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Project: The concept of vulnerability in the context of human rights

Vulnerability has become a buzzword in public, academic and political debates. It has been used in a diversity of thematic fields such as development cooperation, climate change, humanitarian aid, asylum and migration, equality and non-discrimination or in the context of the health system. The concept of vulnerability has not only been utilised in policy fields and legal instruments closely related with human rights issues, it has also been deployed in an explicit human rights context such as human rights policy documents, reports and jurisprudence. The usage of the concept is, thus, implicitly assumed to enhance the protection of human rights, especially with regard to the principles of equality and non-discrimination. This assumption, however, has also attracted criticism and the concept has been questioned as it might have problematic effects when put into practice. 

Although there has been some academic discussion on the substance, implications and application of the concept from a human rights perspective, a comprehensive and comparative exploration of the concept as well as the analysis of the relationship, complementarities, overlaps, ambiguities, delimitations or even inconsistencies of vulnerability with the concepts of (in)equality and (non-)discrimination based on empirical research is still missing. 

The proposed research project aims at contributing to fill this gap by

  1. undertaking a thorough review and assessment of the academic debate on this concept and systematically analysing different dimensions of the concept of vulnerability based on theoretical analysis as well as empirical research and, thus, contributing to the clarification of the concept(s) of vulnerability and the objectives of its/their application(s).

  2. analysing the concept of vulnerability in relation to and delineating it from other ‘competing’ concepts or concepts with similar objectives in order to grasp the different meanings, implications, and benefits or challenges of the different concepts. In addition, the project aims at analysing the potentials, challenges, and problems of the concept of vulnerability from a human rights perspective.

  3. carrying out empirical research on the application of the concept on the basis of case studies in three policy fields: asylum law and policies, environment/climate change-related mobility, and equality and anti-discrimination. The areas chosen are fields where the concept is used increasingly and/or extensively and where the researchers involved have long-standing and profound academic expertise.

Persons involved: 

Monika Mayrhofer (project manager), Margit Ammer, Katrin Wladasch

Contact persons: 

Monika Mayrhofer:

Lead Organisation: 
Ludwig Boltzmann Institut für Menschenrechte
Project start: 
Project end: 
Funded by: 
FWF Der Wissenschaftsfonds
Anti-Discrimination, Diversity and Asylum