Mirjam Anna Müller
Taking Vulnerability Seriously – A Critique of Vrousalis’ Power-Based Account of Exploitation
The concept of exploitation presents a powerful tool for social critique. At the same time its conceptual basis as well as its normative force are contested. One contribution to the exploitation debate in the recent literature is Nicholas Vrousalis’ understanding of exploitation as a form of domination that he develops in his paper “Exploitation, Vulnerability and Social Domination”. The argument is promising insofar as it seems to be able to capture key intuitions about exploitative relationships. Furthermore, the focus on vulnerability and domination bears the potential to broaden the scope of analysis to include forms of exploitation that have (hitherto) been neglected, such as gender specific forms of exploitation or forms of racial exploitation. However, I will argue that this potential goes unused, as the analysis is unduly restricted. As a result the account systematically under ‐ produces exploitation ‐judgements. The analysis is restricted for two reasons: First, the focus on economic vulnerabilities is internally inconsistent and cannot be justified within the argument. Second, power is conceptualized too narrowly, as it overlooks the way in which power can be exercised by structures in addition to agents. I will conclude that even if the first challenge can be met without fundamentally reformulating the argument, the second challenge is more substantial and requires a reconceptualization of the notion of power. The paper will be structured as follows: In the first part I will reconstruct Vrousalis’ argument. I will then argue that nothing in Vrousalis’ argument justifies the restriction of analysis to economic exploitation. In the final part I will draw attention to the limits of the conception of power as defined by Vrousalis and conclude.