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14 August 2011

Vulnerability

I realized yesterday while reading J.K. Gibson-Graham's End of Capitalism that at least one characteristic of (the abuse of?) power is the degree to which one is (or allows oneself to be made) vulnerable in any given circumstance.  In the intro to the book, she explains her view of the power dynamic between academics and non-academics.  For her this inequality could be productive by engaging non-academics in the project through a kind of seduction.  I found this a little problematic - why should we assume that non-academics ought to be a part of our projects a priori?  Why should they care? 

Then I remembered Sarah Whatmore's description of her Knowledge Controversies project in which she explains that all knowledge in her competency groups is made contestable - including lay knowledge, expert knowledge, and the knowledge of the social scientists organizing the groups.  Thus, everyone in the group is made vulnerable to everyone else, and an agreement must be constructed collaboratively through the process of negotiation. 

Vulnerability allows for the potential for change, and for negotiation.  It creates fruitful discourse rather than hegemonic discourse.  It's possible, then, that a necessary precondition for effective democracy is an equality of vulnerability.  The question is how to make all parties equally vulnerable?  Also, is vulnerability necessarily opposed to standing up for yourself and your beliefs?  When do we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, and when is it best to armor ourselves against injustice? 

Any thoughts?

4 comments:

Jeremy Trombley said...

On a side note, when I did a google image search for "vulnerability" the results were a mix of graphics indicating computer security and images of exposed or prone women. There was one nude male in the results that I saw, but this is clearly a gendered concept.

AnaLouise said...

I agree with you that vulnerability is important to democracy (and to much more), but I don't think we can "make" people be vulnerable. I think we can invite vulnerability, through modeling a type of vulnerability ourselves. However, doing so is dangerous--particularly for people from nondominant groups.

I've been thinking a lot about the question of intellectual humility (which I think is related to vulnerability because this humility entails the acknowledgement that our knowledge is partial and not 100% correct.

Detachment is also important. If we are extremely attached to our views/ideas/theories and identify our selves (self-identity, self-esteem, etc.) with the ideas, we can become very defensive.

Jeremy Trombley said...

Excellent point, AnaLouise. We can't make people be vulnerable - that would be just another form of domination or imposition, wouldn't it? I think I was focusing more on what we as academics - or people with a certain degree of privilege - ought to do in situations of inequality.

With regard to the larger issue of democracy, I agree that modeling vulnerability (and humility - definitely a key factor for me as well) is helpful. Perhaps also creating a space where vulnerability and humility are possible - where people feel safe in giving up some of their armor for a while?

It occurs to me too, that if vulnerability is important, then even vulnerability must be vulnerable. Is that a paradox? :)

Your comments are much appreciated!

Alan Wayne Kelly said...

All my views and opinions: Corporally, vulnerability is a bodily awareness of the skin I'm in, a cellular boundary in the flesh. Beyond that or in addition to that is... That, all that I am both a part of and apart from, the greater-than-me, myself and other, a deluge of "ones" (many who are in their selves) and "others," (abstract and corporal) and all organized and chaotic actions affecting everyone. Personal and social vulnerability that is denied increases risk of delusion. Closing positively, of late I have become aware, comfortable and easy about a vulnerability that arises in a natural, changing millieu and gives rise to mundane or profane social actions and an awareness of connectedness that not only accommodates vulnerability but transcends the same.

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