Vulnerability Politics

The Uses and Abuses of Precarity in Political Debate

336 pages

4 illustrations

August, 2018

ISBN: 9781479847822



Add to Cart Available: 7/20/2018

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Katie Oliviero is Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Dickinson College.

All books by Katie Oliviero

A new understanding of vulnerability in contemporary political culture

Progressive thinkers have argued that placing the concept of vulnerability at the center of discussions about social justice would lead governments to more equitably distribute resources and create opportunities for precarious groups – especially women, children, people of color, queers, immigrants and the poor.  At the same time, conservatives claim that their values and communities are vulnerable to attack–often by these same groups. In turn, they craft antidemocratic representations of vulnerability that significantly influence the political landscape, restricting human and legal rights for many in order to expand them for a historically privileged few.

Vulnerability Politics examines how twenty-first century political struggles over immigration, LGBTQ rights, reproductive justice, and police violence have created a sense of vulnerability that has an impact on culture and the law.  By researching organizations like the Minutemen (civilians who monitor the US/Mexico border), the Protect Marriage Coalition (a campaign to ban same-sex marriage in California), and the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (an anti-abortion movement), Katie Oliviero shows how conservative movements use the rhetoric of risk to oppose liberal policies by claiming that the nation, family, and morality are imperiled and in need of government protection.

The author argues that this sensationalism has shifted the focus away from the everyday and institutional precarities experienced by marginalized communities and instead reinforces the idea that groups only deserve social justice protections when their beliefs reflect the dominant nationalist, racial, and sexual ideals.


  • “Katie Oliviero provides a lucid and wide-ranging analysis of the powerful emotions generated through political claims to vulnerability . . . . Critiquing how conservative groups such as anti-immigrant and anti-abortion activists capitalize on the purported vulnerability of the nation and the family, Oliviero lays the groundwork for an alternate, progressive use of the concept, one that—as illustrated in the Black Lives Matter movement—works to materially address structural inequities as well as our mutual needs and desires.”

    —Jane Juffer, Author of Intimacy Across Borders: Race, Religion, and Migration in the U.S. Midwest

  • “In this important and impressive book, Katie Oliviero places herself firmly in the center of the vibrant debates around the political and social implications, opportunities, and dangers of using the concept of vulnerability. Developing the powerful idea of ‘progressive vulnerability’ to articulate social justice claims, she shows how politics must be based on a sense of our collective responsibility when it comes to vexing issues, such as poverty, racism, sexual violence, and social exclusion.”

    —Martha Albertson Fineman, Co-editor of Feminist Perspectives on Transitional Justice: From International and Criminal to Al