chapter
9 Pages

Introduction: Mapping Vulnerability

ByDorothea Hilhorst, Greg Bankoff

What makes people vulnerable? To most people today, this is an everyday question that is as simple as it is complex. At one level, the answer is a straightforward one about poverty, resource depletion and marginalization; at another level, it is about the diversity of risks generated by the interplay between local and global processes and coping with them on a daily basis. For billions of people, the nature of their vulnerability is changing and intensifying, while their ability to cope has diminished. The saddest part, perhaps, is the loss of hope for the future. As James Ferguson so eloquently pleads, the current construction of a new world order not only continues to exclude large numbers of people, but actually robs them of even the promise of development (Ferguson, 1999, pp237-8). Living with the poverty and uncertainty of their daily existence severely constrains their freedom of choice and leaves them prey to a creeping despair that the magnitude and frequency of natural and human-induced disasters only make worse. This book is an opportunity for a group of scholars and practitioners to grapple with the simple-complex paradox so manifest in the nature of vulnerability. Each contributes a different perspective to the problem, all seeking in some way to resolve the apparent contradiction of reconciling local experiences with global considerations. The nature of this complexity dictates that there can be no general theory and therefore no simple solutions. What we offer instead is a map. It delineates the landscape of vulnerability, revealing the lie of the land and the shape of its contours. While there are many possible paths on this map, there are, however, no set routes or even fixed destinations.