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Vulnerability and the myth of autonomy

Cummins, ID

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SA Webb


This chapter examines the notions of individualism that are such a key feature of neoliberalism. It outlines the main themes in M. Fineman’s argument and discusses notion of “the vulnerable subject”. The chapter argues that vulnerability is a constant and universal feature of the human condition. There has been a significant rise in the interest in and use of the term “vulnerability”. The use of the term “vulnerability” has its roots in the biological and life sciences. In the 1980s, it was a term that was rarely used. The modern political discourse and framework of human rights has its roots in the response to the atrocities of World War II. Fineman argues vulnerability is universal, constant and deeply rooted in the human condition. The chapter concludes by arguing that Fineman’s work can play a key role in the reinvigoration of societal institutions that focus on the wellbeing of citizens rather than the management of marginalised populations.


Cummins, I. (2019). Vulnerability and the myth of autonomy. In S. Webb (Ed.), The Routledge handbook of critical social work. London: Routledge.

Online Publication Date Jan 3, 2019
Publication Date Jan 18, 2019
Deposit Date Jun 30, 2020
Publicly Available Date Jul 18, 2020
Publisher Routledge
Book Title The Routledge handbook of critical social work
ISBN 9781351264402-(ebook);-9781138578432-(print)
Publisher URL
Related Public URLs
Additional Information Additional Information : Chapter originally titled "The myth of vulnerability"
Access Information : This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in The Routledge handbook of critical social work on 18th January 2019, available online:


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