Vulnerability has emerged as a crucial term to describe the human condition, especially in light of the pandemic. Its etymology can be traced back to the Latin term ‘vulnus’, which denoted both a ‘generic wound’ and the ‘infringement of a right’. This semantic ambiguity still persists in current interpretations of vulnerability, with some understanding it as an ontological concept (namely vulnerability as a shared human condition) and others as a political and legal category that identifies specific groups or individuals who are exposed to discrimination. While the universalistic account of the notion fails to bear witness to the unequal distribution of precarity as it affects certain lives, the particularistic approach risks reproducing and even fostering the isolation and marginality of groups and individuals identified as needing protection. In this latter approach, one fails to account both for the agency of such subjects and groups as they resist those conditions and for the systematic and structural connotations of certain forms of violence.
However, many feminist theorizations claim that vulnerability, in its embodied and relational connotation, is still a helpful tool for mapping the present since it allows one to grasp how forms of resistance emerge. Taking this perspective entails many critical questions:
What would it mean to understand vulnerability as a situated condition linked to relationality and interdependency, rather than as a state that pertains to certain subjects? How should politics, institutions, and law take care of vulnerable lives? Can vulnerability be theorized, politicized, and ‘juridified’ in a manner that takes into consideration the diverse and plural ways in which everyone is exposed to it? In what senses does this concept necessitate an understanding that is derived from situated knowledge, such that the concept does not remain a theoretical abstraction? In order to address such urgent issues, this symposium aims to foster an interdisciplinary dialogue between feminist and gender studies, political philosophy, post- and decolonial studies, critical theory, legal studies, and social sciences.
Natascia Tosel (ICI Berlin) and Valentina Moro (University of Verona / DePaul University)
An ICI Event in cooperation with Università di Verona. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement N° 101029336.
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Image Credit © Claudia Peppel