Institute of Advanced Studies



IAS Junior Research Fellows Dr Allison Deutsch and Dr Peter Leary are researching this theme.

This theme is open to the widest possible interpretation and is assumed to address the concerns of many disciplines and departments while providing a frame for thinking across or even bypassing entrenched or established modes of thinking. It could include the following concerns:

  • A state of being wounded, subject to harm or injury
  • A relational condition of dependence invoking external and internal forces or dangers
  • Figurations of vulnerability, in literature, art, humanitarian discourse, politics and poetics
  • The constitution/construction of vulnerable subjects and groups, regions, languages, populations or communities
  • The instrumentalizations of vulnerability in human rights discourse, humanitarian studies, refugee studies, public policy and politics
  • Vulnerability and victimhood: ethics, values, agency and moral judgement
  • Vulnerability and violence: epistemic, actual and strategic
  • The relationship of ‘vulnerability’ to ‘precarity’, ‘fragility’ or ‘risk’
  • Vulnerable forms: genres, mediums, practices, objects, structures, materials, modes of being, life-worlds
  • The gendering/ageing/sexing of vulnerability: vulnerability and intersectionality
  • Vulnerability and visibility, vulnerability and difference, vulnerability as image
  • Vulnerability and the law, discourses of protection, care and control, compassion and support
  • Vulnerability, performance and performativity
  • Vulnerability and power, vulnerability and strength/resilience


IAS Vulnerability Seminar: Landscapes of Vulnerability - A conversation with artists Lola Frost and Edmund Clark

Lola Frost.png

Time and Date: 5 - 7 pm, 25 April 2018
Location: IAS Common Ground, Ground Floor, South Wing

What is the relation of vulnerability to precarity, fragility and risk in the making of art? How might art make visible vulnerable states and subjects in ways that challenge conventional aesthetic, political and social categories, subverting existing hierarchies of power while staging quiet, yet potent, modes of dissent?

Anna Marazuela Kim, IAS Fellow, writer and photographer brings two artists into conversation whose new bodies of work, in painting and photography, bring into view bodies confined both institutionally and psychically.


Lola Frost, painter

Merleau-Ponty’s phrase ‘The Flesh of the world’, as a metaphor for an aesthetically attuned and reversible process in which “doubling, difference and desire” are “crocheted into all that is there”, serves as a template for exploring the risks, precarities and vulnerabilities of Frost’s painted landscapes of an improper uncanny sublime (see image above). The artist’s presentation will explore the subversive interventions of her practice within the tradition of the sublime in painting. Such subversion extends to the performance of ‘doubling, difference and desire’ as a riposte to a social and perceptual imaginary preoccupied with subject-object and mind-body dichotomies and hierarchies. This is an imaginary which continues to sustain masculine privilege, the repression and regulation of the ‘carnal’, cognitive control, visual mastery and instrumental and purposive reason. This norm-contesting practice invites us to consider the risky and transient vulnerabilities of unguarded and libidinal psychic life, opening up the productive potential of ‘the precarious encounter’.

Edmund Clark, photographer

Edmund Clark.jpg

My Shadow’s Reflection is part of a new body of work by the artist-in-residence of Europe’s only entirely therapeutic prison environment, HM Prison Grendon. Clark’s photographs comprise architectural images of the prison, pinhole images of the occupants, and close-ups of flora and fauna growing in situ, picked and pressed by the artist. Opened in 1962, the prison’s inmates agree to accept responsibility for their offences, offering full-time commitment to intensive group therapy while exercising a degree of control over the day-to-day running of their lives via democratic decision-making. Through research and evaluation, evidence shows that Grendon reduces levels of violence and disruption, while lowering reoffending levels after release. In Place of Hate, the exhibition of Clark’s work as the prison’s artist-in-residence, showed at Ikon, Birmingham until 11 March 2018. The exhibition combines photography, video and installation to explore ideas of visibility, representation, trauma and self-image, addressing how prisoners and the criminal justice system are perceived and discussed by the public, politicians and media in Britain today.


Edmund Clark is an award-winning artist who links history, politics and representation. His research-based work combines a range of references and forms including bookmaking, installations, photography, video, documents, text and found images and material. Recurring themes include developing strategies for reconfiguring how subjects are seen and engaging with state censorship to explore unseen experiences, spaces and processes of control and incarceration in the ‘Global War on Terror’ and elsewhere. Clark has published six books and exhibited widely, including major solo exhibitions at the International Center of Photography Museum, New York, the Imperial War Museum, London, and Zephyr Raum für Fotografie, Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen, Mannheim. His work has been acquired for national and international collections including the ICP Museum and the George Eastman House Museum in America and the National Portrait Gallery, the Imperial War Museum and the National Media Museum in Great Britain.

Anna Marazuela Kim is an art historian, critic and cultural theorist whose research engages the deep structures of images and our complex relation to them, from Plato to the present digital age, drawing together ethics and aesthetics, phenomenology, urban studies, anthropology, religion and technology. Since 2011, she has been a member of Institutes of Advanced Study and international, cross-disciplinary research groups advancing studies of iconoclasm and iconic presence; images and religious conflict; and the role of the arts in civic thriving. Her primary research focuses on histories and theories of iconoclasm. A second area of research concerns art, conflict, terrorism and the new image wars, the subject of a book in progress. Dr. Kim is also an advisor to King’s Centre for Strategic Communications in War Studies and Research Fellow of the Thriving Cities Project, Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture (University of Virginia).

All welcome. Please register here.

First Image: Lola Frost, The Flesh of the World

Second Image: Edmund Clark, My Shadow's Reflection

IAS Vulnerability Seminar: Vulnerability and Censorship

Vulnerability and Censorship.jpg

Time and Date: 12 - 1:30 pm, 30 April 2018
Location: IAS Common Ground, Ground Floor, South Wing

The IAS is delighted to welcome Professor Anthony Julius for this Vulnerability seminar.


Professor Julius is a highly regarded lawyer and Deputy Chairman of law firm Mishcon de Reya. He is also a noted scholar and author who has written extensively on law, literature, art, and culture. Having completed a PhD with UCL English and taught at UCL Faculty of Laws, in 2017 he joined the Faculty as the first ever Chair in Law and Arts. 

All welcome. Please register here.

IAS Vulnerability Seminar: Uncertainties and vulnerabilities in the context of climate change - Perceptions and experiences from ‘above’ and ‘below’ in India

Uncertainties and vulnerabilties.jpg

Time and Date: 5 - 7 pm, 22 May 2018
Location: IAS Common Ground, Ground Floor, South Wing

The IAS is delighted to welcome Professor Lyla Mehta, Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, for this Vulnerability Seminar.

Climate shocks and stressors such as cyclones, floods and droughts, changing rainfall patterns and extreme temperatures are some examples of uncertainties that local people, planners and policy makers in the global South are confronted with regularly. It is well known that uncertainties in climate change projections are particularly high. These, combined with economic and political drivers of change have made local level effects difficult to predict. The paper demonstrates that while uncertainty debates in climate change have emerged as a ‘monster’ or ‘super wicked problem’ for scientists and policy makers alike, quantitative assessments and models (usually based on probabilities and ecological risk assessment) remain at the heart of the scientific method. But do these factor in the lived realities of local people women and men especially in the global South? A rich ethnographic literature has meticulously captured the everyday realities of uncertainty and the multiple coping mechanisms that people at the margins deploy to make sense of, live with and adapt to climate change related uncertainties and vulnerabilities. Still, uncertainties and vulnerabilities linked to climate change are often framed in a top-down manner by scientists, modellers and researchers from ‘above’, which then get translated to top-down policy prescriptions. The disconnect between such framings and policies and the everyday lives of communities from ‘below’ could also lead to the emergence of new uncertainties and vulnerabilities. The paper draws on ongoing research in India (dryland Kutch,Sunderbans and Mumbai, India) to analyse diverse discourses and practices of climate change and uncertainty from ‘above’, ‘middle, and ‘below.’ It asks whether there are ways to bridge the different perspectives in order to foster more productive and socially just ways of dealing with uncertainties and social transformation. 


Professor Lyla Mehta works in and co-leads the Resource Politics cluster at the Institute of Development Studies, UK, and is also a Visiting Professor at Noragric, Norwegian University of Life Sciences. A sociologist working in development studies, she uses the case of water and sanitation to focus on rights and access to resources, resource grabbing, the politics of scarcity, gender , power and policy processes. Her work also concerns climate change and uncertainty and gender, displacement and resistance. She has extensive research and field experience in India and southern Africa.

All welcome. Please register here

IAS Vulnerability Seminar: Zarina Bhimji in conversation with Tamar Garb

Zarina Bhimji Yellow Patch

Time and Date: 5 - 7 pm, 30 May 2018
Location: IAS Seminar Room 20, First Floor, South Wing

The IAS Vulnerability Seminar Series is delighted to welcome the artist Zarina Bhimji for this screening and talk. Bhimji will be in conversation with Tamar Garb to discuss her 2011 film installation, Yellow Patch. Inspired by trade and immigration routes across the Indian Ocean between India and Africa, Yellow Patch is an exploration of space with a characteristically evocative use of sound.

Shot on 35mm on location in India, the film focuses on distinct details of the landscape and architecture. These uninhabited spaces conjure stories about those who were once present and urge us to question why they are no longer there. Yellow Patch is part of a major body of film works that includes Waiting (2007) and Jangbar (2014). This conversation with be chaired by Gabriella Nugent.


Zarina Bhimji, born in Mbarara, Uganda in 1963, is a photographer, filmmaker and installation artist who lives and works in London. Bhimji received a BA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths, and an MA in Fine Art from the Slade. She was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2007; was artist-in-residence at the DAAD programme in Berlin, and debuted the film Out of Blue at Documenta XI, Kassel, Germany, in 2002; and she received a Paul Hamlyn Foundation award in 1999. She has exhibited extensively in solo and group exhibitions, including most recently at Nottingham Contemporary (2017); South London Gallery (2017); Whitechapel Gallery (2012); the Art Institute of Chicago (2009); Tate Liverpool (2007); Tate Britain (2003) and the Hayward Gallery (2006). Her work is held in collections including Tate, UK; The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, USA and Moderna Museet, Sweden.

Please register here.

Image: Film still of Bhimji, Zarina (2011) Yellow Patch, single screen installation, 35mm colour film, HD transfer with Dolby 5.1 surround sound. 29 min 34 sec.

IAS Vulnerability Symposium: Food Decay - Art, Sensation, Materiality

nadar panade.jpg

Time and Date: 10am - 6.30pm, 22 Jun 2018
Location: IAS Common Ground, Ground Floor, South Wing

This symposium considers food as subject matter, metaphor, and material in art, in order to explore the vulnerabilities of artistic form, of art’s audiences, and of the category ‘art’ itself.

Speakers will address the representation of food in art, art criticism, visual and material culture, and literature since the nineteenth century. We seek to explore the sensual complexity of responses to diverse media, in response to art historical methodologies and languages that are dominated by concepts of visuality. Speakers will consider still life by Chardin, Courbet, Vollon, and Manet, alongside illustrated gastronomic literature, fin-de-siécle novels, photography, and film. How do these painted, printed, articulated, shot, and digitized representations of the culinary evoke multi-sensory experience in differing, but mutually inflecting ways?

We will approach this question through the concept of decay. In the nineteenth century, critics sometimes claimed that works of art or the figures within them seemed to be decomposing like aging meat or ripening cheese. Often this was to debase art, challenging its claims to temporal endurance and continuing value, suggesting that the materials of art were fragile, vulnerable forms. The organic materiality of paint often seemed particularly unstable. In so doing, critics even suggested that art was capable of threatening the viewer’s body, provoking reactions best described through the senses of taste, smell, and touch. Rather than conceiving of the eye as an instrument that functioned at a safe distance, many described it as a vulnerable organ through which the entire body was made subject to harm or injury. Opening out such expressions of ambivalence, anxiety, and disgust creates space to interrogate embodied encounters with art in the present as well as in the past. Whether real or metaphorical, food has played a central role in art, its criticism, and its institutions.

Speakers Include:

  • Jinhee Choi, Reader in Film Studies, King’s College London
  • Frédérique Desbuissons, Lecturer in History of Art, University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne
  • Allison Deutsch, Junior Research Fellow, Institute of Advanced Studies, University College London
  • Briony Fer, Professor of History of Art, University College London
  • Gustavo Gomez-Mejia, Lecturer in Communication Studies, University of Tours
  • Marni Kessler, Associate Professor of Art History, The University of Kansas
  • Bertrand Marquer, Lecturer in French Literature, University of Strasbourg
  • James Rubin, Professor of Art History, Stony Brook University

Programme to follow.

All welcome. This event will be followed by a reception. Please register here.

Image: Nadar [pseudonym of Félix Tournachon], Nadar jury au Salon de 1857. Paris, Librairie Nouvelle, 1857, p. 40: ‘Don’t you think the Razzia by M. Loubon looks a bit like spilled meat and cabbage soup?’

Past Events

Vulnerability Seminar: Vulnerability and post-imperial identities: from Brexit to Ancient Rome and back

Vulnerability and Post-Imperial Identities

Time and Date: 4 - 6 pm, 20 March 2018
Location: IAS Common Ground, Ground Floor, South Wing

Dr Andrew Gardner, Institute of Archaeology, UCL

The narrow majority for the Leave campaign in the 2016 UK referendum on EU membership has a number of explanations, but the impact of the demise of the British empire upon identities within the UK must be among them. In particular, the vulnerability of English identity needs to be examined from a post-colonial perspective if we are to understand some of the long-term dynamics of imperialism, and their consequences for the future of the United Kingdom. In this seminar, a comparative dimension will also be pursued, with analysis of the Roman empire - which inspired many aspects of British imperialism - shedding further light on the politics of identity in colonial and post-colonial contexts.


Andrew Gardner is Senior Lecturer in the Archaeology of the Roman Empire at the UCL Institute of Archaeology. His publications include An Archaeology of Identity: Soldiers and Society in Late Roman Britain (2007) and Evolutionary and Interpretive Archaeologies: a Dialogue (ed. with Ethan Cochrane, 2011); he is currently working on a monograph on Roman Britain. His research interests are centred upon the social dynamics of Roman imperialism, and the diverse legacies of the Roman empire into contemporary times.

Please register here.

Vulnerability Seminar: Living with Uncertainty - Precarity, Vulnerability and Service Industry Workers on Screen

Living with Uncertainty

Time and Date: 5 - 7 pm, 14 February 2018
Location: IAS Common Ground, Ground Floor, South Wing

This talk will theorize precarity as a global workplace issue and forceful change to labour practices through a series of critical observations extracted from Dr Keith B. Wagner's forthcoming book, Living with Uncertainty: Precarious Work in Global Cinema. As a glaring omission in the study of film, this paper will trace different filmic manifestations of precarity in the gig-economy and services industries found in films by Jia Zhangke (China), Marwan Hamed (Egypt), Neill Blomkamp (South Africa), Sebastian Silva (Chile) and Bong Joon-ho (South Korea). Such an approach provides a much-needed revivification of labor-themed films and complicates claims that these directors are simply film festival darlings or entrepreneurial auteurs. As the first film and media scholar to theorize precarity, Dr Wagner makes both macro- and microscaled evaluations as a means to call attention to workers' real and cinematic misfortunes, articulating what Kathi Weeks (2011) calls 'the problems with work' in the twenty-first century. 


Keith B. Wagner is Assistant Professor of Global Media and Culture in the Centre for Multidisciplinary and Intercultural Inquiry (CMII) at University College London. He is the co-editor of Neoliberalism and Global Cinema: Capital, Culture and Marxist Critique (2011) and China’s iGeneration: Cinema and Moving Image Culture for the Twenty-First Century (2014). His monographic study entitled Living with Uncertainty: Precarious Work in Global Cinema is under contract with a major US academic press and will be published in 2019.

Please register here.

Vulnerability Seminar: Narratives of Vulnerability - Rethinking stories about the figure of the refugee in Europe

Vulnerability Image

Time and Date: 5 - 7 pm, 7 February 2018
Location: IAS Common Ground, Ground Floor, South Wing

The IAS Vulnerability Seminar Series is delighted to welcome Kate Smith from the University of Huddersfield for this talk. The role of vulnerability in relation to mechanisms of governance and social welfare practices has received growing interest, but how ‘vulnerability’ is operationalised in asylum policy is less well understood. This paper explores narratives of vulnerability in relation to the figure of the refugee in Europe.

Taking a narrative approach to stories told about refugees, I put forward the argument that access to asylum has gradually moved away from spontaneous asylum seeking to more controlled routes. This transition has increasingly drawn on the notion of vulnerability to highlight distinctions between people who deserve protection and those who do not. In particular, this paper focuses on the ways in which the UK Syrian Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Programme is underpinned by stories of ‘the vulnerable’ and exemplifies the latest hierarchy of rights and entitlements to emerge in relation to the figure of the refugee. I also offer insights into some of the ways in which asylum policies create the conditions where vulnerabilities are generated and produced. As such, this paper brings a critical perspective to the state increasingly narrowing the protection space for refugees and redefining ‘the vulnerable’ as an essential marker of asylum policy.


Kate Smith is a Research Fellow (Asylum and Migration) at the University of Huddersfield, UK. She was awarded an Economic and Social Research Council funded scholarship in 2009 to explore the narratives of women refugees and her PhD is entitled "Challenging dominant narratives: Stories of women seeking asylum". Kate has worked on academic and non-academic research with women and children. She is interested in understanding the gendered lives of people who migrate and the narratives that shape their stories. Kate has presented widely and is the author of a number of publications that explore asylum support, immigration detention, theories and practices of resistance, and narrative methodologies. She has a new co-edited book, Opportunities and Challenges for Feminist Narrative Research (Palgrave Macmillan) published August 2017. Her recent work has centred on concepts of vulnerability in relation to people who seek asylum and how access to asylum has gradually moved away from spontaneous asylum seeking to more controlled routes.

Please register here.

Vulnerability Seminar: Vulnerability and Law

Vulnerability Image

Time and Date: 5 - 7 pm, 31 January 2018
Location: IAS Common Ground, Ground Floor, South Wing

Professor Jonathan Herring, University of Oxford

The law is traditionally centered around the norm of an able-bodied, competent, independent, self-sufficient and autonomous man. This creates a legal systems which privileges the values of autonomy, privacy and bodily integrity. This paper will explore the challenge in the vulnerability literature to this norm and consider what the law might look like if it used as its norm the vulnerable, interdependent, and relational person as its starting point.


Jonathan Herring is the Vice Dean and Professor of Law at the Law Faculty, Oxford University and DM Wolfe-Clarendon Fellow in Law at Exeter College, Oxford University. He has written on family law, medical law, criminal law and legal issues surrounding vulnerability, care and old age. His books include: Vulnerable Adults and the Law (2016), Caring and the Law (2014), Older People in Law and Society (OUP, 2009), European Human Rights and Family Law (Hart, 2010) (with Shazia Choudhry), Medical Law and Ethics (OUP, 2018), Criminal Law (Oxford University Press, 2018), Family Law (Pearson, 2017) and The Woman Who Tickled Too Much (Pearson, 2009).

Please register here.

Vulnerability Seminar: Stupid Shame


Time and Date: 5 - 7 pm, 17 January 2018
Location: IAS Common Ground, Ground Floor, South Wing

Professor Steven Connor, University of Cambridge

This talk will consider the vulnerability of those assigned to a category which most human groups treat with angry revulsion: the stupid. Professor Connor will suggest that stupidity is more tightly than ever twinned with shame in our growing epistemocracy. But if the power to shame is toxically potent, the condition of shame, though the most exquisitely painful form of vulnerability, may also harbour surprising, and dangerous powers of insurgence.

Steven Connor is Grace 2 Professor of English and Fellow of Peterhouse in the University of Cambridge. From October 2018 he will be Director of Cambridge’s Centre for Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH). He is a writer, critic and broadcaster, who has published books on many topics, including Dickens, Beckett, Joyce, value, ventriloquism, skin, flies and air. His most recent books are Beyond Words: Sobbing, Humming and Other Vocalizations (2014), Beckett, Modernism and the Material Imagination (2014), Living by Numbers: In Defence of Quantity (2016) and Dream Machines (2017) . His book The Madness of Knowledge will appear in 2018. His website at stevenconnor.com includes the texts of talks and lectures, broadcasts, unpublished work and work in progress.

Please register here.

#MeToo: A Panel Discussion on Vulnerability and Visibility


Time and Date: 6 - 8 pm, 21 November 2017
Location: IAS Common Ground, Ground Floor, South Wing

The impact of the online #MeToo campaign and the ongoing fallout following the exposure of Harvey Weinstein continues to be felt across politics, the arts, and media. Against this backdrop and as part of the IAS ‘vulnerability’ research theme, this panel will discuss the complex relationship between vulnerability and visibility. Panelists will touch on the ways in which visibility can be empowering – exposing the reality of sexual violence, or giving a voice and platform to disadvantaged groups – but also how visibility can sometimes leave women and others vulnerable to various forms of harassment or abuse.

Contributors include:

  • Shaista Aziz, Journalist, writer, and stand-up comedian
  • Dr Tiffany Page, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Cambridge
  • Kate Parker, London Director, The Schools Consent Project
  • Laura Thompson, PhD researcher, City University London

The event will be followed by a wine reception.

All welcome! Please register here.