Rethinking vulnerability as a radically ethical device: ethical vulnerability analysis and the EU 'migration' crisis

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In this paper, we reinvigorate vulnerability theory as a radically ethical device – ethical vulnerability analysis. We bring together fuller vulnerability analysis as theorised by Fineman and Grear in conversation with Levinas and Derrida's radical vulnerability and the ethics of hospitality to construct a theoretical framework that is firmly anchored in the realities of the everyday that are vulnerability, migration and mobility. We posit that ethical vulnerability analysis offers a thinking space to subvert how we think of migrants and migration as it compels us to come face-to face with the so-called 'other', which in turn renders the political accountable by the lived realities of the human experience, that has always been characterised by being mobile. To date, the language of vulnerability in EU migration policies has done little to recognise and respond to migrants’ vulnerability. Rather we witness a policy instrumentalisation of vulnerability. Similarly, the language of 'crisis' participates in the problematising and securitisation of migrants. Both the construction of the (in)vulnerable migrant and the framing of human mobility as a 'crisis' have failed to spur a radical reform of the EU migration and asylum policies. Rather both the language of vulnerability and crisis serves to support policy objectives entrenched in the "traditional" relationship of migration law and the nation', which closely links migration law to the sovereign power and national identity. Critically, these policy objectives are detached from the fundamental human realities that are vulnerability and migration.
Against this backdrop, we reclaim the concept of vulnerability and argue that ethical vulnerability analysis provides a potent critical device to investigate and respond to the construction of the EU 'migration' crisis. We posit that this crisis is, in reality, a hospitality and humanity crisis. We contend that this crisis is borne out of the EU asylum and migration policies' persisting failure to engage with the realities of the human experience that are vulnerability and migration. The EU and its Member States' unwillingness to open the door to the Other makes for fundamentally inhuman and inhumane policies. With this in mind, we deploy ethical vulnerability analysis to reimagine the EU asylum policy in light of the realities of the human experience in our 'uneven globalised world'. We start this paper by discussing how the language of vulnerability and crisis plays out in EU migration and asylum policies, with a focus on the 2015 EU 'migration' crisis. We then discuss how fuller and radical vulnerability analyses enlightened by Levinas and Derrida's radical vulnerability theory and ethics of hospitality offer a fundamentally ethical version of fuller vulnerability analysis. Next, we utilise ethical vulnerability analysis to transform and humanise the EU asylum policy. We finish the paper with concluding remarks on how ethical vulnerability analysis can answer calls for courageous reform of the international refugee protection regime.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 19 Feb 2021
EventVulnerability in Times of Crisis: Online Workshop on Approaches to Vulnerability in Times of Crisis - Åbo Akademi University, Turku, Finland
Duration: 19 Feb 202119 Feb 2021


WorkshopVulnerability in Times of Crisis


  • vulnerability theory
  • ethics of hospitality
  • EU asylum policy


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