Successful collaboration begins with a shared language, hence the need for a glossary. This joint effort of contributors from several teams ensures, on the one hand, terminological and conceptual coherence across not only our theoretical approaches, but also the qualitative case studies and quantitative research conducted in OPPORTUNITIES. On the other hand, our glossary facilitates communication between the academic side of the project and the fieldwork conducted by NGOs, uniting our teams working from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ghana, Italy, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and Senegal.

For more information about the Structure and Objectives of the Glossary, click here...)

In common language usage, vulnerability is about susceptibility or being open to attack and injury (see the definition in the OED). As a concept vulnerability is applicable to geographic/environmental as well as social settings. A geographic region could be vulnerable to floods or other disasters in which case groups of people could be at risk and vulnerable to death and injuries as well as loss of resources and livelihood (Birckmann 2013). In a social setting, by contrast, people could be susceptible to and at risk of loss of rights, resources, etc. as well as social exclusion due to, for example, their social background, race, gender, citizenship rights, or migration status. In this context, susceptibility implies being at risk, which is measurable at an individual level and which could be mitigated by appropriate social policy of administrative rules and regulations. An individualistic approach to social vulnerability may not negate susceptibility of groups based on their common characteristics of race, gender, or migration status, but it may well underestimate the structural sources of group vulnerability due to, for instance, unequal distribution of assets and economic resources as well as the lack of political and social power, of a public voice, and of social rights of migrants.

⇢ see also Equality, Risk

References and further reading:

Birkmann, Jörn, ed. 2013. Measuring Vulnerability to Natural Hazards: Towards Disaster Resilient Societies. 2nd edition. Tokyo et al.: United Nations University.

OECD. 2007. “Glossary of Statistical Terms.” OECD. URL:

Category: A

Work Package: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8