Vulnerability, Wellbeing and Health

In Elodie Boublil & Susi Ferrarello (eds.), The Vulnerability of the Human World: Well-being, Health, Technology and the Environment. Springer Verlag. pp. 123-141 (2023)
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Abstract

It can be said that the concept of vulnerability is crucial for the understanding of health and wellbeing. Wellbeing has been taken to be at the core of the concept of health (as the World Health Organisation also defines it). In this paper, I suggest that a proper understanding of health and wellbeing should start with an investigation of vulnerability and ill health and, in particular, the lived experience of these aspects of the human condition. The lived experience of vulnerability and, in particular, ill health involves physical, mental and social suffering as well as experiences of wrongs, harms and injustices which are often rooted in certain misconceptions and myths about vulnerability, illness and mental ill health. I argue that dominant notions of ‘vulnerability’, ‘health’, ‘wellbeing’ are not only unclear but unrealistic and ethically problematic. This paper seeks to expose some of these limitations and, at the same time, offers a contribution to the clarification of the concepts at issue. The aim is to develop a more inclusive and realistic conception of health and wellbeing which, in its turn, can help promote life-enhancing possibilities to be and to live well in health or illness. The basic plan of the paper is this: I discuss two concepts of vulnerability, and point out certain limitations of dominant approaches to them. I offer an alternative understanding of these two concepts of vulnerability, and of the relation between them. I apply this analysis to certain discussions concerning illness and mental health in order to identify life-enhancing possibilities of vulnerability that constitute resilient wellbeing and are conducive to health. As part of this discussion, I point out the social, relational and intersectional aspects of vulnerability, resilient wellbeing and health, and indicate how the approach I propose can contribute to current ethical and political discussions about these issues.

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