Chapter 2: Vulnerability in context
The aim of this chapter is to investigate the ‘context’ of vulnerability in relation to the labour subject. This ‘context’ may be seen as a set of external pressures which act on the labour subject to create disadvantages. These external pressures can be characterised broadly or narrowly in terms of both subject matter and timeframe. For example, it can be argued that, in economic terms, it is the capitalist system which creates problems for workers and exposes them to vulnerability. On the other hand, it can be argued that it is not the capitalist system as a whole which creates vulnerability, but rather specific economic processes determined by a particular mode of organisation of the capitalist system at a particular moment. Likewise, it is possible to relate social changes to those in the economic sphere, and argue that changes in the gender organisation of work have created a set of vulnerabilities for those working in the system. This ‘context’ of vulnerability is rather familiar in the literature on labour law and so is a good starting point for the consideration of vulnerability in the labour relation. However, it is the argument in this book that this particular ‘external’ characterisation of vulnerability tends actually to result in an under-theorisation of the vulnerability of the labour subject. This external characterisation is complicit with the (liberal) proposition that workers are naturally autonomous, rational, atomised beings. They are homogenous in this sense.