Problematising and Reconceptualising ‘Vulnerability’ in the Context of Disablist Violence

  • Ryan ThorneycroftEmail author


The concept vulnerability is largely used in a taken-for-granted manner, whereby people designated as vulnerable are associated with weakness, powerlessness and susceptibility to harm (Furedi 2007). The next logical step, then, is that people termed vulnerable are different and in need of special protection (Brown 2011). As a consequence of these cultural metaphors, certain groups have resisted the externally imposed depiction that they are vulnerable (Gilson 2014). In particular, the term is contentious in disability studies, as some argue it paints disabled people1 as inherently weak, easy targets and dependent (see Quarmby 2008; Roulstone and Sadique 2013; Roulstone et al. 2011; Sherry 2010; Thomas 2011). Vulnerable is thus presented as a dangerous term because calling people vulnerable ghettoises them, confines them and abjects them. And yet paralleling these arguments, another corpus of scholarship embraces vulnerability and places it at the centre of human existence (see Butler 2004; Gilson 2014; Turner 2006). These arguments contend that all humans are vulnerable, and this is evidenced by the fact all humans possess a corporeal fragility, and each has the capacity to affect and be affected by others (Gilson 2014; Turner 2006) (also see Howes, Bartkowiak-Théron and Asquith in this collection for a discussion about the varying terminology surrounding vulnerability).


Criminal Justice System Asylum Seeker Disable People Hate Crime Social Model 
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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social Sciences and PsychologyWestern Sydney UniversitySydneyAustralia

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