Volume 64, Issue 3, Summer 2020
Special Topic: Vulnerability
Responsibility for Vulnerability
Towards a Political Account of Responsibility
Care (work) is in crisis. In fact, within our current system, social vulnerabilities of differential kinds are pushed to the fringes of society, while self-responsibility prevails. Yet recently, vulnerability has become a fashionable concept in (feminist) theory. It owes this popularity not least to Judith Butler’s work. This paper analyses the political potential of her conceptualization. More precisely, it argues for the need to assume political responsibility for vulnerability. This is not a connection that Butler makes explicitly. Instead, and contrary to her previous ambivalence to ethics more broadly, she tries to formulate a critical ethics based on vulnerability. Against the abstract nature of ethics, this paper turns to activist voices and Iris Marion Young’s theorisations on responsibility to develop a structural, historically contextualised and collective account of political responsibility. The example of care work and the crisis of care elucidates both theoretical and practical insights throughout the paper.