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British Association for American Studies


CfP: Special Issue on American Vulnerability - British Association for American Studies


CfP: Special Issue on American Vulnerability


American Vulnerability: Narratives of Risk, Refusal, and Resistance
edited by Caleb Bailey and Zalfa Feghali

What does it mean to “be” vulnerable in the Americas? We are preparing a special issue of Comparative American Studies which will intersect the fields of vulnerability studies and American Studies. The special issue will examine how vulnerability, its corollaries – precarity, insecurity, and risk – and perceived opposites – security and stability – can be productively used to examine American Studies, which we understand in its broadest inter/multidisciplinary and geographical terms. If vulnerability is often understood as a susceptibility to harm, the essays in this special issue will seek to move beyond a focus on that harm and its attendant damage to consider the ways in which hemispheric readings of vulnerability urgently expose complex narratives, spaces, and networks of intersectional solidarity, as well as individual and collective acts of refusal of and resistance to vulnerability. We seek to explore how conditions of vulnerability are experienced across the Americas, how they are articulated, and how those articulations productively complicate vulnerability as a condition of deficiency or passivity. 

Vulnerability studies is an emergent, flexible, and inherently multidisciplinary field, drawing on and used in a wide range of subject areas including criminology, economics, environmental and ecology studies, geography, legal studies, philosophy, political studies, psychology, public health, resilience studies, security studies, social justice, social work, sociology, and sustainability studies, as well as medicine and allied health subjects. Consider a few indicative examples: feminist bioethicists Wendy Rogers, Catriona Mackenzie, and Susan Dodds describe vulnerability as “an ontological condition of our corporeal humanity” (2012: 2). In law and legal studies, jurist Martha Albertson Fineman’s work on vulnerability theory has laid ground for thinking about how framing inequalities rooted in vulnerabilities as a fundamental shared human experience could paradigmatically shift government responsibility for inequality. For Fineman, “vulnerability should be recognized as the primal human condition” (2017: 142) which entails a significant reframing of democratic political systems so that “policies and laws [can] construct and sustain an adequately responsive state – one that is grounded in vulnerability, addresses the range of dependencies inherent over the life-course, and attentive to all stages of development and forms of need” (2019: 370). And of course Judith Butler describes vulnerability as experienced in both ontological and epistemic terms, as an embodied, and context-contingent response to both individual and broader social conditions (2004, 2016, etc). 

Because the many conditions of being vulnerable or vulnerabilised are often glossed over to instead focus on vulnerability’s consequences or to advance neoliberal narratives, practices, and structures of resilience, we wish to extend theoretical discussions of vulnerability and site them in the hemispheric Americas, where unevenly distributed but interlinked vulnerabilities can be examined at local, regional, national, and continental scales. Hemispheric readings of resistance to vulnerability acknowledge the complex connections and entanglements of the globalised conditions that exacerbate such positions, whilst also ensuring equitability in examinations of such inequalities. In taking a hemispheric approach we challenge the dominant narratives of neoliberalism and resilience through which vulnerability has been too readily framed, even while we heed Levander and Levine’s foundational statement on hemispheric studies, that we should always be aware of “the intricately intertwined geographies, movements, and cross-filiations among peoples” in the Americas (2008: 3).  

As we explore American vulnerabilities through the generative themes and practices of risk, refusal, and resistance, we seek proposals for 7000-8000-word articles on topics including but not limited to:

  • Delineating “vulnerable” communities and/as communities of solidarity
  • Intersecting discourses of dis/ability, vulnerability, and agency and recognising how these might differently manifest
  • Spotlighting experiential differences of vulnerability across communities, made visible by events across the life course  
  • Learning to unsettle settler-colonial genealogies, histories, and presents that have produced conditions of vulnerability 
  • Historicising risk, refusal, and/or resistance pre- and post-contact 
  • Recognising risk, refusal, and/or resistance as long-term decolonial projects, often grounded in Indigenous knowledge systems, histories and already-existing frameworks 
  • Ethically engaging with and learning from literatures, languages, and cultures that challenge normative ontologies and epistemologies 
  • Producing (and co-producing) long/perpetual histories of vulnerability and risk 
  • Acting on climate change, environmental degradation, and developing sustainable practices  
  • Navigating addiction and ‘the opioid crisis’  
  • Bridging the ‘digital divide’ and crossing into cyberspace  
  • Complicating homelessness and housing insecurity  
  • Securing and defending reproductive/sexual healthcare  
  • Problematising precarity, including in employment and the gig economy  
  • De/constructing and negotiating borders as geopolitical sites of surveillance and exclusion 
  • Acknowledging individual and group positionalities and privileges, scholarly and otherwise 

Proposals should include an abstract (300 words), 3-5 keywords, and a brief author bio. Please submit these in one document to Zalfa Feghali ( and Caleb Bailey ( by 12 August 2024. Selected articles will be confirmed by 30 September, with full pieces (7000-8000 words) due in March 2025 to undergo peer review. We welcome questions and queries about the special issue at the above addresses.