Dr Kate Brown delivers keynote address on ‘vulnerability’

Dr Kate Brown, Deputy Director of the ESRC Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre, has delivered a keynote address about vulnerability at University College Dublin.

11 May 2023

Dr Brown’s keynote looked at the challenges that arise from defining vulnerability and the power dynamics behind such definitions. Drawing on her previous research, Dr Brown explored vulnerability in the context of vulnerable young people, sex work and child sexual exploitation.

Organised by the UCD Centre for Ethics in Public Life, the event explored ethics and politics of vulnerable populations and particularly focused on policing and governance.

The event examined the way ‘vulnerability’ is defined and employed across policy and practice and its unintentional consequences of disempowering certain groups and eroding certain rights.

The workshop also explored how vulnerability is unequally distributed across gender, race, ethnic, and regional lines, and is often associated with victimhood and passivity. Stereotyping individuals and groups as vulnerable can undermine their own sense of agency, and the event examined these issues across human rights and elderly care, disability, mental illness, ‘vulnerable’ youth, and sex workers, among others.

Speakers also discussed vulnerability in relation to the Magdalene Institutions, reporting from the Justice for Magdalenes Research, a group instrumental in having the State issue apologies to the women of the Magdalene Institutions and in successful lobbying for the Magdalene Redress Scheme.

Dr Kate Brown said: “It was great to be a part of the UCD Centre for Ethics in Public Life’s event. Vulnerability is a contested concept being defined and applied in numerous ways with important impacts for those who are deemed vulnerable. Hearing how that varies across different environments, from welfare and healthcare to politics and disability, was incredibly interesting.

“The ESRC Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre’s Q Methods Study of Vulnerability will explore how different services and those who use them understand and interpret vulnerability in relation to policing and how their understanding shapes people’s experiences and practice. The Q methods team are about to commence fieldwork and watch this space for findings from this study.”