Engaging Vulnerability

ENGAGING VULNERABILITY is a decade-long interdisciplinary research program at Uppsala University financed with the support of the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet).  

The program examines vulnerability as a productive set of relations that entail demands.

Vulnerability is a structuring feature of existence. Today, people in an increasing number of nation-states find themselves caught in a “state of exception”; an Orwellian world in which the global “war on terror” without end justifies unrelenting government surveillance in the name of protecting us. The environment and non-human animals are being degraded and decimated on a cataclysmic scale. Global migration and displacement is reconfiguring long-held understandings of citizenship, the state, and hospitality.

In this precarious world, vulnerability is often seen as something bad. It is a position or a state associated with helplessness, silence, disempowerment and lack. Scholars document vulnerability so that those most afflicted by it might transcend it. Activists and humanitarians work to assist vulnerable people, in order to help them leave their wretched state of vulnerability, resist, and become empowered.

ENGAGING VULNERABILITY builds on and extends recent work in philosophy, the humanities and the social sciences. The program’s goal is to re-focus our understanding of vulnerability as something more than a lamentable condition from which subjects should be defended, rescued or liberated. Instead, the program documents and theorizes vulnerability as a productive position, condition, or state that does something.

Vulnerability makes demands: about accountability, responsibility, ethics, engagement. Seeing vulnerability as productive changes the focus of research, awareness and engagement.

ENGAGING VULNERABILITY links scholarship across disciplines in order to ask:

What does vulnerability mean?
How is vulnerability experienced and positioned?
How is vulnerability manifested in everything from architecture to interactional practices?
How can vulnerability be thought about in ways that don’t disavow it or just wish it away?