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The circle of vulnerability and the myth of choice

Felicity Small (School of Management and Marketing, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst Campus, Bathurst, Australia)
Michael Mehmet (Faculty of Business, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia)
Jodie Kleinschafer (School of Management and Marketing, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, Australia)

Journal of Social Marketing

ISSN: 2042-6763

Article publication date: 11 May 2020

Issue publication date: 7 December 2020




People living with a disability (PWD) are often a marginalized vulnerable group who are economically and socially disadvantaged. This paper aims to explore the implementation of new social and financial policy reforms aimed at transforming the disability sector. Using the capabilities approach, the authors explore the experience of carers and evaluate how this sector may have become more exposed and vulnerable as a consequence of the new policy.


This is a qualitative study with two rounds of semi-structured interviews; at initial-phase (n = 18) and post-phase (n = 14). Thematic analysis was applied to the capabilities and vulnerabilities framework to categorize and analyze the interview data.


The findings show that there are many ways PWD and carers are experiencing increased levels of vulnerability because of their capabilities. There is evidence of increased vulnerability in the intersections between PWD/carers’ inherent nature, the disruption to vital social relationships and conflicting values and interests of stakeholders and the complexity of situational policy changes.

Practical implications

Practical implications developed from the findings include identifying ways the government can improve its social marketing communication strategies. They also highlight the importance of building effective social support networks and provide guidelines for measuring capacity building to address some of the underlying factors leading to vulnerability.


This paper introduces into social marketing, the three-factor vulnerability framework, which conceptualizes the nature of vulnerability, and examines and evaluates the intersections of these factors in relation to the capabilities approach.



This paper forms part of a special section “Social transformation and vulnerable populations”, guest edited by Lukas Parker, Krzysztof Kubacki, Linda Brennan, Mike Reid and Natalia Szablewska.

The authors received a Transformative Consumer Research Grant of $6,000 funded by the Association for Consumer Research in 2018.


Small, F., Mehmet, M. and Kleinschafer, J. (2020), "The circle of vulnerability and the myth of choice", Journal of Social Marketing, Vol. 10 No. 4, pp. 489-506.



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