Roundtable: Vulnerability versus Resilience

Roundtable: Vulnerability versus Resilience
The concept of vulnerability has been a key concept in studies of disasters and climate change. Vulnerability brings out the socially produced ways in which groups are rendered safe or unsafe in view of hazards. The concept has been a radical move in disaster studies as it took the natural out of natural disasters, and in focusing on issues like power and inequality as factors that turn the occurrence of a hazard into a disaster.

Today, the concept of vulnerability has partly been overtaken by resilience. Increasingly, people (even disadvantaged people) have begun to be considered as resilient, with the capacities to organise, resist, learn, change and adapt. Adaptation, has become the slogan and the proposed solution to the problem of adjusting human systems to actual or expected climatic stimuli.

The roundtable will discuss whether, and if so, how vulnerability still matters? Does resilience indeed help to focus disaster response on communities? What happens to social inequalities and the role of the state’s duties to protect their citizens?

This workshop is the joint initiative of the International Institute of Social Studies; the Netherlands platform for humanitarian knowledge exchange (KUNO) and the International Humanitarian Studies Association (IHSA)


  • Welcome – Des Gasper, Prof of Human Development, Development Ethics and Public Policy, ISS
  • Warming up – Greg Bankoff, professor of environmental history, University of Hull:

Greg co-edited the volume ‘Mapping Vulnerability’ in 2004 and recently published Remaking the world in our own image: vulnerability, resilience and adaptation as historical discourses ‘ (Disasters) that inspired this roundtable.

  • Panel discussion (see panellists) – There will be ample time for discussion with the audience!
  • Closing remarks – Ben Wisner, visiting Professor, Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London.

Ben co-authored At Risk and co-edited the Routledge Handbook of Hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction and was an early member of La Red: Network of Social Science for Prevention of Diasters in Latin American. He has been as scientific advisor since 2007 to the Global Network of Civil Society Organizations for Disaster Prevention.

  • The round table will be concluded with drinks, offered by IHSA


  • Kenneth Hewitt, Professor Emeritus of Geography and Environmental Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada
    Ken edited the hallmark publication of ‘Interpretations of Calamity from the of human ecology’ in 1983 challenged the notion of ‘natural disasters’ and reinterpreted famine
  • Terry Cannon (Senior Research Fellow, IDS)
    Terry has been a leading disaster scholar since four decades and is one of the authors of At Risk that put vulnerability at the centre stage of disaster theory.
  • Lisa Schipper (Environmental Social Science Research Fellow, ECI, University of Oxford)
    Lisa will shiver if you mention the word ‘resilience’, but smile and laugh if you talk about socio-cultural vulnerability.
  • Luis Artur (Professor and Dean of Agronomy and Forestry Engineering Universidade Eduardo Mondlane)
    Luis made history with his thesis on the everyday politics of disaster in Mozambique, for which he closely worked with the Mozambican Red Cross.
  • Sarah Bradshaw (Professor of Gender and Sustainable Development)
    Say gender and disaster, say Sarah Bradshaw – the real deal when it comes to feminist disaster studies. 

Chair: Thea Hilhorst, professor of humanitarian aid and reconstruction at ISS
Thea co-authored with Greg Bankoff and Georg Frerks the volume ‘Mapping Vulnerability’ in 2004 – a book without a single map as a critic complained but that managed to place vulnerability on the map of the disaster studies landscape.

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