INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE: HOW DOES VULNERABILITY MATTER?
International conference organized in Helsinki 30.11. – 1.12.2017 at The House of Science and Letters by the Research project Vulnerable Agency (Academy of Finland 2012 – 2017) directed by professor Marja-Liisa Honkasalo.
During the last decade, studies on vulnerability have increased enormously. When we started our research in 2012, vulnerability was a novel approach to studying agency – one of the most central concepts of sociology. Our aims were to 1) critically scrutinize the idea of ‘free choice’ from the point of view of health and illness; in this context agency is inescapably embedded – and vulnerable; 2) conduct ethnography among extremely vulnerable lives: the elderly in deficient home-care settings, people with serious drug addictions and people with technologically improved bodies and replaced body parts and, finally, 3) scrutinize the implications of vulnerability on agency and ask how vulnerability generates social ties and networks.
Today the concept of vulnerability is vital in critical discussions on the limits of ‘freedom’ and ‘free choice’ – both central slogans in the increasing privatization of the health care market, occurring in Finland as elsewhere.
Vulnerability has been widely used as a descriptive concept in the study of fragile life situations, socially excluded people and minorities and, e.g. dependent human beings and animals. However, this articulation of the concept has been criticized for being human-centered. The concept can also have a normative character, which refers to biological life, especially climate change and non-human lives. In a normative sense and from a Foucauldian take on productivity, vulnerability in current neo-liberal societies can also be understood as a vehicle for individualization and identity politics. Vulnerability has also been used as an ontological concept, a necessary feature of the human condition. This is probably the oldest meaning of vulnerability which has been extensively discussed e.g. in religious and ethical settings. When studying current societies, vulnerability as an ontological concept is frequently modified to serve political ends.
“This seminar examines the range of definitions that vulnerability is given today. Does vulnerability matter – how? With increasingly broad articulations of the term, is it in the danger of losing its meaning? What kind of common denominators do the various articulations share? How can researchers of vulnerability communicate with one another?”
In addition, we invite papers, which discuss materiality, affects and mediations between social relations and the politics of vulnerability. We invite participants from all relevant subjects, such as social sciences, humanities and the arts, philosophy and medicine.
KEYNOTE SPEAKERS INCLUDE:
Don Kulick, Professor of Anthropology, University of Upsala, Sweden
Heini Hakosalo, University lecturer, University of Oulu
Kristiina Brunila, Professor (tenure track) of social justice and equality in education, University of Helsinki
INTRODUCTION: Marja-Liisa Honkasalo, Professor of Culture, Health and Well Being, University of Turku
Conference arranged by Academy of Finland research project ‘Vulnerable lives’ (2013−2017) in collaboration with the Finnish Anthropological Society.
Keynote abstracts available at