chapter  1
15 Pages

Theorizing Vulnerability in a Globalized World: A Political Ecological Perspective

ByAnthony Oliver-Smith

Vulnerability is fundamentally a political ecological concept. Political ecology blends a focus on the relationship that people have with their environment with close attention to the political economic forces characteristic of the society in which they live that shape and condition that relationship. At least from the perspective of hazards and disasters, vulnerability is the conceptual nexus that links the relationship that people have with their environment to social forces and institutions and the cultural values that sustain or contest them. Thus, combining elements of environment, society and culture in various proportions, the concept of vulnerability provides a theoretical framework that encompasses the multidimensionality of disasters. Disasters as multidimensional, all-encompassing occurrences sweep across every aspect of human life, impacting environmental, social, economic, political and biological conditions. Vulnerability can become a key concept in translating that multidimensionality into the concrete circumstances of life that account for a disaster (Blaikie et al, 1994; Comfort et al, 1999; Cutter, 1996; Hewitt, 1983b).