may live and die not as an exception to legality but squarely in the context of its necropolitical legal calculus. A smart, well-researched, and powerful analysis of law’s role in the long War on Terror, Discounting Life is necessary reading.” 
    Alex Lubin, Professor of African American Studies, The Pennsylvania State University

  • “An astute investigation of state-sponsored killing under the banner of the War on Terror. Rajah shows the life-and-death stakes of modern state sovereignty. This gripping book brings the discounted lives of millions killed in the War on Terror back into the conversation about law, sovereignty, state power, and the exception. It is superb.” 
     Ian Hurd, Professor of Political Science and the Director of the Weinberg College Center for International and Area Studies at Northwestern University


Discounting Life shows how and why the war on terror has become permanent, de-democratizing, and planetary. Demystifying law and showing how news and entertainment media conditions us to be fearful and unquestioning, this book equips readers with the skills necessary to re-value life and re-claim law’s ideals and protections. 

Extrajudicial, extraterritorial killings of War on Terror enemies by the U.S. state have become the new normal. Alongside targeted individuals, unnamed and uncounted others die and are maimed. Despite the absence of law’s conventional sites, processes, and actors, the U.S. state celebrates these killings as the realization of justice. Meanwhile, images, narrative, and affect do the work of law; authorizing and legitimizing the discounting of some lives so that others – implicitly, American nationals – may live. This book names these processes necropolitical law, showing how and why the war on terror has become permanent, de-democratizing, and planetary. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach to law to excavate the workings of necropolitical law, and interrogating the U.S. state’s justifications for the project of counterterror, this book’s temporal arc, the long War on Terror, illuminates the profound continuities and many guises for racialized, imperial violence informing the contemporary discounting of life. 

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