Vulnerability in a Mobile World

Cover of Vulnerability in a Mobile World


Table of contents

(12 chapters)


Pages i-xiii
Content available

Since the late 1980s, social theorists championed for the birth of a new era, in which societies were increasingly exposed to growing global risks. The presence of increasing risks including natural disasters, technological errors, terrorist attacks, nuclear wars and environmental degradation suggests that human beings are becoming increasingly vulnerable. Therefore, an understanding of vulnerability is crucial. Vulnerability is often considered as the potential to suffer from physical attacks. This approach, however, has limited capacity to explain many forms of suffering including not only physical aspects, but also mental, social, economic, political and social dimensions. This chapter draws on the vulnerability literature to present an overarching framework for the book. It starts with an outline of the concept origins, then discusses its relationship with the risk society thesis before forming conceptualisation. The chapter then points out the key similarities and differences between vulnerability and other concepts such as risk, disaster, poverty, security and resilience. The authors rework an existing “security” framework to develop a new definition of the concept of vulnerability. Finally, the authors look into the root causes and the formation of vulnerability within social systems.


At the turn of the twenty-first century, a “new orthodoxy” in explaining homelessness had emerged in the field of homeless research. Combining structural and individual factors, the consensus is that people with personal problems are more vulnerable than others to the structural conditions of becoming homeless.

Drawing on a three-year ethnographic study of older homeless people (aged 50 years and above) in Singapore, this chapter highlights three issues with this new orthodoxy. The first is the continued reliance on a strict dichotomy of structural and individual factors. This strict dichotomy does not reflect the realities in people’s lives. The “individual vulnerabilities” of older people in the study had structural dimensions that must be considered as well. The second is the framing of individual vulnerabilities as individual pathologies. This way of framing homelessness results in the assumption that there is something deficient with all people who are homeless that requires correction. Such a view is encapsulated in the compulsory institutionalisation and rehabilitation of rough sleepers in Singapore. The final and most fundamental issue is the problematic association of individual vulnerabilities with one’s heightened risk of becoming homeless. Older people in the study did not become homeless solely because they had more personal problems or issues than others. Rather, multiple pathways (or life events) that encompass both structural and individual factors weakened their ability to draw resources from work, family and friends and government assistance. Homelessness occurred when older people in the study ran out of all these three options.


If police are perceived as legitimate, communities are more likely to assist in the fight against crime making policework easier and resources go further. The problem is, members of a diverse community may view the police in different ways making it difficult for police to be everything to everyone. This study reveals two strands of emerging vulnerability in relation to law and order in a rapidly urbanising area, affecting perceptions of police legitimacy for both groups. The study also demonstrated the relationship between global processes and local issues. The chapter draws on data from a larger study which explored the legitimacy of Victoria Police in the Monash Local Government Area in Melbourne, Australia. Community perceptions of the police were collected during 6 focus groups and 18 interviews. For the past decade, Monash had experienced declining results in the government’s quarterly policing survey in areas that assessed police legitimacy. This research utilised qualitative methods to gather detailed community opinions, in contrast to the quantitative government survey. The chapter focusses on the key finding that there had been many changes in Monash during the preceding decade, including intense urbanisation and increased ethnic diversity. However, police services had not been correspondingly increased or diversified and were not thought adequate to respond to current demands. As a result, community members felt vulnerable and this influenced community perceptions of Victoria Police. Rapid urbanisation has implications for police legitimacy. It is important that police services and infrastructure are not neglected during periods of urban change in order to mitigate feelings of vulnerability in different communities.


In late 2015, the El Nĩno phenomenon induced Vietnam’s worst drought in 60 years, which lasted until mid-2016 and intensified the most expansive saline intrusion in 90 years. The combination of the two hazards resulted in a large-scale disaster, which has led 18 provinces of Vietnam, most of them from the Mekong Delta, to water shortage, insanitation, human and animal diseases, food emergency need and a considerable disruption in local communities’ livelihoods. These devastating effects raise the question of what makes local households vulnerable to drought and saline intrusion. The chapter argues that vulnerability to the natural disaster is not something resulted from external threats, but rather, is derived from the interplay between social structures residing deeply inside the socio-economic systems and agency’s conditions presenting at the household level. Social structures are rules and procedures that constrain and/or enable human actions in agricultural production, risk taking and adaptation. Agency refers to the capacities of disaster-affected households in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta who cultivated third rice crop and suffered heavily from the 2015–2016 disaster. In addition to households’ lack of planning and coping capacities, the constitution of vulnerability to drought and saline intrusion can be attributed to the interaction between farmers’ choice of extra rice crops and the state’s policies and directions in agricultural and irrigation development since 1990s to date.


Refugees and asylum seekers represent one of the most vulnerable social categories in Western societies. Their condition presumes facing social, economic and political factors, which often lead to their marginalisation within host society. Indeed, discrimination, lack of professional skills or employment, as well as the frustration related to the slow bureaucratic process of assessing their status, are all key elements in building a vulnerable profile. This chapter examines non-governmental organisations and community-based organisations policies in the resettlement processes of refugees and asylum seekers, highlighting their role in creating effective connections between humanitarian immigrants and host societies. This topic is explored from an intercultural perspective, considered by scholars as an appropriate approach to create and maintain constructive correlations between different levels of the framework. The concept of interculturality is observed within the context of support services provided by the humanitarian organisations, and so the effectiveness of intercultural practices as part of these activities.

Drawing on a comparison between issues concerning the resettlement of refugees in Australia and Italy, the role of intercultural communication is explored through an in-depth examination of intercultural practices and their application in this specific context. Humanitarian organisations, six from Australia and nine from Italy, provide the basis for a total of fifteen case studies. Analysing the practices relating to intercultural communication, this chapter explores their contribution to the resettlement process of humanitarian immigrants, with accent on providing valid instruments for enhancing their skills in dealing with vulnerability.


International students commonly need to adjust to an unfamiliar environment while at the same time juggling with their education without traditional family support. Intercultural adjustment is often stressful for these students, thus contributing to a higher risk of a vulnerable mental and emotional state. The relocation to a foreign country presents a case of temporary migration during the time that they are away. This chapter looks at the challenges international students faced during relocation and adaptation. The study will also discuss how international students cope with mental health issues and the important role educational institutions have in mental health care. Interview data will be drawn on to present the perspectives of a group of international Singaporean university students in Melbourne, Australia, aged between 20 and 25 years old. However, the discussion about mental health issues cannot be assumed to be directly related to the challenges of relocation. Interview data will only represent the perspective of a group of international students and cannot be made generalisable to all international students. Similar to other studies, findings from this chapter reinforced the challenges international students face from their migration. While they acknowledged the importance of mental health care services, there are still barriers to seeking professional help. Future studies could look into how universities can continue to bridge this gap.


This chapter provides insights into young peoples’ perceptions of intercultural relationships. Intercultural relationships consist of partners with different racial, ethnic or religious backgrounds. Increasing migration rates, multicultural societies and supportive societal attitudes have created more opportunities for intercultural relationships to form. These factors have contributed to the growing rates of intercultural couples in Australia. It is important to note that some intercultural partners face social barriers that are less common among non-intercultural partners. Young people are of particular interest since intercultural relationship rates are higher in younger generations and education settings are becoming more multicultural. Nonetheless, the complexities of contemporary intercultural relationships and how they may render young people vulnerable has been often overlooked. This chapter is based on a case study that responds to an overarching question: How do young people perceive intercultural relationships? The study involved semi-structured interviews with eight participants between 20 and 26 years of age. The participants had diverse backgrounds and lived in Melbourne. The findings reveal perceptions of significance and acceptance of intercultural relationships. Also revealed are perceptions of social factors that perpetuate vulnerability relating to intercultural relationships in terms of stereotyping, racism and people’s reactions more generally.


Often seen as a vulnerable group, tween girls fashioning themselves after adults have been a topic of significant concern. Public and academic discourse in the West has expressed worry that girls’ adult-like dressing may expose them to a range of physical, psychological and sexual harm. In most discussions on girls’ dressing, Western popular culture is also identified as one of the prevalent ways through which girls learn to how to fashion themselves after adults. It is claimed that Western television programmes, books and magazines encourage young girls to fashion themselves after adults at an earlier age. Recognising the importance of girls’ voices in their experiences of girlhood, this chapter draws exclusively on 12 focus groups, with 29 Singaporean girls aged 8–12. It finds that there are changing mediascapes in tween girls’ lives that have not been acknowledged. No longer predominantly watching television or browsing teen magazines, this chapter highlights how young Singaporean girls are now more likely to spend their time on the popular media platform YouTube. As girls gain mobility through their mobile communication devices, this chapter calls for a closer examination of YouTube in relation to girls’ dressing. Nonetheless, this chapter also acknowledges that while certain popular YouTube videos (re)produce highly narrow ideas of what a female should look or be like, it is not a simple issue of girls learning how to dress from their favourite YouTube stars. YouTubers also represented a lexicon of empowerment for some of the girls in this study.


Pages 177-181
Content available
Cover of Vulnerability in a Mobile World
Publication date