BSP Podcast: Maja Berseneva on ‘The transformative power of vulnerability’

podcast update

This episode of the BSP Podcast sees Maja Berseneva present a paper from our 2020 annual conference, ‘Engaged Phenomenology’ Online.

Season 5 episode 107: 3 April 2021

This episode of Season 5 of the BSP Podcast features Maja Berseneva, Freie Universitaet Berlin. The presentation is taken from our 2020 annual conference: ‘Engaged Phenomenology’ Online.

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Maja Berseneva
‘The transformative power of vulnerability’

ABSTRACT: Being vulnerable is a conditio humana. This condition represents characteristics, key events and situations which compose the essentials of human existence. One definition of vulnerability is the general human capacity to being exposed. As such, it can make a subject a victim (when violence is inflicted), but it also represents the capability to being open to the world with its unpredictable events, and to others. Furthermore, vulnerability structures the subject’s experience of the world and makes transformation possible. The concepts of ‘limit situations’ (Jaspers) and ‘transformative events’ (Heidegger), are helpful for the understanding of how we experience ourselves as vulnerable. Encountering a transformative event as the current pandemic crisis, we are forced to realize that our safety and the foundations of our being can be instantly undone. Limit situations touch us in our core values, reminding us of the fragility of everyday life, relationships, and health. While it is possible to respond to vulnerability that shows in a limit situation through avoidance, denial, and rationalization, Jaspers advises to not hastily try to make it vanish. On the contrary, the demand and challenge lie in endurance of the unknown, of the ambiguity that this situation brings. I will argue with Butler’s critical claim that vulnerability can (and must!) be turned into strength, into a resource, since the experience of vulnerability and dependence can move us beyond and against the vocation of the paranoid victim.  Acknowledging that I am vulnerable and enduring it brings a choice for encountering the other without violence: it means having space for showing consideration and attention for the other. The chance of self-improvement lies in vulnerability as permitted openness, and in waiver of protection. In compelling me to deal with my fears and vulnerabilities as part of who I am, lay the transforming power of vulnerability.

BIO: Maja Berseneva is a translator and language teacher, currently living and working in Athens, Greece. Currently graduate student of Philosophy at Freie Universitaet Berlin. Writing Master Thesis on the Vulnerable self and the ‘ethics of the welcome’ in Levinas’ work. Research interests:  Philosophy of Mind, Affectivity, Self-experience, Empathy, Personhood, No-self doctrines, phenomenology, alterity, ethics of embodiment, Vulnerability and the human condition, intentionality, philosophy of medicine and mental health, nature of grief. politics in the feminine, philosophy of sexual difference, embodied female subjectivity, violence, feminist life.

This recording is taken from the BSP Annual Conference 2020 Online: ‘Engaged Phenomenology’. Organised with the University of Exeter and sponsored by Egenis and the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health. BSP2020AC was held online this year due to global concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic. For the conference our speakers recorded videos, our keynotes presented live over Zoom, and we also recorded some interviews. Podcast episodes from BSP2020AC are soundtracks of those videos where we and the presenters feel the audio works as a standalone.

The British Society for Phenomenology is a not-for-profit organisation set up with the intention of promoting research and awareness in the field of Phenomenology and other cognate arms of philosophical thought. Currently, the society accomplishes these aims through its journal, events, and podcast. Why not find out more, join the society, and subscribe to our journal the JBSP?