The vulnerable subject

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Academic freedom is formally supported but often challenged, through activities like no-platforming and through a sentiment of sensitivity and an understanding that ideas can be harmful. This development is discussed here as a reflection of the rise of the ‘vulnerable subject.’ This paper demonstrates the growing importance of vulnerability as the central human characteristic in (post) modern times and with reference to law and justice practices explains the ‘collapse of the harm principle.’ Developed through Frank Furedi’s theory of diminished subjectivity we will demonstrate the extent to which the vulnerable subject has been institutionalised and adopted as a new (fragmented) norm. Within the framework of diminished subjectivity, the inner logic of vulnerability has a spiralling dynamic—once adopted as a norm, the vulnerable subject’s answer to the question ‘vulnerable to what?’ constantly expands, drawing in ever more areas of life, behaviour, relationships as well as words and ideas into a regulatory framework. Concerns about overcriminalisation are understood here to be a product of this vulnerable subject, something that cannot be resolved at the level of law but must relate to the wider cultural and political sense of human progress and a defence of the robust liberal subject in society.
Original languageEnglish
Article number66
Number of pages17
Issue number3
Early online date17 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sept 2019


  • Criminalisation
  • Harm
  • Law
  • Criminal Justice
  • Freedom
  • Risk
  • Abuse
  • Liberal
  • Victim
  • Vulnerability


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