Vulnerability is a universal aspect of the human condition, arising from our embodiment and our location within society and its institutions. On the individual level, vulnerability refers to the ever-present possibility of harm, injury or biological impairment or limitation. As human creations, institutions also are vulnerable to capture, cooptation and corruption. Neither manifestation of vulnerability can be eliminated completely, though one can take measures to mitigate or ameliorate harm. Vulnerability should not only be equated with harm, however. Properly understood, vulnerability also is generative and presents opportunities for innovation and growth, creativity and fulfillment. As embodied and vulnerable beings, we experience feelings such as love, respect, curiosity, amusement and desire that make us reach out to others, form relationships and build institutions. Both the negative and the positive possibilities inherent in vulnerability recognize the inescapable interrelationship and interdependence that mark human existence.
The Vulnerable Subject is a reconceptualized legal entity that is meant to replace the autonomous and independent liberal subject. When placed at the center of political and social endeavors, the Vulnerable Subject expands current ideas of state responsibility. It refocuses the relationship between the state and individuals upon the universal need for resilience, thereby legitimating claims calling for state responsibility to ensure meaningful access and opportunity to its institutions.
Resilience is a highly relational concept, emphasizing the importance of understanding individuals within institutions and in interaction with each other. The state and the societal institutions it brings into existence through law collectively play an important role in creating opportunities and options for addressing human vulnerability. Together and independently institutional systems, such as those of education, finance, and health, provide resources or assets that give individuals resilience in the face of our shared vulnerability. Assets or resources may take five forms: physical, human, social, ecological or environmental and existential. A responsive state, must ensure that its institutions provide meaningful access and opportunity to accumulate resources and that some individuals or groups of individuals are not unduly privileged, while others are disadvantaged.
A governing body. The manifestation of public authority and the ultimate legitimate repository of coercive powerMost readily visible through "branches" of government and in realms referred to as "public". The state also becomes manifest through complex institutional arrangements creating legal entities that operate in traditionally "private" realms. These include the family, domestic arrangements and the workplace.
Legal equality in the United States tends to focus on formal and procedural processes, and not on more substantive or outcome-sensitive measures of equality. Many programs focus on target groups, rather than provide universal benefits. The Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative is interested in finding ways to ensure meaningful and universal equality of access and opportunity that specifically takes into account the state's responsibility to address existing entrenched privilege and disadvantage, not just prohibited forms of discrimination.