Vulnerable in a Job Interview?: Butler's Relational Ontology as a Response to (Neo)liberalism

Nanna Hlín Halldórsdóttir

Research output: Types of ThesisPh.D. Thesis


In recent years, the concept of vulnerability has gained momentum both in feminist philosophy and as an interdisciplinary concept. The philosopher Judith Butler is well known for exposing how hidden ontological assumptions permeate social institutions and discourses. In this dissertation, her philosophy in and around the 2005 book Giving an Account of Oneself, is read as an affirmative account of a relational ontology of vulnerability, which is vital for thinking ethics and politics together. Vulnerability is hence neither understood as a negative trait nor as a new ideal to aspire to. The subtlety of Butler's account culminates in the way the epistemic vulnerability of opacity not only establishes this form of social ontology but offers a new ethical perspective with relationality at its heart. I explore this “turn” to vulnerability as a response to the individuation of the neoliberal period and as a desire to realise a space for difference, multiple subjectivities and supportive collectivity in social terms. However, why is this not happening? Why is it so difficult to present us as vulnerable to others and to acknowledge vulnerability? It will be argued that the social and historical conditions of the present need to be taken into account for a viable transition from an ontology of liberalism to an ontology of vulnerability. The need to appear as an “invulnerable subject” or the “possessive individual” in capitalist labour systems – to promise an employer that one is an able worker – affects one's possibilities of being vulnerable. You cannot “come out” as a person with chronic illness in a job interview. Even in the case where an employer is likely to hire you, you would not take the risk of exposing such vulnerability, if you find yourself without livelihood. Feeling vulnerable in a job interview is thus presented as an illustrative example of this present-day paradox of being vulnerable in various ways but being structurally required to present oneself as a desirable and able worker. I locate the potential to alter this ontological condition – which forces us to appear invulnerable – in the contemporary feminist revolutions such as the 2015 emotional revolutions in Iceland called Beauty Tips and #freethenipple, and the recent international #metoo revolution.
Original languageEnglish
  • Þorgeirsdóttir, Sigríður, Supervisor
Print ISBNs978-9935-9385-5-8
Publication statusPublished - 28 Sept 2018

Other keywords

  • Vulnerability
  • Butler
  • Ontology
  • Neoliberalism
  • Relationality
  • Berskjöldun
  • Verufræði
  • Femínismi
  • Nýfrjálshyggja
  • Heimspeki
  • Doktorsritgerðir


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