Research Repository

The Ethics and Politics of Vulnerable Bodies

Lloyd, Moya (2015) 'The Ethics and Politics of Vulnerable Bodies.' In: Lloyd, Moya, (ed.) Butler and Ethics. Critical Connections . Edinburgh University Press, 167 - 192. ISBN 9780748678846

The Ethics and Politics of Vulnerable Bodies.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (274kB) | Preview


In an essay from 2000, Judith Butler confesses her worry that the ‘return to ethics has constituted an escape from politics’ (15). In a published conversation with the political theorist William Connolly from that same year, she makes a similar claim, commenting that ‘I tend to think that ethics displaces from politics.’ The nature of the problem as she sees it is that ‘the use of power as a point of departure for a critical analysis is substantially different from an ethical framework’ (Butler in Butler and Connolly 2000). How ironic, therefore, that several critics see Butler's own engagement with ethics in the same way: as a turn to ethics that heralds either a turn away from politics or its displacement. (See, for example, Dean 2008; Honig 2010, 2013; and Shulman 2011.) Using this debate as the backdrop for this chapter, I want to plot a different route through Butler's discussion of ethics and politics, by way of the vulnerable body. As I see it, it is not that her ethical considerations lead her to abandon politics; in fact, she is at pains throughout her work to emphasise how power operates to regulate and determine who counts as human, to shape and condition the scene of recognition, and to circumscribe the types of ethical encounter that might take place there. Butler is thus fully aware of the ‘ethical stakes’ in ‘political encounters’ and of the ‘political modalities’ shaping ‘ethical questions’ (in Butler and Athanasiou 2013: 74), of the ways that politics and ethics are inter-imbricated. The difficulty is rather that there is a tension in her work between ethical responsiveness as an abstract potentiality arising from ecstatic relationality and existential precariousness and the actualisation of ethics and politics in specific contexts of politically induced precarity. Central to my discussion will be a consideration of the ambivalent way that the idea of corporeal vulnerability operates in her work.

Item Type: Book Section
Divisions: Faculty of Social Sciences > Government, Department of
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 11 Dec 2020 14:31
Last Modified: 08 Nov 2021 11:15

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item