1st Edition

On Vulnerability A Critical Introduction

By Patrick Brown Copyright 2021
    200 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    200 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    On Vulnerability maps out an array of perspectives for critically examining the nature of vulnerability, its unequal patterning across different social groups, alongside the everyday social processes that render us vulnerable – interactions, identity and group dynamics.

    Each chapter equips the reader with a particular sensitising framework for navigating and questioning what it means to be vulnerable or how people cope amid vulnerability. From deviance, stigma and the spoiling or fracturing of identity, to perspectives such as intersectionality, risk, emotions and the vulnerable body, the book traces the theoretical roots of these different analytical lenses, before applying these through illuminating examples and case studies.

    Drawing on scholarship across more interpretative, analytic and critical traditions, the chapters combine into a multi-dimensional toolkit which will enable the study of the cultural meanings of vulnerability, the political-economic factors that shape its patterning, with a critical sensibility for ‘unlearning’ many assumptions, therefore challenging our sense of who is, or who can be, vulnerable. This book is designed to equip undergraduate and post-graduate students and researchers across the social, health and human sciences, aiding them as they study and question the experiences and structures of vulnerability in our social world.


    1. Vulnerability as deviance and stigma

    2. When ‘normal’ people become vulnerable

    3. The intersectionality of vulnerability

    4. Understanding vulnerability through the lens of risk

    5. Trust, hope, magic and the paradox of vulnerability

    6. The vulnerable body

    7. Vulnerability to suffering

    8. Ethical concerns in researching vulnerability, as inseparable from methodological and analytical considerations

    Conclusions: Three types of knowledge around vulnerability


    Patrick Brown is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam. He studies how individuals, groups and organisations manage their vulnerability amid uncertainty, for example, through risk, trust, hope, faith and everyday rituals, and the difficulties they encounter in doing so.