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?