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The term vulnerability (from Latin vulnus " wound " or vulnerable "wound") means "vulnerability" or "vulnerability". It is used in various scientific fields.

Economics and geography

In geographic development and risk research , the concept of vulnerability has been used since the 1980s and has since undergone various further developments. Vulnerability has now become a key concept in development research and development cooperation.

In principle, the concept of vulnerability is an extension of traditional approaches to poverty. It was recognized that the development problems and social crises in the so-called “ countries of the global south ” cannot be adequately described and explained with poverty alone . Poverty - the lack of money and assets - is just one of many causes and expressions of social disadvantage.

In 1989 Robert Chambers set out in a definition of vulnerability that vulnerability goes far beyond poverty: Vulnerability does not only mean deficiency and unmet needs, but a social condition that is characterized by vulnerability, insecurity and defenselessness. Vulnerable people and populations are exposed to shocks and stressors and have difficulty coping with them. These difficulties result not only from a lack of material resources, but also from the circumstances that those affected are denied equal participation and participation in prosperity and happiness, that support is withheld from them or that they are not sufficiently integrated into social networks. Vulnerability therefore not only has an economic or material dimension (poverty), but also a political and social one.

So being vulnerable means being exposed to stress factors (external dimension), not being able to cope with them (internal dimension) and having to suffer from the consequences of shocks and failure to cope with them.

Vulnerability must be understood as a dynamic process. Affected people can be or become differently vulnerable depending on the situation. Individual phases of this vulnerability process range from the basic susceptibility stage (phase of coping or arranging) through several intermediate steps to an existential catastrophe, which is characterized by a collapse of life security and the total dependence of those affected on external aid measures. A famine is an example of such a collapse.

See also in this context: Portal: Development Cooperation


The sociology of disasters is also working on the question of how protection for those potentially affected can be improved. To this end, indicators are being developed that relate the dangers to possibilities of protection (including possibilities of self-protection) and to work them out for groups of people and for sociologically delimited spaces .


In Christian theology, vulnerability is currently being developed into a key concept in various specialist disciplines ( doctrine of God , Christology , pastoral care , ethics ). A new level of connectivity is gained in socially relevant issues such as migration , poverty reduction, resistance to right-wing extremism , sexual abuse of minors, overcoming violence and commitment to human rights . Theological starting point is the conviction that God becomes human in Jesus of Nazareth and thus voluntarily exposes himself to human vulnerability - from birth (high vulnerability of infants) through his public appearance to violent death on the cross. This sets a counterpoint to prevailing debates, where mostly attempts are made to avoid injuries. In terms of vulnerability, Christmas (Gospel of Luke 1.5-2.52; Gospel of Matthew 1.18-2.23) is also given a new interpretation: With the topics of birth, migration and flight, it stands for the willingness to put one's own vulnerability at risk to protect others from threats.

Theology insists that from the risk of vulnerability - and from actual wounding - a power grows that creates life, that gives wings and inspires: In order to live, multiple self-protection is necessary; In order to live humanely, however, you also need to accept your own vulnerability. At the same time, the vulnerabilities of others should be reduced as much as possible. People and their communities (family, city, state, religion, etc.) therefore face the double question in a wide variety of life contexts: Where is it necessary to protect oneself and one's own community? Where is it necessary to risk one's own injury?

In interreligious discourse, too, vulnerability is increasingly seen as a key term, the meaning of which is only just beginning to be grasped.


In psychology , vulnerability is viewed as the opposite of resilience . Vulnerable people are particularly easily wounded emotionally and are more likely to develop mental disorders :

  • Tendency: active, impulsive, aggressive and easily angry
  • Tendency: bored with routine and looking for external stimuli;
  • lack of fear of consequences of one's own actions;
  • little empathy for other people's feelings;
  • below average IQ .

Everyone goes through several vulnerable phases in their lives, such as puberty , during which there is an increased risk of developing a mental disorder. See also: diathesis stress model .

The term “ generation snowflake ” used in the USA with a largely negative connotation refers to the increased vulnerability and sensitivity of those born after 1990.


In medicine, vulnerability refers to the susceptibility to falling ill (e.g. from schizophrenia ). In the case of many diseases (certain tumor diseases, psychiatric diseases, autoimmune diseases such as allergies ), the susceptibility of the individual to suffer from them is determined by various interacting factors (e.g. genetic, psychosocial, exposure - pollutants, smoking ). See also predisposition and diathesis (medicine) . In the actual sense of the word, vulnerability also means the increased sensitivity or vulnerability of parts of organs or the skin to contact ( contact vulnerability ).

The perceived vulnerability is the subjective belief of a person with respect to the likelihood that he will be affected by a particular health problem.

In the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, drastic measures including restrictions on basic rights were justified, among other things, by the fact that "vulnerable groups of people" had to be protected from infection by coronaviruses as long as there was neither a vaccine nor proven drugs against COVID-19 . The Robert Koch Institute in 2020 compiled a list of such groups and issued recommendations for behavior.

Computer science

In computer science, vulnerability usually means a specific security gap in a computer system or network that can be exploited through an exploit . See also computer security .


Particular sensitivity of ecosystems, species and populations to environmental conditions - as opposed to resilience . When adapting ecosystems to long-term climate change , reducing the vulnerability by adapting land use and infrastructure is a task of spatial and environmental planning.

Climate change

As defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), vulnerability is the degree to which a person, region or system is susceptible to and unable to deal with adverse effects of climate change . The vulnerability or vulnerability is as a function of exposure ( exposure ), sensitivity ( sensitivity ) and adaptability ( adaptive capacity understood):

  • Exposure includes the type and intensity of climate changes, such as changes in temperature or precipitation
  • Sensitivity describes the extent to which a system or actor is influenced by or reacts to climate change
  • Adaptability includes the skills, resources or institutional capacity of systems, organizations, or (individual) actors themselves to changing climatic conditions and their possible consequences adapt and thus to reduce the vulnerability.


Web links

Wiktionary: Vulnerability  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Hans-Georg Bohle : Geographies of Vulnerability . In: Geographical Rundschau . tape 59 , no. 10 , 2007, p. 20-25 .
  2. ^ Robert Chambers, Editorial Introduction: Vulnerability, Coping and Policy , in: IDS Bulletin vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 1-7, April 1989
  3. See conference Resilience and Vulnerability 2012 website of katNET eV ( Memento of the original of August 21, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , Accessed May 18, 2013 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  4. See also the special issue injuries and scars , in: Journal for Protestant Youth and Educational Work Das Baugerüst , 64th year, issue 2, 2012.
  5. The ESWTR (European Society of Women in Theological Research, see Feminist Theology ) is hosting a specialist conference in 2014 that promotes vulnerability as a key concept in interreligious discourse: Archived copy ( memento of the original from September 7, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: Der Archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  6. Vulnerability. In: Lexicon of Psychology. Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, accessed on August 12, 2016 .
  7. ^ Judith Rich Harris. "The Nurture Assumprion". 1998. The Free Press, pp. 295/296.
  8. Taken from a final hospital report.
  9. See first the Health Belief Model (HBM) by GM Hochbaum, Public participation in medical screening programs: a sociopsychological study. United States Government Printing Office : Washington DC 1958
  10. Robert Koch Institute: Information and assistance for people with a higher risk of a severe course of COVID-19 disease . May 13, 2020, accessed May 17, 2020
  11. Jana Heck / Jochen Taßler / Natalia Frumkina: Coronavirus and Covid-19: Who belongs to the risk group? . March 24, 2020, accessed May 17, 2020
  12. ^ Federal Environment Agency, KomPass - Competence Center for Climate Impacts and Adaptation (Ed.): Risks and Vulnerability. December 18, 2015. Last accessed on August 12, 2016.