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Vulnerability, Deviance & Social Control - SPY00039H

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  • Department: Social Policy and Social Work
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Kate Brown
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

This module examines the tensions, problems and contradictions which arise when people are vulnerable and in need of care and support but are also seen as ‘deviant’ and requiring control or punishment. We study both welfare and criminal justice interventions as they operate together in the lives of vulnerable people, exploring topics like sex work, human trafficking, county lines drug dealing, child sexual exploitation and anti-social behaviour. One of the themes of the module is how vulnerability is shaped by dimensions of difference such as gender, race, ethnicity, migration status, age and disability. We focus on lived experiences of vulnerability and theories that help to make sense of these in order to consider what kinds of policy and practice would make vulnerable people’s lives better.


  • To introduce ideas and theories related to vulnerability, social control and the close relationship between ‘support’ and discipline in contemporary policy and practice

  • To explore the intensifying behavioural regulation of ‘problem’ groups in contemporary society and, in particular, how this impacts of the lives of vulnerable citizens

  • To facilitate a critical understanding of issues of ‘difference’ and power in relation to social control, focussing on key social factors such as class, gender, ethnicity and age.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • Have an understanding of how behaviourist policy agendas affect vulnerable individuals and groups

  • Understand contemporary behaviourist trends within a broader historical context

  • Be in a position to analyse theories, policies and practices related to social control

  • Be able to recognise and critique close links between ‘care’ and ‘control’ in contemporary systems of welfare and discipline

Module content

Vulnerability: key themes and theories

Revolting subjects? Deviance and difference

Social control: key themes and theories

Sex work

Anti-Social Behaviour: Disciplining difference?

Destitution: Work, welfare and discipline

Anti-trafficking initiatives: Protecting the most vulnerable?

Policing vulnerability

Youth vulnerability and child sexual explotation

Making sense of social control


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

Feedback will be given in accordance with the University Policy on feedback in the Guide to Assessment as well as in line with the School policy.

Indicative reading

Brown, K. (2015) Vulnerability and Young People: Care and Social Control in Policy and Practice, Bristol: Policy Press.

Brown, K., Ellis, K. and Smith, K. (2020) 'Vulnerability as lived experience: marginalised women and girls in the UK', in Kronen, M. Virokannas, E. and Salovaara, U. Women, Vulnerabilities and Welfare Service Systems. Routledge: London. pp. 13-26

Flint, J. (2018) ‘Encounters with the centaur state: Advanced urban marginality and the practices and ethics of welfare sanctions regimes’, Urban Studies,

Harrison, M. and Sanders, T. (2014) (eds.) Social Policies and Social Control: New Perspectives on the Not-so-Big Society, Bristol: Policy Press.

Wacquant, L. (2009). Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity.London: Duke University Press.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.