Vulnerability

Governing the social through security politics

Editors:
Charlotte Heath-Kelly
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Barbara Gruber
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In the twenty-first century, ‘vulnerability’ has become central to the governance of security, migration, integration, social care and mental health. But what does it mean to govern through vulnerability? We might optimistically think vulnerability signifies a new-found commitment to precarious lives on the part of policymakers. But why, then, do associated policy recommendations appear to transform welfare state provision – moving away from provision to those in need and towards the remoulding of subjects so that they do not become ‘costly’ or ‘risky’? This book responds to the rise of ‘vulnerability’ in the fields of public health, psychology, international security, political administration, post-colonial African and Middle Eastern politics, policing and migration. Across this policy landscape, we show that vulnerability has become central to the reinvention of social governance. Wherever policymakers wish to extend social control further into communities and their municipal structures, the language of vulnerability is used to appropriate the spaces previously administered by the welfare state. How is the language of vulnerability so powerful and transformative? At its core, ‘vulnerability’ implies a pre-emptive temporality – it is used to denote the potential for something negative to occur. The reorganisation of security and social policies around vulnerability works to centre a preventive, anticipatory temporality. The book is split into two parts: looking first at the transformation of the welfare state that brought risk and security logics into social policy. The second part explores how contemporary national security programmes appropriate the language and modalities of safeguarding and care.

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