Reflections on Vulnerability and Disability

This post by Ynestra King is part of a series of reflections on the 37th annual Scholar & Feminist conference, held March 3rd, 2012 at Barnard College. This year’s theme was “Vulnerability: the Human and the Humanities.”

Ynestra King giving her presentation

What I was most struck by at this conference is the complexity of vulnerability from the perspective of disability, and how important it is that the voices of women with disabilities inform this conversation.

In the opening panel on Theorizing Vulnerability Studies, Martha Fineman, founder of the Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative at Emory University, spoke on the concept of the vulnerable subject. She offers a theoretical project of radical “deothering” that rests on a critique of the autonomous liberal subject as the human standard, arguing that this standard is both impossible and dangerous. Impossible because we are all embodied beings, fragile and mortal; dangerous because our social and political institutions treat our vulnerability as an exceptional state or even a personal failing.

Not explicitly addressed here is shame – the feeling that usually accompanies an awareness of one’s need for help, or in the vernacular of the conference, “care”. Continue reading

“Predictable Failures” in the Trayvon Martin Story

Several of the panelists at Private Bodies, Public Texts: A Salon in Honor of Karla FC Holloway, which took place on March 21, 2012, the same night as the million hoodie march, spoke poignantly about the ways in which the themes of Holloway's book apply in the case of Trayvon Martin's death. In particular, they address the painful consequences of substituting identities for bodies (or persons) and the concept of "predictable ethical failures" that arise when privacy is not seen as applicable to certain bodies.


Welcome to the BCRW Blog!

For over 40 years, the Barnard Center for Research on Women has served as a hub for feminist thought and action, providing a pivotal platform for activists and scholars to come to together and grapple with ideas pulled from local and global perspectives. To further this tradition of critical feminist dialogue, we are launching the BCRW Blog – an effort to expand the important conversations that happen at the Center and complement our programming with forays into the virtual realm.


As BCRW has explored, new media is playing a critical role in feminist activism, with a variety of blogs, websites and social media campaigns lighting up the feminist ecosystem. With our own online efforts, we aim to both examine and participate in the emergence of virtual mediums for the development of feminist thought and action. This blog expands our ever-evolving digital presence, including the extensive multimedia content on our website, our Facebook page, and our Twitter account.
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