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The politics of vulnerability: affect, relationality, and resistance in UK austerity

Gibbs, Jacqueline (2018) The politics of vulnerability: affect, relationality, and resistance in UK austerity. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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The increasing prevalence of vulnerability as a descriptive concept in policy, political and social discourses occurs alongside a renewed, undeniably “vexed” (Murphy 2012:70), interdisciplinary feminist investment in the term as a crucial concept for social justice. This thesis contends that vulnerability must be understood as an affective and malleable concept, and one which performs changing work depending on the sites, subjects, and discourses to which it is attached. My analysis of the affective and discursive workings of this politics of vulnerability contributes to recent feminist theorisations of vulnerability as a key ethical political concept. It also extends feminist theorisations of care and relationality, temporality, and resistance through analysis of the cultural and affective ‘work’ that claims to vulnerability perform. In doing so, this thesis provides a critical analysis of the workings of vulnerability in relation to gender, disability, illness, citizenship, and nation in the context of recent UK austerity. Reading for the ways in which vulnerability appears across three key sites of (what has elsewhere been termed) “public feeling”, my analysis highlights the ambivalent politics produced through claims to vulnerability which seek to challenge conditions of precarity, debility and violence exposed through austerity processes. To do so, this thesis provides analysis of: responses to changes to illness and disability benefits and processes of assessment; feminist activist and advocate responses to the closure of domestic violence services; and media representations of the funding and staffing ‘crisis’ facing the NHS. The thesis draws together interdisciplinary literatures across the fields of queer feminist cultural studies, affect, feminist disability studies, violence, care and the state. It argues that reading for vulnerability across, and in relation to, changing political subjectivities, contextual debates, and critical attachments enables a better grasp of both the possibilities and significant limits to feminist investments in its transformative potential.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2018 Jacqueline Gibbs
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > Gender Institute
Supervisor: Wearing, Sadie

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