The susceptibility of the vulnerable: some realities reassessed

James Lewis (Datum International, Marshfield, UK)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Publication date: 28 January 2014



This intentionally short paper considers the wide range of interpretations of “vulnerability” since its 1979 adoption in disaster studies and proposes some necessary separation and re-categorisation of its current applications.


The short history of the use of “vulnerability” in disasters studies is examined, contrasting present day contexts with those of its earliest use.


“Vulnerability” is retained for its conventional place-based role, whilst superimposed social and political constraints are allocated to “susceptibility”, a term often used to define “vulnerability”; the two terms taking on equal mutually supportive roles. Separation of the two terms is supported by on example of their realities in war and post-war conditions, together with other examples not in contexts of war. Separation of terms suggests the issue of whether manifestation of vulnerability brings about additional personal susceptibility.

Research limitations/implications

Implications are that both vulnerability and susceptibility may become better understood in disaster studies and its applications in the field.

Practical implications

The media is seen as a possible eventual target for a published version of this short paper so that, in time, public as well as academic readership may be reached.


Dissatisfaction occasionally expressed regarding uses of “vulnerability” has, so far, received little radical attention.



Lewis, J. (2014), "The susceptibility of the vulnerable: some realities reassessed", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 23 No. 1, pp. 2-11.

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