Vulnerable Societies: Risks and Responses
To say that we live in times of uncertainty seems like a sociological truism. However, in recent times, societies around the world have been shaken by an extraordinary accumulation of acute and persistent crises and catastrophes with global repercussions, including the COVID-19 pandemic; the Ukraine war; the accelerating effects of climate change manifest in heat waves, droughts, and floods; disruptions of supply chains and energy shortages; and the massive resurgence of hunger, to name but a few. Each of these crises presents major social, political, economic, and ecological challenges in themselves. Taken together, they generate a heightened sense of overall vulnerability. Against this backdrop, “vulnerability” has become a popular term in public and political discourses. It is most often not just a descriptive term but also prescriptive. Diagnosing vulnerability is inevitably linked to moral and political calls to action to prevent and redress harm and social injustices. To identify a social group as “vulnerable” implies a special need for protection and support. Vulnerability is associated with a wide range of physical, social, economic, and cultural conditions. Moreover, it is not only humans who are said to be vulnerable, as the term is also applied to technical, ecological, economic, political, and societal systems at risk of breaking down, or to international agreements and conventions that are no longer respected. Accordingly, vulnerability is discussed across various academic disciplines, from medical sciences to disaster studies, ecology, philosophy, and social sciences including psychology, pedagogy, and social work studies. What, then, is the specific perspective and contribution of sociology to the study of vulnerabilities?
The congress is dedicated to critically exploring the theoretical and empirical significance of the concept of vulnerability in sociology. How does vulnerability relate to associated and well-established theoretical concepts such as uncertainty, risk, crisis, or precarity or to its counter-terms such as resilience, agency, adaptation, and the like? Furthermore, empirical studies from different fields will be used to reflect on the potential of the concept of vulnerability for sociological research. What are the causes, forms, and consequences of vulnerabilities? How do individuals, groups, organizations, social movements, states, and supranational organizations understand and respond to various vulnerabilities? Finally, the congress will address the political and practical implications of sociological studies of vulnerability.
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