Repository logo

Sustaining Life: Rethinking modes of agency in vulnerability

Accepted version

No Thumbnail Available



Change log



This article discusses ambivalence in the meaning and attribution of agency, and the role it plays in understanding vulnerability as a concept and condition that is specific to individual bodies. This involves examining agency as an embodied resource that vulnerability might draw upon when bodies endure conditions of uncertainty, detention and exile. The documenting of a partial narrative of an individual who set his body on fire provides an analytic lens through which to investigate the complexity and contextual specificities of vulnerability. The article argues that working with a single modality of agency resulting from a certain slippage between meanings of agency, political agency and resistance, might result in foreclosing alternative forms of living and sustaining lives. Agency is considered more expansively as a capacity for action that is necessarily mediated through situated capabilities, struggles and desires. The article argues for the need to analyse concepts held within a ‘grammar of vulnerability’ in order to discuss modalities of agency that capture both activities of resistance, but also other, often unseen, investments in sensory, affective and physical labours required for everyday activities in which individuals sustain their lives.



47 Language, Communication and Culture, 4702 Cultural Studies, 44 Human Society

Journal Title

Australian Feminist Studies

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title



Taylor & Francis