Emily Cousens

Emily Cousens


Email: 14109106@brookes.ac.uk

Thesis title: Feminism and the Politics of Vulnerability: Re-assessing Contributions from the Feminist ‘Second Wave’

Start year: 2015


Research topic

My PhD research explores the concept of ‘vulnerability’ within feminist theory.

In the last decade there has been a ‘return’ to the concept of vulnerability within feminist philosophy. My thesis intends to explore precisely how this concept has been refigured by contemporary feminist theorists, and to what effect. I will look at Judith Butler’s work in detail, as she has been credited by many for instigating and influencing this return. I will also explore how the concept’s recent formulation departs from earlier applications of the term by feminist writers in the 1970s and 1980s.

In the process, I will also ask the following questions: What, if any, are the institutional pressures on feminist theorists? What is the link between narratives of return and departure, particularly within feminist theory, and how does this relate to pre-existing temporal logics?

My aim is to bring together reflections on vulnerability across the history of feminist theory. So rather than there being the ‘old’ understanding and a ‘new’, ‘contemporary’ and more sophisticated one, I intend to draw on writers who would typically be understood as unusual bedfellows, including Andrea Dworkin and Judith Butler. In doing so, I hope to theorise the term so that it can both attend to vulnerability as it is experienced through women’s (cissexual and transsexual) disproportionate liability to sexual violence whilst not reducing women to this liability or ignoring the way that experiences of vulnerability are both distributed along other axes: class, race and sexuality, and may even provide the basis for a non-violent political community.


Vulnerability; feminism; Judith Butler; second wave feminism; return narratives



  • Vulnerability Inter-disciplinary workshop. Oxford Brookes 21st-22nd January 2016, Corporeal Vulnerability and Feminist Ethics: The Rationale and the Limits
  • Oxford Brookes Winter Symposium. 5th December 2015, Judith Butler’s Philosophy of Vulnerability
  • Feminism and Critical Theory, Sussex 20th-21st June, Men as Material Conditions: Exploring the Marxian Influence on Anti-Porn Feminism
  • The Marx and Philosophy Society Annual Conference 2015. 13th June 2015, Marx’s Contribution to Feminist Thought
  • Historical Materialism Conference, SOAS. 6th-9th Nov 2014, Cognitive Capitalism and the Instrumentalisation of Sexuality as Vulnerability
  • Feminism in Theory and Action Conference, University of Oxford. 1st Nov 2014, I spoke on the ‘class and gender’ panel

Academic and professional training

  • BA (Hons) Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), University of Oxford, 2013
  • MSt. Women’s Studies, University of Oxford, 2014