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Problematising and Reconceptualising ‘Vulnerability’ in the Context of Disablist Violence

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Policing Encounters with Vulnerability

Abstract

The concept vulnerability is largely used in a taken-for-granted manner, whereby people designated as vulnerable are associated with weakness, powerlessness and susceptibility to harm (Furedi 2007). The next logical step, then, is that people termed vulnerable are different and in need of special protection (Brown 2011). As a consequence of these cultural metaphors, certain groups have resisted the externally imposed depiction that they are vulnerable (Gilson 2014). In particular, the term is contentious in disability studies, as some argue it paints disabled people1 as inherently weak, easy targets and dependent (see Quarmby 2008; Roulstone and Sadique 2013; Roulstone et al. 2011; Sherry 2010; Thomas 2011). Vulnerable is thus presented as a dangerous term because calling people vulnerable ghettoises them, confines them and abjects them. And yet paralleling these arguments, another corpus of scholarship embraces vulnerability and places it at the centre of human existence (see Butler 2004; Gilson 2014; Turner 2006). These arguments contend that all humans are vulnerable, and this is evidenced by the fact all humans possess a corporeal fragility, and each has the capacity to affect and be affected by others (Gilson 2014; Turner 2006) (also see Howes, Bartkowiak-Théron and Asquith in this collection for a discussion about the varying terminology surrounding vulnerability).

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Rather than use ‘people with disability’, this chapter adopts the term ‘disabled people’. The philosophy behind the ‘people-first’ approach is that it avoids the dehumanisation of disabled people by acknowledging they are people first, and that their condition does not define their existence (People with Disability Australia n.d). Adhering to the social model of disability, however, this chapter adopts the term ‘disabled people’. This approach promotes the term ‘disabled people’ to illustrate they are dis-abled by society, and that in fact ‘disability’ is a social construction that is imposed (Oliver 1996).

  2. 2.

    Within the extant literature, ‘disability hate crime’ is the most commonly used term to describe prejudicial violence against disabled people. However, this term is problematic as the main focus is directed towards a victim’s perceived disability, rather than on the disablist practices of the offender. The term ‘hate crime’ is likewise problematic (see Iganski (2008) for a more complete discussion). As such, this chapter adopts the term ‘disablist violence’ when referring to hate crimes committed against disabled people. ‘Disablist’ adequately highlights the prejudiced motivation, and ‘violence’ highlights the victimising behaviours inflicted.

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Thorneycroft, R. (2017). Problematising and Reconceptualising ‘Vulnerability’ in the Context of Disablist Violence. In: Asquith, N., Bartkowiak-Théron, I., Roberts, K. (eds) Policing Encounters with Vulnerability. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-51228-0_2

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