International Conference, Bordeaux (France), October 8-9, 2015 : Vulnerability
EA CLIMAS, Bordeaux Montaigne University

Contact : Pascale Antolin
antolin.pascale@orange.fr (mailto:antolin.pascale@orange.fr)

Etymologically, vulnerability refers to a “wound” (from the Latin vulnus, vulmeris). Somebody is said to be vulnerable when they have been wounded, injured, hurt or harmed. Or indeed when they are in a state of greater weakness, more fragile, and therefore more easily wounded, injured, hurt or harmed.  Vulnerability can be physical, moral and social. An individual, a group, a community, even a country can be vulnerable.

According to philosopher Judith Butler, “Loss and vulnerability seem to follow from our being socially constituted bodies, attached to others, at risk of losing those attachments, exposed to others, at risk of violence by virtue of that exposure.” (Butler 20) It is through loss and mourning that we are led to experience (our) vulnerability. Emmanuel Levinas associates vulnerability with his concept of “face”. For him, face refers to what forbids us from killing another being. It is also a sign both of our own vulnerability and authority.

While vulnerability is a major philosophical, ontological and ethical concept, it also possesses multiple alternative meanings, more closely related to everyday experience. It can refer to the environment, when the latter is under threat; it can also apply to bioethics, medicine and biomedicine, politics, and the arts (literature, cinema, etc.)
Guillaume Leblanc, a contemporary French philosopher, focuses, for instance, on what he calls “social vulnerability” and social exclusion: “As we admit that we are all vulnerable, each in our own way, and are exposed to all sorts of violence, we get closer to understanding social exclusion as a common threat and not solely the problem of socially excluded people.” (Leblanc 13). Thomas Couser has written several books about physically and socially vulnerable people, and defines their vulnerability as follows: “Conditions that render subjects vulnerable range from the age-related (extreme youth or age) and physiological (illnesses and impairments, physical or mental) to membership in socially or culturally disadvantaged minorities.” (Couser xii) Couser analyzes (auto)biographical narratives written by and about vulnerable people.

In this conference we would thus like to examine vulnerability from a variety of perspectives, as specifically formulated in English-speaking countries in the fields of literature and the arts, or in the social and political sphere. We will welcome papers that might examine different examples of individual vulnerability, notably in unexpected or paradoxical situations, but also instances of historically and politically produced collective vulnerability – the vulnerability of minorities or specific classes, geographical minorities for example. We will also consider the historical vulnerability of theoretical or artistic positions or of precarious ideological movements and look at the ways people or movements overcome vulnerability, succumb to it, or on the contrary embrace it as means of making it a source of empowerment. We will finally try to define what Jean-Michel Ganteau means when he refers to “vulnerable form” (Ganteau 97).

Please send proposals by June 15, 2015 to
Pascale Antolin antolin.pascale@orange.fr (mailto:antolin.pascale@orange.fr)
et Nathalie Jaeck nathalie.jaeck@u-bordeaux-montaigne.fr (mailto:nathalie.jaeck@u-bordeaux-montaigne.fr)
Proposals should include a title, an abstract (around 300 words) and a short bio.

Works cited
Butler, Judith. Precarious Lives. The Powers of Mourning and Violence. Londres: Verso, 2004
Couser, G. Thomas. Vulnerable Subjetcts. Ethics and Life Writing. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2004.
Ganteau, Jean-Michel. “Vulnerable Form and Traumatic Vulnerability.” Contemporary Trauma Narratives. Liminality and the Ethics of Form. Susanne Onega & Jean-Michel Ganteau, eds. New York: Routledge, 2014. 89-103.
Leblanc, Guillaume. Que faire de notre vulnérabilité ? Montrouge: Bayard, 2011.
Levinas, Emmanuel. Altérité et transcendance. 1995. Paris: Poche Biblio Essais, 2006.