Vulnerable Futures, Transformative Pasts

On Vulnerability, Temporality, and Ethics

by Miri Rozmarin (Author)
Monographs VIII, 194 Pages


Vulnerability reins our time. People know that their world is changing in ways that they cannot foresee. Communities disintegrate and boundaries lose their relevance. Drawing on the concept of vulnerability as an affective relation individuals hold with their world and with their lives, this book analyzes vulnerability as it is immanently connected to temporality. It provides an account of political temporality – connections between past, present, and future that engage with the contemporary social reality – and enables and sustains transformative dynamics through which individuals can mobilize their vulnerability. This technique allows them to gradually transform their reality and its influence on their own subjectivity and agency. This book portrays the kinds of relations through time and social space that people can create by working with their vulnerability as an affect that has the power to yield new sensibilities, skills, and values. These connections with the past are called transformative lineages.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Vulnerable Temporalities
  • Vulnerable Subject, Fractured Temporality
  • Between Mothers and Daughters: Lineages of Transformation
  • Chapter by Chapter
  • References
  • Chapter 1: Broken Lineages
  • Women, Past Generations, Broken Future
  • Mothers and Daughters: Broken Intimate Lineages
  • References
  • Chapter 2: Vulnerability, Ethics and Transformation
  • The Grim Reality: Liberal-Oriented Accounts of Vulnerability
  • Vulnerability Beyond Security and Autonomy: A Post-Liberal Thought
  • Vulnerability as Transformative Desire
  • The Abstract Corporeality
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Chapter 3: Vulnerability and Becoming
  • Vulnerability: The Deleuzian Version
  • Becoming, Vulnerability and Temporality
  • Vulnerability as a Navigating Tool
  • Vulnerability and Social Transformation
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Chapter 4: Corporeality and the Ethics of the Maternal Body
  • Living Values
  • Samson: Between Erasure and Nostalgia
  • The Mother and the Predestined Death
  • Desire and the Economy of Exchange
  • Delilah
  • References
  • Chapter 5: Vulnerable Narratives
  • Maternal Silence, Maternal Narratives
  • Witnessing Vulnerability
  • References
  • Chapter 6: Transformative Lineages
  • Witnessing Violence Beyond Norms
  • Maternal Lineages
  • References
  • Conclusion: Lineages of Transformation
  • References
  • Index

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This project would not have been written without the inspiration, insights, support and collaboration of many people and institutions. I am afraid that acknowledging everybody would be impossible as this project has evolved over the course of five years, and the many who have shared with me pieces of their lives, who have been there for me listening and responding, have a part in the becoming of this book. So, I will start by deeply thanking all those who have enriched my world with their presence.

I would like to first thank those who have supported me throughout the last four years of research. First and foremost, to my wonderful assistant, Tomer Sassonkin, a brilliant young scholar whose contribution to this project is beyond measure. I am incredibly grateful to Tomer for his careful reading, and for tirelessly devoting his skills to the editing and formatting of this manuscript.

To my wonderful graduate students at Bar-Ilan University, and especially to the students at the “Vulnerability” seminar, who have shared with me their experiences and insights. I owe them a tremendous gratitude for their thought-provoking discussions.

Many thanks to my colleagues at Bar-Ilan University and Tel-Aviv University, who for me are such a stimulating and inspiring intellectual community.

Deep thanks to Alison Stone, Ronald Bogue, Stephan Frosh, Lisa Baraitser, and Maura Sheehy, who commented in different stages on the evolving thesis presented in this book.

I would also like to thank Ido Bornstein, Tamar Mishmar, and Yonit Levy for their generous feedback during the initial stages of writing this book.

Many thanks also to my editor at Peter Lang, Lucy Melville, for her generosity, patience, and professional support.

Thanks to the Israel Scientific Foundation for supporting this project. ← vii | viii →

To my dear brother Eyal, an outstanding thinker, and a generous, loving person, with whom philosophical explorations are intertwined with personal genealogies to make creative intimate spaces.

Above all, I am deeply grateful to my family, who has patiently accepted this book as a new, somewhat demanding member of the family. Without their support and understanding I would not have had the peace of mind to write. To my kids, Neta and Ori, who have made for me the issues of generations, inheritance, and vulnerability so alive, and for whom I try to promote a better world. Finally, to my loving, supportive, encouraging, and patient husband, Ido, whose faithful support has been an amazing gift.

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Vulnerable Temporalities

Vulnerability reins our time. People know that their world is changing in ways that they cannot foresee. Habits and values that have provided a sense of orientation are now losing their grip. Communities disintegrate and boundaries lose their relevance. The economy seems to be in a continual crisis and new political forces appear to challenge the sovereignty of states. A growing sense of instability and unpredicted transformations governs the political and popular discourse of the west. Recent crises in Europe and the Middle East, the appearance of new modes of terror, climate change, rising refugee traffic, and the rapid changes in global economy all challenge what has been one of the touchstones of modern individuality – the conviction that people can influence the course of their lives.

As a subjective experience today, vulnerability does not only designate the actual risk people think they are in, nor does it signify a distinct event that breaks into the stability of everyday life. Vulnerability is an affective relation people hold with their world and with their lives. Vulnerability becomes a permanent feature of how people imagine their stand in life. As such, it influences their notion of relations with other people, with the state, and other aspects of their social and private lives. Vulnerability shapes and is shaped by people’s expectations, ideals, worldviews, and imagined identities.

In this political climate, the popular and political discourse of security has become an intense site for a reactionary quest of going back to the conditions in which both culture and identities could pass their normative heritage without serious threats. This wish to go back reifies the others who penetrate and threaten who we are, justifying the kind of violence that promotes closure alongside a static and defensive existence. From Britain’s Brexit to the growing support of right wing nationalist politics around Europe and the US, the quest for security poses a serious challenge for the core values of liberal democracies. ← 1 | 2 →

In contemporary ethical and political discourses, vulnerability appears as an axis around which to rethink the meaning of basic moral concepts such as justice, equality, autonomy, rights, and moral obligation. It thus holds the potential of reacting to and critically engaging with the discourse of security and the affects that fuel it.

The conviction underlying this book is that if we accept vulnerability as a dominant condition of contemporary life, then we should question the philosophical image that understands vulnerability as the negativity of a so-called full life. Rather, vulnerability should be thought of as a new condition with its challenges and resources. My goal in this book is to suggest a way for people to live their vulnerability as a transformative power. I focus on the ways in which vulnerability can become an effective resource that connects people and supports their transformative political actions. I argue that focusing thusly on vulnerability holds a productive potential for suggesting new modalities of transformative processes and individual agency, as well as a new attentiveness on behalf of critical discourses in general and feminist philosophy in particular.

One inherent risk to any conceptualization of vulnerability is the possible reification of some groups as vulnerable – a reification that figures in discourses which contrast vulnerability to agency. When a group or individuals are regarded as if their vulnerability lies at the core of what is significant in their social existence, then they are conceptualized as in need and thus wanting for help. While help is important in many cases, this theoretical perspective disaggregates any option to conceptualize how vulnerable people engage with their conditions in creative ways that aim to gain freedom and possibilities. Thus, a politically oriented view of vulnerability should account for the ways in which vulnerability figures in agency and as a resource for transformative dynamics.

Postcolonial feminist voices, such as Saba Mahmood (2005), have been calling for the re-conceptualization of agency beyond the concept of resistance to power formations. Following Mahmood, Sarah Bracke connects agency with the neoliberal discourse of resilience. She argues that in terms of subject formation, resilience has become a constitutive characteristic of subjects in neoliberal times. The neoliberal agency is interlinked with resilience: “structural pressure, including oppression, is expected to be met with individual elasticity, rebounding, and adaptation” (Bracke 2016, 13). ← 2 | 3 →

These discussions call for a notion of agency that is attentive to the intersectional location of agency and the multiple ways in which people engage with these locations. It also reveals the political potential of conceptualizing vulnerability as an affect that yields agency. And it is at this point that the theoretical intersections between vulnerability can be productive for feminist theory.

The conceptualization of vulnerability aims to be attentive to the map of social conditions that render some people more vulnerable than others. But as a basis for an alternative notion of subjectivity and agency, this conceptualization also offers a political ontology. How can ontology be attentive to the concrete distribution of social power and resources? What is the meaning of a shared human ontology in relation to an embodied reality, which consists of radical differences between people and groups? In my previous book, Creating Oneself (Rozmarin 2011), I argued that a critique foreclosing on the option of people to act in ways that would challenge social formations, is a critique that loses its political edge and raison-d’etre. Subversive actions should be assessed not only in relation to their effects on prevailing normative formations but also as having a surplus value, being part of a positive and creative process. I further argued that agency immanently involves an affirmative stance, a process of self-creation, which affirms an alternative reality. Resting on this argument, I offer in this book an account of ontology as part the political commitment of philosophy to inspire a radical moral imagination, which is open for appropriation and adaptations from multiple and different social positions. It serves as a cultural arena in which different paths of political positions can relate to each other in the uniqueness of their locatedness and struggles.

Vulnerable Subject, Fractured Temporality

Vulnerability is immanently connected to temporality. Vulnerability is caused by various ways in which past, present, and future are disintegrated or narrowed. Vulnerability also reflects how past, present, and future are echoed in people’s subjectivity and agency. This means that if we strive to ← 3 | 4 → rethink vulnerability as transformative desire that mobilizes agency, then this effort also requires of us to take into account the political temporality that would support transformative vulnerability.

The experience of fractured temporality is a dominant affect of contemporary life. In a post-enlightenment era, the loss of a past cannot be easily taken as a sign of freedom and progress. The alienation from traditional forms of belonging, and the fragmentation of time both render people more vulnerable to reactionary – and more often, violent – discourses, which offer alternative notions of belonging, whether in the guise of some mythic religious past that returns, or a messianic future that provides a sense of normative orientation and meaningfulness. The present becomes a multiplying web filled with requirements to perform and produce. Zygmunt Bauman describes this temporality as follows:


VIII, 194
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (March)
Vulnerabilty Temporality Maternal subjectivity Ethics Mother-daughter relations Lineages Judith Butler Deleuze Guattari
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2017. VIII, 194 pp.

Biographical notes

Miri Rozmarin (Author)

Miri Rozmarin is Associate Professor in the Gender Studies Program at Bar-Ilan University, Israel. Her publications concern a range of topics in feminist philosophy, critical theory, and contemporary post-liberal ethics.


Title: Vulnerable Futures, Transformative Pasts