6-8 July, 2017
The Silesian Museum, Katowice, Poland
The trouble with vulnerability is its negativity. Were we to draw on etymology, we’d have to say vulnerability signals lack, deficiency, disability, impairment, mutilation and disfigurement, to name only some of its effects. Along these lines, vulnerability is a wound(ing) that makes the bodies of vulnerability susceptible to (external) intervention or exploitation. While wounding implies at least one more agent apart from the body that sustains it, vulnerability is often taken to reside within this body itself, to constitute its natural disposition, its inherent fault. This often masks the processes, practices and discourses that make bodies (animate and inanimate) and spaces vulnerable. The production of vulnerability is especially pernicious as it seems to partake of the inertia that vulnerability assumes, of the quiet and desired passivity that seems to define the vulnerable. The grammar of vulnerability seems always to render the bearers and wearers of the wounds passive receivers of external harm and injury. It also casts the vulnerable as overpowered because it articulates a ceding to an (external) power to which one (one’s body) yields, a ceding to the workings of the injurious gestures that one is unable to fend off and control. Simultaneously, it assumes beings and spaces able to withstand the pitfalls and identities of the vulnerable: to be vulnerable is already to be or to get attached to particular groups and locations (some are more vulnerable to vulnerability than others) to the extent that some of those (beings and spaces) deemed vulnerable come to be transfigured into the bodies of vulnerability.
And yet, vulnerability can also, and in spite of its negativity, lend itself to other readings and yield other effects, becoming a promising space for re-thinking what togetherness is/might be nowadays. Crudely speaking, if we are vulnerable to a threat as political and cultural subjects, we are ultimately vulnerable to each other as in-dividual and insufficient beings, which makes vulnerability a rather paradoxical metaphor of human and animal existence: as vulnerable as we all are, we somehow have an urge to appease our defect in the very name of vulnerability. May this ontological detour overcome ourin-dividualised world(s) and the radical solitude we feel in? Concomitant with insufficiency and injurious conditions but still not devoid of its affirmative potential and, as a result, intertwined with openness as the condition of the relational character of every single being, vulnerability may encourage us to discuss the very character of the ties of friendship, love and community as possible ways of taking on our vulnerability in political, social and private contexts.
The disparate meanings and possible readings of vulnerability open up a richly critical horizon in which to ask about the collective and individual bodies of vulnerability and the collective and individual lives it, variously, fosters, mars, brings into being or organizes into communities of love and/or friendship. The deliberately plural form of the usually singular “vulnerability” is meant to summon up the various inflections of what is meant by the concept, its possible deployments and effects, and its political and ethical potential in the production of narratives and lives of togetherness.
The conference aims to pose the following questions:
- Can vulnerability be theorized/imagined in ways that do not always and necessarily turn it into a call for intervention and protection(ism)?
- Can vulnerability be salvaged from its biopolitical mantle and transcend the negative that defines it?
- Can vulnerability work to script other kinds of narrative that subvert or sidestep the victim/saviour scenarios?
- Can vulnerability be seen as a site of action?
- Can vulnerability be mobilized to counter our political (and poetic) attachments to the catastrophic?
- Can vulnerability be(come) a site for the creation and cultivation of solidarity?
- Can vulnerability be salvaged from neoliberal economies, their pecuniary deployments and their practices of purveyance?
- Can vulnerability be a space of affirmation?
- Can vulnerability overcome solitude as a salient though latent feature of today’s individualised world?
- Can vulnerability be a scene of new forms of community as being together or being with?
- Can vulnerability be seen as an inexorable condition of human and animal existence, a condition which makes us love and/or befriend.
- Can vulnerability inform us about non-human forms of life?
- Finally, can vulnerability be(come) invulnerable?
We welcome papers that engage, in critical and novel ways, with any of the above questions. Please send 300-word proposals for 20-minute papers and a short bio to email@example.com by 15 January, 2017. Accepted speakers will be notified by 31 January, 2017.
The conference is co-organized by the Institute of Romance Languages and Translations Studies (University of Silesia, Katowice) and the Silesian Museum (Katowice).
For more information, please see www.vulnerabilities.pl.