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Victimhood: the affective politics of vulnerability

Chouliaraki, Lilie (2021) Victimhood: the affective politics of vulnerability. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 24 (1). 10 - 27. ISSN 1367-5494

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Identification Number: 10.1177/1367549420979316


In this article, I enquire into the historical circumstances (past and present) under which vulnerability, an embodied and social condition of openness to violence, turns into victimhood, an act of affective communication that attaches the moral value accrued to the vulnerable to everyone who claims it. The 20th-century victimhood, I argue, emerged as a master-signifier of emotional capitalism through the two grand narratives of modernity, psychoanalysis and human rights, each of which tactically mobilizes affective claims to trauma or injury to bestow the moral value of the sufferer to any powerful claimant independent of the position of vulnerability they speak from. Turning to the 21st century, I place victimhood within the communicative context of post-recession and digital neoliberalism to show how the two amplify, accelerate and complicate the circulation of affective claims to suffering, rendering platformized pain a ‘new normal’ of our culture. In order to address the implications of this ‘new normal’ on the most vulnerable in society, I propose the distinction between ‘tactical’ and ‘systemic’ vulnerability as a heuristic frame that enables us to ask questions about who claims to be a victim, from which position and to which effects; and, in so doing, helps us to scrutinize the social contexts in which affective claims to victimhood are made and the power relations such claims reproduce or challenge.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2020 The Author
Divisions: Media and Communications
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Date Deposited: 20 Nov 2020 15:27
Last Modified: 07 Apr 2024 05:51

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