SNAKES AND LADDERS, BUFFERS AND PASSPORTS: RETHINKING VULNERABILITY VIA A HUMAN WELLBEING LENS
Andy Sumner and Rich Mallet Institute of Development Studies, Sussex email@example.com 21 OCT 2010 Abstract Much research to date has tended to view vulnerability by disciple or sector and yet individuals and households experience multiple, interacting and sometimes compound vulnerabilities. Cross-disciplinary thinking is emerging as multi-dimensional vulnerability is increasingly recognized to be likely to come to the fore if the outlook over the next 15-25 years is one of multiple, interacting and compound stressors and crises as a result of the ‘perfect storm’ or ‘long crisis’ thesis of the interaction of demographics, climate change and food and energy prices. In light of the above this paper reviews the literature on vulnerability and asks what a ‘Human Wellbeing’ approach – a complement to more traditional ways of understanding poverty - might contribute to the analysis of vulnerability. Draft – to add: Page 6 - ADD ANNEX TABLE IN TEXT Page 26 - ADD TO TABLE 9 FOM TABLES 6, 7 and 8
1. INTRODUCTION Much research to date has tended to view vulnerability by disciple or sector and yet individuals and households experience multiple, interacting and sometimes compounding vulnerabilities. Cross-disciplinary thinking is emerging as multi-dimensional vulnerability is increasingly recognized to be likely to come to the fore if the outlook over the next 15-25 years is one of multiple, interacting and compound stressors and crises as a result of the ‘perfect storm’ or ‘long crisis’ thesis of the interaction of demographics, climate change and food and energy prices (Beddington, 2009; Evans et al., 2010; Sumner et al., 2010). In light of the above this paper reviews the literature on vulnerability and asks what a ‘Human Wellbeing’ approach – a complement to more traditional ways of understanding poverty - might contribute to the analysis of vulnerability. This paper is structured as follows. Section 2 provides a ‘broadsweep’ of the vulnerability literature. Section 3 introduces the ‘human wellbeing’ approach. Section 4 explores vulnerability via a wellbeing lens. Section 5 concludes. 2. DISCIPLINARY AND SECTORAL PERSPECTIVES ON
VULNERABILITY 2a. The evolution of the concept of vulnerability in development studies literature There is, of course, an enormous literature on vulnerability (see for reviews Alwang et al., 2001; Bohle, 2003; Sharma et., 2000). Vulnerability is defined and measured in different ways in different disciplines and sectors and yet individuals and households experience multiple and interacting vulnerabilities at the same time. Room’s (2000) approach that we draw upon in this paper refers to ‘snakes and ladders’ and unexpected and expected variability – shocks and stressors - that can lead to advancement (ladder) or decline (snake) in wellbeing and ‘buffers and 2
passports’ to refer to resilience stock/capacities (buffers) and abilities to take opportunities (passports). Vulnerability is not only shocks but slow-burning stressors too. It is also about exposure/sensitivity to harms/hazards and capacity to cope or resilience. Further, it is experienced in different ways by different people. In this vein Sharma et al., (2000:1) note, that even when exposed to the same event, impacts will vary, depending on the person’s capacity to cope: that is, to withstand and recover from the impact of that event (Sharma, et. al., 2000, p.1). In this respects Sen historical work on entitlement failures and famine was seminal.1 Other seminal works to note would be Chambers (1989) discussion of vulnerability, risk, shock, stress and coping mechanisms, and Moser’s (1998) asset vulnerability. The poverty dynamics literature is also of direct relevance with particular reference to research on chronic and transient poverty (see in particular Hulme et al., 2001; Shepherd et al., 2010). In countries with data, the percentage of the poor that are always poor is around a third of poor households (see table 1). This implies that two-thirds of the poor move in and out of poverty depending on vulnerability and capacities to cope.
Table 1. Selected countries: the chronic poor (‘always poor’) as % of poor households Countries Bangladesh China India
Periods 1994-2006 1991-1995 1970-1982
Always poor HH as percentage of total poor households 25 30 42
The literature on entitlements and famine has had a ‘major theoretical, empirical and policy impact’ (Fine 1997:619). Aside from influencing the practice of major global institutions, the literature has also driven the concept of entitlement into other areas of interest, from the welfare system (entitlement to benefits) and the legal system (entitlement to property rights) to human rights (ibid.). Entitlement failure exists when there is a failure to establish command over sufficient resources for survival (Dreze and Sen 1981 ). This is fundamentally about the relationship between endowment and exchange. As Elahi (2006: 544) points out, endowment – which is determined by one’s entitlements – refers to an individual’s ability to command a resource through legal means through a process of exchange. For example, an individual can sell (exchange) his or her labour power (endowment) in return for a wage (resource). Entitlement underpins the entire process. Although strongly influenced by a material approach insofar as the framework tends to deal with the ownership of tangible assets, entitlement also incorporates relational aspects as vulnerability depends to some extent on the nature of ‘terms of trade relationships’ (Vatsa and Krimgold 2000: 136).
Indonesia 1993-1997 Vietnam 1992-1997 Uganda 1992-1999 South Africa 1997-2001 Ethiopia (rural) 1994-2004 Source: Calculated from Dercon and Shapiro (2007).
29 44 30-32 38 32
In their wide ranging review of datasets, Dercon and Shapiro (2007) identify key reasons to explain escaping long-run poverty as (see table 2): changes in economic and social assets (e.g. changes in employment, land, ownership and education) and/or social exclusion and discrimination and/or location in remote or otherwise disadvantaged areas (extending to fragile states). Further, that temporary shocks are key reasons for descent into poverty: illness and health-related expenses, social and customary expenses on marriage and funerals, high-interest private loans, crop disease, drought and irrigation failure, etc.
Table 2. Determinants associated with escaping or falling into poverty Country Years Snakes – Factors significant for entering into poverty Per capita income in 1968, Livestock losses Ladders , Buffers and Passports Factors significant for escaping poverty Area of land owned, age of HH head, average years of schooling of HH workers, accumulation of land and livestock, dependency ratio; Age of HH head, accumulation of land and livestock Structural factors related to the HH asset base e.g. asset accumulation, multiple livelihood activities, income diversification, occupational shift to off-farm activities
Non-structural factors includes factors related to lifecycle changes (number of working members, high dependency ratio, abandonment by husband) and crises and shocks e.g. illness and natural disasters -
Literacy, ownership of a house, increase in cultivated area and income from livestock, better
Illness and healthrelated expenses, social and customary expenses on marriage and funerals, highinterest private loans, crop disease, drought and irrigation failure High dependency ratio, illness and heavy healthcare expenses, drought Large household, female headed household, low employment access, low asset endowment, low education.
infrastructure Income diversification, irrigation and land improvement
Income diversification, formal sector employment, crop diversification, social factors Owning more physical assets (livestock, land, etc).
Source: Dercon and Shapiro (2007).
There is a clear implication that interventions should distinguish the chronic and transient poor (Baulch and McCulloch, 1998; Hulme et al., 2001). Chronic poverty is about expanding assets and free at point of delivery public services. In contrast, transient poverty policy responses are about reducing risks, fluctuations, etc such as safety nets and insurance schemes (McCulloch and Baulch, 2000). However, this is not just a question of material assets – relational dimensions and subjectivities play a crucial role too: In Latin America, Barros et al. (2009), found that more than two-thirds of the poorest 10% (of the distribution of consumption) constitute ethnic minorities and ECLAC (2010) study of 8 Latin America countries found infant mortality of indigenous peoples/territories and infant mortality of the non-indigenous people, 2000 census at much higher levels. A related body of literature is that on the inter-generational transmission (IGT) of poverty (see for detailed discussion Moore, 2001). The IGT approach is a well established conceptualisation of how poverty is transmitted from one generation to another (Castañeda and Aldaz-Carroll, 1999:2, Bird 2007:1). IGT is often conflated with the dynamics of poverty literature. Poverty dynamics and IGT are both temporal and about how 5
people move in and out of poverty over time. But IGT is typically about poor adults having poor children rather than poor children becoming poor adults or poor adults staying poor (Moore, ibid., suggested IGT could work in various ways not previously considered). Most work on IGT has tended to be on American societal and income mobility or state benefits dependency because large scale longitudinal household data is available annually from 1968-89 from the American Panel Study of Income Dynamics (see for details Altonji et al., 1997). In contrast, there are virtually no long term longitudinal panels from the developing world, hence the approach is much less well established in the development literature 2b. The evolution of the concept of vulnerability in the wider literature Birkmann (2006: 11), notes that the emergence and early evolution of the concept of vulnerability was closely linked to the ‘purely hazard-oriented perception of disaster risk in the 1970s’. Vulnerability was by and large dominated by ‘technical interventions focused on predicting hazards or modifying their impact’ (Hilhorst and Bankoff 2004: 2). But while these early origins framed the concept in relatively narrow terms, the last three decades or so have witnessed a considerable conceptual expansion of vulnerability, as well as its application into a wide and diverse range of disciplines. Now the subject of a huge and burgeoning literature, it has been increasingly recognised by researcher and practitioner communities within various disciplines that reducing vulnerability is necessary for improving wellbeing and human security, particularly in the face of multiple shocks and stressors (O’Brien 2009: 23). Additionally, within development and economics it is increasingly acknowledged that considerations of risk and vulnerability are central to understanding the dynamics of poverty noted above (Christiaensen and Subbaro 2004). Further still, the concept of vulnerability has relatively recently been adopted by those engaged in climate change research, or more specifically by those investigating the relationship between the impacts of 6
climate change and various anthropocentric dimensions (e.g. Haines et al. 2006; Gaillard 2010). Aside from such practical and operational imperatives, the concept of vulnerability has contributed greatly to the advancement and refinement of various academic pursuits. Cardona (2004) has pointed out that over time vulnerability has helped clarify the concepts of risk and disaster – concepts which make up the cornerstones of a number of disciplines, including disaster management (‘vulnerability has emerged as the most critical concept in disaster studies’ [Vatsa 2004: 1]) and environmental change. Different disciplinary and sectoral approaches to vulnerability Discipline/sector Development Studies Economics etc Approach vulnerability to
Sources: xxxx In its most general sense, vulnerability is seen as the risk that a ‘system’ (e.g. household, community, country) would be negatively affected by ‘specific perturbations that impinge on the system’ (Gallopin 2006: 294). These perturbations that give rise to undesirable outcomes originate from various sources, including environmental, socio-economic, physical and political (Naude, et al., 2009: 185). The question of risk is thus at the heart of the vulnerability concept: how systems deal with and react to risk; what kinds of outcome result from a particular risk; and through what processes a risk produces an outcome. Closely related to this notion of risk is the idea of un/certainty. In a context of imperfect information there an element of risk involved (for example, not knowing when a natural disaster or a sudden fall in primary commodity prices will occur), thus giving rise to uncertainty about, say, the future livelihood of an individual, the wellbeing 7
of a household, or the performance of an economy. From a development perspective this might mean that vulnerability exists when ‘poverty cannot be safely ruled out as a possible future scenario’ (Calvo 2008: 1014). 2c. Defining vulnerability As noted above a common starting point in defining vulnerability is to separate sensitivity and resilience (see table 3) as hazard exposure (not only shocks) and capacity to cope (ie resilience and agency).
Table 3. What is vulnerability?
Capacity to cope (buffers) and/or advance (passports)
High Vulnerable Sensitivity or hazard exposure (to snakes and ladders) High Low Not vulnerable Vulnerable
Low High vulnerability
Sources: Alwang et al., (2001), Davies (1996), Room (2000), Sharma et al., (2000).
Despite the many disciplinary variations, most contemporary approaches to vulnerability share (to varying degrees) some common elements. Vulnerability analysts working in a wide range of disciplines frequently cite Kofi Annan’s (2003) observation that hazards only become disasters when people’s lives and livelihoods are affected. Many agree that at the foundation of any conceptualisation of vulnerability is this issue of interaction: an interaction between an environmental hazard and a population, as Annan suggests; an interaction between market dynamics and a local community; or an interaction between a food shortage and the characteristics of a particular household. The interaction that exists between a perturbation of some kind (e.g. earthquake, famine, hyperinflation) and the unit/system of analysis (e.g. individual, household, community, country) is a complex one, and influenced by a multitude of different factors. These could include anything from the asset stock of a household, to the size and quality of an individual’s social network, to the 8
vulnerability – in any discipline – is rarely defined solely in relation to the hazard or source of risk. Furthermore, exposure to a perturbation is generally not considered to be sufficient in itself to constitute a robust conceptualisation of vulnerability, meaning that the interaction is made up of more than simply the ‘convergence’ of shock and individual. Using Bohle’s (2001) conceptual framework, (the level of) vulnerability is ‘produced’ through the interaction between exposure to external events and the internal coping capacity of the affected individual, household. This has led some to talk of the ‘double structure of vulnerability’ (e.g. van Dillen 2004). Coping capacity in this sense can broadly be understood as ‘resilience’, and as such cannot be thought of as distinct from vulnerability. Resilience and vulnerability do not represent opposite ends of the spectrum, but rather form part of the same equation: resilience determines in large part how people or systems respond to shocks, and hence determines how people or systems are affected by those shocks and how vulnerable they are to experiencing a particular outcome. Perturbations aside), coping capacity or resilience is shaped not only by the kinds of activities engaged in by individuals or systems (e.g. workrelated actions or membership in social networks that enhance their ability to respond to shocks), but also by the underlying characteristics of an individual or a system. More specifically, fragilities that in some way reduces resilience will determine to a large extent the degree of vulnerability an individual or a system experiences. Further, vulnerability is also influenced by the characteristics and nature of wider social, political and institutional structures. In some cases, these structural factors can actually prove to be more influential than the perturbation itself. For example, Devereux (2009) contends that structural conditions are more responsible for the persistence of famines in twenty-first century subSaharan Africa than the shocks that trigger them. So we must consider: the ex ante (that is, before a risky event) characteristics and conditions – the underlying conditions – of the unit of analysis in question (and the various factors and processes that determine them); the wider structural 9
conditions in which our unit of analysis exists; the type of perturbation or risky event that the unit of analysis experiences, whether that be a shortterm shock or a longer-term stressor; and the various, complex interactions between these dimensions and as many reserarchers have argued, when thinking about these things it is important to apply the framework to a specific outcome and ask the question: ‘vulnerability to, or from what exactly?’ (e.g. vulnerability to starvation, vulnerability to infection, etc.). 2d. Vulnerable to or from what shocks and stressors? A key distinction is that between vulnerability to something, and vulnerability from something. Alwang et al. (2001: 3) argue that when we talk about an outcome – for example, malnutrition, homelessness, bankruptcy – we are talking about vulnerability to that particular outcome, whereas when we talk about the relationship between vulnerability and risk, we are talking about vulnerability from risk. As noted, vulnerability is influenced by resilience (or coping capacity), as well as by structural features of the surrounding environment: these are the things that determine the degree of ex ante vulnerability (that is, before the onset of a risky event). So before an individual or a system is even threatened by a hazard, it is possible to identify certain socio-economic fragilities (underlying conditions) and pre-existing vulnerable context elements that increase vulnerability (Carreno et al. 2005). However, vulnerability is also determined by the type of risk or perturbation that the individual or system faces. For example, a particular building might already suffer from poor architectural design and shoddy construction (fragilities), but its overall vulnerability to experiencing major structural damage from an earthquake will ultimately be determined by the scale and magnitude of that event. Hence, it is important to ask ‘vulnerability to what?’, as the answer to that question greatly influences just how vulnerable an individual or a system is to a particular outcome.
Perturbations or risks are understood broadly as ‘a potentially damaging influence on the system of analysis’ or an ‘influence that may adversely affect a valued attribute of a system’ (Fussel 2007). This is what Chambers (1989) refers to as the external side of vulnerability, i.e. the risks, shocks and stress with which an individual or system is confronted (the internal side representing a lack of coping capacity). Although it should be noted that while risks are generally considered as external to a system, this is not always the case, as dangerous practices within a community (e.g. certain business practices) may also present themselves as threats (Fussel 2007). Perturbations can be disaggregated into two broad categories: shocks and stressors. Shocks refer to sudden risk events, such as floods, droughts, unemployment and price increases, whereas stressors refer to more gradual changes, such as changes in service delivery, land degradation, socio-economic marginalisation, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic (Hart 2009: 363). A key distinction is thus the difference in time-scale. However, while the duration of a shock may be short-term, the impacts of a shock can persist for many years after the initial event. This has been demonstrated by evidence from Ethiopia where a collapse in output prices in 2001 and a serious drought in 2002 were found to be still affecting consumption outcomes in rural Ethiopia several years later (Dercon et al. 2005). It should also be recognised that shocks and stressors can threaten an individual’s or a system’s wellbeing in indirect ways. As Dercon (2005: 484) points out, in dealing with the impact of a shock, the ex post coping responses of a household may ‘destroy or reduce the physical, financial, human or social capital of the household’. This might happen, for example, due to the selling off of important or valuable material assets, leaving the household more vulnerable in the future. Various disciplines have started to recognise this complex interplay of shocks/stressors. There have been various efforts to build interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary understandings of vulnerability and resilience. Those working in global environmental change have begun to 11
consequences of climate change does not result solely from environmental changes by themselves, but from a mixture of stressors (O’Brien et al. 2004). Further, Leichenko and O’Brien (2002) note that food security in developing countries is influenced by political, economic and social conditions, as well as climatic factors. This multiple stressors approach to vulnerability assessments has an important advantage over conventional approaches: as O’Brien et al. (2009: 24) argue, ‘interventions that address the outcomes of single stressors may provide measurable results, but if they do not consider the dynamic context in which a stressor is occurring, they are unlikely to enhance human security over the longer term’. Webb and Harinarayan (1999) have proposed that vulnerability itself be used as a ‘bridging concept’ to better link the fields of humanitarianism and development. However, multidisciplinary approaches are by no means straightforward undertakings. As Thywissen (2006: 449-450) explains, ‘multidisciplinarity often results in the same term being defined in different ways...[as] definitions of the same terms may have been developed simultaneously and separately in different disciplines’. The resulting confusion are difficult to escape as most of the definitions are ‘valid in their respective contexts and cannot be discarded’ and that ‘the search for a single measure of vulnerability is likely to be futile as each discipline stresses different components of the concept’ (Alwang et al. 2001: 34-35). While this undoubtedly presents academics, practitioners and policy-makers with various challenges, both methodological as well as empirical, it is in many ways understandable that such a multiplicity of interpretations and understandings exist. Indeed, that ‘vulnerability’ can be applied in such a diverse range of contexts and disciplines is arguably testament to its strength as an analytical and descriptive concept. When an individual or a system is affected by a perturbation, it is unlikely that that perturbation would have a single origin. Rather, the original perturbation would have combined with, and been shaped by, a series of other factors that together form the nature of the perturbation as experienced by the individual/system. To take a well known example, 12
famines are not purely natural phenomena. While a drought-induced food shortage one year might certainly increase the risk of famine, the actual risk experienced by a particular household would have ultimately been influenced by a range of other factors, such as food distribution mechanisms, forces. Many agree that vulnerability is a multifaceted and multidimensional concept (e.g. Cutter et al. 2000; Bohle 2002; Birkmann 2006). Even if we were to take as an example a very specific type of vulnerability and outcome (e.g. the vulnerability of household x falling below a predetermined poverty line within five years), there would still be a wide range of factors to consider when carrying out a vulnerability assessment. Indeed, vulnerability in its broadest sense is a concept that encompasses physical, social, economic, environmental and institutional features reflecting the complex relationships that shape the overall impact of a given shock or stressor. It is this multidimensionality that aligns the concept of vulnerability well with the approach of ‘human wellbeing’. global demand, or national or sub-national politics. Therefore, the risk is usually the product of a complex interaction of
3. A ‘HUMAN WELLBEING’ APPROACH ‘Human Wellbeing’ or ‘3-dimensional human wellbeing’ is emerging as a complement to the more traditional and material ways of conceptualizing and measuring poverty and deprivation. Evidence of this is most visible in the recent Sarkozy Commission, chaired by Amartya Sen, Joseph Stiglitz and Jean-Paul Fitoussi, which has provided one of the most recent and strongest signposts with its conclusion that there is a need “to shift emphasis… to measuring people’s wellbeing.” (2009: 10). There is further evidence in the OECD’s Measuring the Progress of Societies that suggests that current approaches to poverty are being rethought (Giovanni, 2009). The 2010, 20-year review of Human Development by the UNDP Human Development Report Office adds to this sense (see UNDP, 2010). One might also note the five-year, multi-country research of the ESRC Wellbeing in Developing Countries (WeD) network (eg. Copestake, 2008; McGregor, 2007; White, 2008; 2010) and the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI) that have stimulated academic debate (eg. Alkire and Santos, 2010). Indeed, although, wellbeing in its broadest sense has a long intellectual history, the concept has been particularly hotly debated over the last ten years or so, if the amount of published books and articles is a measure (see for overview discussion Gough and McGregor, 2007; McGillivray and Clarke, 2006). The approach to human wellbeing that is outlined here draws upon and synthesises various traditions (see discussion in McGregor, 2007). ‘Human well-being’ shifts our focus even further beyond income alone - that Seers (1972), Streeten (1980), Stewart (1985) and Sen (1999) have critiqued in seminal works - but also beyond narrow human development indicators as well such as the Human Development Indices to take account of what people can do and be, and how they feel about what they can do and be. Wellbeing thus seeks to build on conceptualisations of human development in particular and Sen’s (1999) ‘beings’ and ‘doings’ (human development is about freedoms and what a person can do and be), focusing on the interactions between beings, doings and feelings. Robert 14
Chambers’ (1997; 2007) emphasis on the need for the development profession to listen to the voices of poor and to their perceptions and feelings about poverty has also been influential (Of course feminist development thinkers have always stressed the importance of listening, and of inclusiveness and looking out for the silenced exclusions). McGregor (2007) suggests a comprehensive way to understand people’s well-being. He emphasizes that a practical concept of wellbeing should be conceived as the combination three things which are (i) Needs met (what people have) (ii) Meaningful act (what people do) and (iii) Satisfaction in achieving goals (how people be). Copestake (2008: 3) echos this: ‘Wellbeing is defined here as a state of being with others in society where (a) people’s basic needs are met, (b) where they can act effectively and meaningfully in pursuit of their goals, and (c) where they feel satisfied with their life’. Human wellbeing can thus be discussed as three-dimensional: it takes account of material wellbeing, subjective wellbeing and relational wellbeing and their dynamic, and evolving interaction. People’s own perceptions and experience of life matter, as do their relationships and their material standard of living. These three dimensions of material, subjective and relational wellbeing are summarised in Table 4. The columns here are artificial boundaries where we are suggesting such demarcations are highly fluid. The material dimension of wellbeing emphasises ‘practical welfare and standards of living’. The relational emphasises ‘personal and social relations’ and the subjective emphasises ‘values, perceptions and experience’ (White, 2008:8). The wellbeing lens can take both the individual and the community as the unit of analysis.2
Table 4. Human Wellbeing: Dimensions, Areas of Study, Indicators and Key determinants Dimensions of Wellbeing Material wellbeing – ‘needs met’ and ‘practical welfare and standards of living’
Relational wellbeing – ‘ability to act meaningfully’ and ‘personal and social
Subjective wellbeing – ‘life satisfaction’ and ‘values, perceptions and experience’
The WeD group found that the relational and the community aspects of wellbeing were particularly emphasised in the developing countries they studied. ‘Relatedness’ in people’s lives was central for wellbeing. Further, there was often a strong moral aspect of subjective wellbeing related to collective aspects of wellbeing and the community rather than just individual preferences (see discussion in White, 2008).
relations’ The extent to which The meanings that people are able to people give to the engage with others in goals they achieve order to achieve their and the processes in particular needs and which they engage. goals. Indicators Needs satisfaction Human agency Quality of life indicators. indicators. indicators. Material asset Multi-dimensional indicators. resource indicators. Key income, wealth and relations of love and understandings of the determinants assets care sacred and the moral employment and networks of support order livelihood activities and obligation self-concept and education and skills relations with the personality physical health and state: law, politics, hopes, fears and (dis)ability welfare aspirations access to services social, political and sense of meaning/ and amenities cultural identities and meaninglessness environmental quality inequalities levels of (dis) violence, conflict and satisfaction. (in)security trust and confidence scope for personal and collective action and influence Sources: Synthesised from Copestake (2008); McGregor (2007); McGregor and Sumner (2010); White (2008; 2010). Area of study The objectively observable outcomes that people are able to achieve.
Jodha (1988) is illustrative of wellbeing debates and the contradictions.3 Jodha studied the same households in rural India over a 20 year period (1963-6 and 1982-4) by both conventional household income surveys and by villagers’ perceptions of their poverty and wellbeing, and found that ‘households that have become poorer by conventional measurements of income in fact appear better off when seen through different qualitative indicators of their wellbeing’ (p. 2421). In Jodha’s study people felt they were better off because they consumed a greater range of commodities (i.e. the material wellbeing dimension), were less reliant on particular
Kanbur (2004:5-8) identiﬁed a series of contradictions: If the total number of people in poverty (however measured) rises because of population growth, but the percentage of the poor in the total population falls, has poverty risen or fallen? If the number of poor or the percentage of poor people (however measured) falls because the poor die at a faster rate than the non-poor (through HIV/AIDS, for example), has poverty risen or fallen? This is a particular issue when we assess gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. Because the poor are more likely to work in the informal economy, their economic activity is less likely to be recorded in GDP data, so it is likely that the faster poor people die, the faster GDP per capita rises. If the number of poor or the percentage of poor people (however measured) falls overall, but poverty falls for some and rises for others, has poverty risen or fallen? If the number of poor or the percentage of poor people falls overall because of an increase in private ‘bads’, such as the consumption of cigarettes and/or alcohol, or public ‘bads’ (in contrast to public goods), has poverty risen or fallen?
independent with greater levels of mobility (i.e. the subjective wellbeing dimension). Consistent with Jodha are proposals from Ryan and Deci (2000: 6-7) and others that autonomy – meaning ‘self-determination, independence and the regulation of behavior from within’ - is one of the three fundamental and universal psychological needs (along with relatedness and competence). Subjective wellbeing itself (see various recent reviews such as Samman, 2007) is composed of two aspects: affective (mental health or hedonic balance), and cognitive (life satisfaction or eudemonic). The focus for wellbeing is the latter. As Alvarez and Copestake (2008:154) and Deiner (2006: 401) respectively note, the ‘eudemonic approach emphasizes more the nature of human beings as searchers of meaning (actions consistent with their values) through fulfillment of cherished goals’ and ‘life satisfaction represents a report of how a respondent evaluates or appraises his or her life taken as a whole. Domain satisfactions are judgments people make in evaluating major life domains, such as physical and mental health, work, leisure, social relationships, and family’. There is, of course, a whole debate on preference setting to consider (See Clark, 2007 for wide-ranging discussion). Indeed, it has been argued that psychosocial factors might be working as additional reinforcement mechanisms to keeping people in poverty. For example, Harper et al., (2003:547) note in their review of the literature the importance of individual agency and the role of attitudes and aspirations in the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Further, a circle of low (or frustrated) aspirations and endemic poverty may be a self-sustaining outcome (Appadurai, 2004; Ray, 2006). In a empirical review of the determinants of the inter-generational transmission of poverty, Bird (2007: ix) also notes, low aspirations probably contribute to reduced income and asset formation and may influence parenting patterns and investment 17
decisions (including in children’s human capital formation) thus contributing to IGT poverty. However, this is not a reason to discount people’s own perceptions of poverty and wellbeing. Rather to recognize the limitation of researching wellbeing and poverty. So, what does a wellbeing approach add? Many contemporary conceptualisations of poverty already go beyond incomebased definitions of and include (e.g. more socio-cultural and subjective dimensions deprivation human development, rights-based
approaches, social exclusion approaches, sustainable livelihoods). One can posit that a wellbeing lens sharpens the focus of a ‘traditional’ poverty lens in at least two ways. In the first instance, it emphasises the relational and the subjective. What people feel they can do or can be, influences what people will actually be able to be and to do. In turn, these feelings and perceptions are determined by people's experiences as well as by the norms and values that are culturally and socially determined. In the case of child poverty, this might include prevailing notions of ‘normal’ adultchild interactions or relationships at school, home and in the case of child labour, at work and norms about child participation. An example, of this is White and Choudury’s (2007: 530) research on Bangladesh, which explored the empirical realities of ‘genuine’ or ‘meaningful’ participatory initiatives with children. They argue that whilst ideally, participation is about raising children’s collective voice in development matters, in reality participation is ‘produced’ through ‘projectisation’ of participation. Drawing on primary data collected with Amra, a children’s organisation in Bangladesh, they note understandings of what counts as ‘participation’ as determined by development agency staff and therefore children’s agency is constrained and determined by adults in development agencies (i.e. what can be said, when it should be said). An example of subjectivities, can be found in Cornwall and Fujita (2007) in their analysis of representations made of ‘the poor’ in the World Bank’s Voices of the Poor exercise. Drawing upon the Crying Out for Change volume, they argue that (2007:60), 18
The ‘voices’ are editorialized so as to tune out any discordant sounds and present an overarching narrative that is in perfect harmony with the bank’s own policies: their ‘cries’ for change are harnessed to support a particular set of highly normative prescriptions. In order to obtain quotes that could pack a punch, Crying Out for Change obscures other linkages, other perspectives, other parts of the conversation that provide less convenient justification for the overall narrative. Second, a wellbeing approach is about positives. It is is based on what people (and above - children) can do/be/feel, rather than deficits in what they can do/be/feel. This resonates with Nancy Fraser’s work (see for example, Fraser, 2000) on recognition, respect and issues of stigma. In particular how labeling or ‘othering’ of people as the ‘poor’ infers a status inferior to the ‘non-poor’ and in itself can lead to material and relational deprivation via social exclusion. It is also about self-determination rather than exogenously defined wellbeing. Third, wellbeing addresses a need for an analytical approach that is sufficiently flexible to take account of the differential experiences of different groups of people. This is particularly evident when considering poverty and wellbeing across the life course. As Hird (2003:25) suggests citing Ryff and Heidrich (1997) and Westerhof et al (2001): ‘older adults tend to refer to life satisfaction and health in their spontaneous descriptions of self and life, whereas young adults focus more on self, personality, happiness, work, and education’, [in contrast] Middle-aged individuals were found to emphasise self-confidence, self-acceptance, and self-knowledge, as well as job and career issues’. If we develop this further we can understand better how some people’s wellbeing – here child poverty - is distinct from other peoples – here adult poverty. We can thus seeks to identify dimensions to be explored further to better understand that difference. For example, we can posit that child poverty is different to adult poverty because not only do children have 19
differing needs, wants and capacities depending on the stage of childhood (e.g. infancy, early childhood, middle childhood and adolescence) but also the meaning of ‘childhood’ itself is defined by the prevailing context and culture. Adult poverty differs by age and context but arguably to a lesser extent than childhood poverty. We can also posit that a further key difference in children’s experiences is that childhood poverty and wellbeing are more intensely relational in nature. Adult poverty is also relational in nature but arguably to a lesser extent than childhood poverty because for children there is greater reliance on ‘others’ for care and nurture, typically adults or older children; greater physiological and psychological vulnerabilities; and reduced autonomy/power. We can illustrate this further if we consider poverty tracking via a wellbeing lens during the recent global crisis using the empirical work of Hossain et al., Turk et al., and May et al., (see table 5). In terms of child wellbeing and the material wellbeing dimension there were cross-country reports of school absenteeism and dropout, and some reports of child labour and/or education expenses being reduced and there were reports across countries of children combining labour with education. Whilst in the relational domain there are some clear findings on changes in the household division of care labour, social tensions, family conflict and crime. In the Turk et al., studies there was cross-country reports of children were being left unattended for long hours while mothers worked late into the evening and sometimes unpaid work of childcare was taken over either by elderly household members or by the older children. As a general rule, respondents were trying to protect the nutrition and education of children: Normally respondents suggested that food consumption for adults would be cut in order to protect the nutritional intake of children but there were changes in the quality of food. Finally, in terms of the subjective domain there is relatively little to report perhaps because it was not explicitly or formally asked about. What there is, is striking in terms of evidence of levels of everyday stress rising and the inter-connection of material, relational and subjective child and adult wellbeing via, for example, the stress around sending children to 20
school on an empty stomach and how this connected psychological stress, food insecurity and children's educational access. Economic stress was understood to be generating tensions - both men and women made many references to increases in the number of arguments between husbands and wives, sometimes including violence – and that much of this was driven by stress over money. Again, this would suggest the inter-linkages of material, relational and subjective wellbeing and a need for research design to seek to capture these dimensions and their interactions.
Table 5. Using the ‘wellbeing’ approach to analysis crisis impacts of global crisis and general versus child-specific impacts Wellbeing dimension Material wellbeing Impacts reported General Hossain et al., in 5 countries Food prices still higher than 2007; Export sector job losses in Jakarta but not in Dhaka; Microand informal credit markets effected; higher proportion of income being spent on food; less diverse/lower nutritional value, less; Range of health impacts reported; May et al., in 11 countries Women, particularly in supply chains in South East Asia have been hard hit via falling wages, less decent work and shorter working hours; families have reported reducing their food consumption or quality; borrowing money and selling assets is extremely common; Turk et al., in 8 countries Workers in the urban informal sector are facing particularly high levels of income insecurity; some layoffs; reduced working hours; laid-off workers remaining in urban areas; reduced hours; altered adult food consumption patterns and reduced remittances; increased competition for local, day-laboring jobs in rural areas; smallholder, rural households remain vulnerable to falling commodity prices. Nearly all groups in all low income countries were unable to access formal safety protection mechanisms Reports of children combining work/labour with education.
School absenteeism and dropout, and child labour reports
Women eating least/last; intra-household tensions, abandonment of elderly; signs of rising social tension.
Education is being prioritized by families but education costs are being reduced – through moving children from private to public schools, cutting tuition or going into debt; research did not find evidence of significant numbers of children being taken out of school Women, particularly in supply chains in South East Asia have been hard hit via falling wages, less decent work and shorter working hours have increased time burdens and reproductive pressures; the first port of call has been the family and social networks; Some evidence of family conflict and domestic violence.
Intra-household tensions and abandonment of children; youth crime reported
Some evidence of family conflict and domestic violence.
People’s own crisis indicators identified: Changes in prices, reduction in the amount of paid workers; number of vacant dormitories rented for export workers, reduced working hours, termination/broken contracts, lay-offs, returning migration . Levels of everyday stress rising and the interconnection of material, relational and subjective child and adult wellbeing via for example the stress around sending children to school on an
Some sectors hit hard by the crisis are those that are dominated by female employment; Economic stress was understood to be generating tensions and sometimes, shifting roles in the households; tensions associated with competition for scarce work were mentioned in some instances; Young, single women appeared more resilient to these impacts than those that were married with children. Children were being left unattended for long hours while mothers worked late into the evening. Sometimes unpaid work of childcare was taken over either by elderly households members or by the older children; As a general rule, respondents were trying to protect the nutrition and education of children. Normally respondents suggested that food consumption for adults would be cut in order to protect the nutritional intake of children but changes in quality of food. Economic stress was understood to be generating tensions - Both men and women made many references to increases in the number of arguments between husbands and wives, sometimes including violence - much of this was driven by stress over money. na
empty stomach and how this connected psychological stress, food insecurity and children's educational access. Sources: Hossain et al., (2009; 2010); May et al., (1999); Turk et al., (2009).
4. ANALYSING VULNERABILITY VIA A WELLBEING LENS 4a. Vulnerability in material, relational and subjective dimensions In light of the preceding discussion what can wellbeing offer to understanding multi-dimensional vulnerability? In the first instance a wellbeing lens helps to analytically approach the different dimensions of vulnerability taking the material, relational and subjective dimensions and their interactions. It has long been commonplace to think about vulnerability by its material wellbeing dimensions. There has traditionally been a focus on tangible assets and entitlements (such as income, labour, capital – as per the Sustainable Livelihoods approach); a focus that is still today proving influential within economic approaches to vulnerability. The assumption here is that assets and entitlements represent the resources that can be mobilised and managed when an individual or a system is confronted with a threat; in other words, resilience (Moser 1998: 3). Households can also make ‘material-based’ decisions in order to increase their resilience. Morduch (1995) presents a range of examples that demonstrate how individuals and households engage in ‘income smoothing’ activities, such as making conservative production or employment choices and diversifying economic activities, in order to protect themselves from ‘adverse income shocks’ before they occur (i.e. ex ante). Such a material approach recognises that people or systems respond differently to the same threat (as determined by their ‘asset portfolio’), but it also opens up the important issue of power. A person’s ability to establish their command over a set of commodities is dependent on the power they hold in the first place.4 We can understand this as their agency, and the successful command of commodities as the exercise of that agency (see later discussion). However, it is important to remember that the agency of one individual is influenced by both the agency of
Entitlements are a ‘the set of alternative bundles of commodities over which one person can establish...command’ (Dreze and Sen 1989: 9-10).
others as well as wider structures (Giddens 1979). For example, in their study of resource accessibility and vulnerability in Andhra Pradesh, India, Bosher et al. (2007) find that the caste system – and the rigid arrangement of relations within it – is the key factor in determining who has assets, who can access public facilities, who has political connections, and who has supportive social networks. Thus, there is also a relational aspect to access to material assets and entitlements – a mix of power as political economy and power as institutions. Material aspects of vulnerability have been typically measured as ‘vulnerability to poverty’ or the probability of falling below the poverty line in the next time period (e.g. Pritchett et al., 2000). Many have subsequently criticised the economics literature for ‘its use of money metrics and the underlying presumption that all losses can be measured in monetary terms’ (Alwang et al. 2001: 5). While it would be shortsighted to claim that this is true of all the literature – Moser (1998), for example, adopts an approach dominated by the relationship between asset ownership and vulnerability, but also includes intangible and unquantifiable assets, such as household relations and social capital – there is certainly a case to make that by focusing overwhelmingly on the material aspects of vulnerability, it is easy to overlook the many other dimensions. A material focus on the geographical characteristics of a particular place has, in the past, and particularly within the disaster risk literature, been used to identify people living in particular areas as vulnerable, when it is now widely acknowledged that ‘Hazard risks, their impacts and local responses are not predetermined by individual or location’ (Webb and Harinarayan 1999: 293). Table 6 takes the example of a material stressor – market volatility and illustrates across the wellbeing dimensions.
Table 6. Examples of vulnerability viewed by a wellbeing lens (material stressor) Variability – Shock or stressor Material wellbeing – Wellbeing domains Relational wellbeing – Subjective wellbeing –
Material e.g. market volatility
‘needs met’ and ‘practical welfare and standards of living’ Materia Materia l l snakes buffers and and ladders passpo rts Uneven Income income smoothi stream ng
‘ability to act meaningfully’ and ‘personal and social relations’ Relatio Relatio nal nal snakes buffers and and ladders passpo rts Access Informal to knowled welfare ge and receipts network mediate s to d by navigate gatekee institutio pers ns
‘life satisfaction’ and ‘values, perceptions and experience’ Subject Subject ive ive snakes buffers and and ladders passpor ts Higher Repropensi appraisi ty to be ng daily exposed situation to in a economi positive c light stresses
Appreciating the relational wellbeing aspects of vulnerability are also important for developing a robust understanding. Of particular relevance here are institutions. As North (1995: 23), noted, in his seminal work, institutions are the ‘humanly devised constraints that structure human interaction...composed of formal rules...[and] informal constraints’. While the risk of a household falling below the poverty line is minimised in a society in which formal safety nets, such as the provision of basic levels of welfare and social protection, exist, in many developing countries life is ‘non-insured’ (Duffield 2008). This relates to what Wood (2003) refers to as the ‘Faustian bargain’ (see also Kabeer 2002 for immediate needs/long-term goals balancing among South Asian households). In the absence of welfare regimes which reduce the uncertainties, poor people engage in certain kinds of risk management in order to ensure security and survival in the present (Chambers, 1989). Longer-term preparations are therefore foregone in favour of more immediate imperatives. In such a situation, when formal welfare regimes are non-existent, informal institutions take on a greater significance. Informal institutions are generally deeply connected to the cultural and social norms of particular places, and can often provide a means of coping when people become especially vulnerable to experiencing a particular negative outcome. As an example, more than 25 years
ago Bardhan (1984) demonstrated how tied labour contracts – commonly thought of as ‘inefficient relics of an age when slavery was condoned (Morduch 1995: 110) – actually mitigated the risk for agricultural workers of facing low consumption levels in slow seasons characterised by low employment rates. Another example might be reciprocity arrangements and inter-household transfers whereby households cope with misfortune by drawing on the resources of extended families and communities (Morduch and Sharma 2002: 575). Table 7 illustrates.
Table 7. Examples of vulnerability viewed by a wellbeing lens (relational stressor) Variability – Shock or stressor Material wellbeing – ‘needs met’ and ‘practical welfare and standards of living’ Materia Materia l l snakes buffers and and ladders passpo rts Loss of Taking access ad-hoc to credit opportu line nities to earn income Wellbeing domains Relational wellbeing – ‘ability to act meaningfully’ and ‘personal and social relations’ Relatio Relatio nal nal snakes buffers and and ladders passpo rts Loss of Borderli entitlem ne non ent to — welfare complia receipts nce with welfare conditio ns (eg. Conditio nal cash transfer s) Subjective wellbeing – ‘life satisfaction’ and ‘values, perceptions and experience’ Subject Subject ive ive snakes buffers and and ladders passpor ts Isolation Group and based hopeless collectiv ness e action (ie urban por collectiv es).
Relational e.g. loss of interhousehold reciprocity arrangements due to change in personal circumstances
A substantial portion of the diverse literature on vulnerability is devoted to exploring the ways in which vulnerability, risks and hazards are above all else social constructions or subjectivities. These studies dispute the idea that vulnerability is preordained. For example, Quarantelli (2005) contends that a disaster is both socially constructed and rooted in the particular social structure of the community which has been affected by a given hazard. Depending on one’s characteristics – age, gender, class, ethnicity, and so on – 27
perceptions of what constitutes being or feeling ‘vulnerable’ can vary enormously. Research by Valentine (1989) into how public spaces are experienced differently by men and women has discussed how perceptions of vulnerability are shaped by this. However, Hollander (2002) found that women actively resist the conventional construction of women’s vulnerability. Capturing the subjectivity displayed in these two examples, Cannon (1994) explains how, more broadly, the determination of vulnerability is a complex characteristic formed by a mix of factors, themselves derived in large part from class, gender and ethnicity and personal perceptions of vulnerability. The same ideas apply to perceptions of risk. As Cutter (2003: 2) points out, if rational choice is framed in relative (and therefore subjective) terms, then it is easier to understand an ‘irrational’ choice. The example she goes on to offer brings this point to light: ‘the same risky behaviour (e.g. suicide bomber) would seem like a perfectly rational choice in one setting (disenfranchisement of Palestinian youth), but appear as totally irrational in another (American mass media). The value of a subjective approach to vulnerability is that it compels us to question the assumptions that go into both vulnerability assessments, as well as common attitudes towards vulnerabilities. It also represents a step in the direction of privileging hitherto silenced voices, and tailoring a perspective of vulnerability that is more contextually sensitive (see table 8).
Table 8. Examples of vulnerability viewed by a wellbeing lens (subjective stressor) Variability – Shock or stressor Material wellbeing – ‘needs met’ and ‘practical welfare and standards of living’ Materia Materia l l snakes buffers and and ladders passpo rts Wellbeing domains Relational wellbeing – ‘ability to act meaningfully’ and ‘personal and social relations’ Relatio Relatio nal nal snakes buffers and and ladders passpo rts Subjective wellbeing – ‘life satisfaction’ and ‘values, perceptions and experience’ Subject Subject ive ive snakes buffers and and ladders passpor ts
Subjective e.g. lower caste identity
Poor access to formal sector employ ment
Taking informal sector work
Discrimi nation in access to state institutio ns
Mediatin g state institutio ns via noncaste network s
Social exclusio n
Collectiv e action based on caste identity
4b. Resilience, agency and wellbeing In terms of capacity to cope and resilience, wellbeing’s focus on the perceptual and relational is inherently about agency and capacities to act meaningfully. A wellbeing approach seeks to makes power more explicit in each dimension. This is not only as material political economy (in Marx’s terms), but also as discourse (i.e Foucault), and as embedded in norms, values and conventions (i.e. North’s institutions (see North, 1990) or Bourdieu’s habitus (1990).5 We can map dimensions of agency and capacity to cope across the domains of wellbeing (here with a child focus again). This seeks to build on research on agency and poor people (see review of Lister, 2004). Lister’s (2004) taxonomy of agency exercised by those in poverty recognises that people’s agency can be good/progressive and bad/regressive. Lister’s model has four quadrants. The vertical axis is about actions poor people (and children) take to improve their situation in the short-term and the horizontal axis is about long-term actions. This stretches from everyday matters of ‘getting by’ and ‘getting back at’ (meaning rebellious behaviour) to more strategic matters of ‘getting out’ and ‘getting organised’ (meaning collective action). The model could be applied to those who are not in poverty too. When Lister talks of ‘getting’ by she is referring to the little things people do in order to cope with everyday situations such as prioritising daily expenditures and juggling resources. Of course
Although these last two are different disciplinary approaches there is some overlap in a focus on the formal and informal ‘rules of the game’ or ways of doing things For Bourdieu, power is an unconscious negotiation of an individual and her/his social environment as s/he unconsciously interacts with this environment to define his/her dispositions, tendencies, propensities and inclinations.
everyone has to make these choices but they are starker for those with fewer resources. Redmond (2009) in his application of Lister’s approach to child agency provides examples of child agency a such as children who take advantage of informal and ad-hoc opportunities to earn income (ie agency in the material wellbeing domain), help parents with housework and childcare (agency in the relational wellbeing domain) and reappraise their daily situation in a positive light (agency in the subjective wellbeing domain). We can start to map Redmond and Lister’s concepts of agency across wellbeing domains. Their work particularly deals with the capacity to cope aspects – providing examples of children’s agency or capacity to cope. Many of these are slow burning stressors rather than acute crises. Redmond argues that children’s agency – here anaylsed as examples of resilience or capacity to cope - is generally exercised in the domains of the everyday and personal (what Lister terms ‘getting by’, ‘getting back at’). Children are less likely to exert agency that is strategic and political (‘getting out’, ‘getting organised’), although children can do this, especially with the facilitation of adults (White and Choudhury (2007) discuss how adults can provide ‘supplements and extensions’). Getting organised is constrained by people’s subjectivities, for example, how they understand and account for their own experiences and identities and the extent to which they experience belonging and ‘sameness’ with others. People overcome constraints to getting organised by collective self-help, and political action. Individual agency is of course a product of wider social forces. As Lister notes (2004:128) it is not only about how those in poverty (including children) act, but also about how those in power act in relation to them – in this discussion how poor as well as richer adults act with poor children. Further, structures are perpetuated or modified by individual and collective action and non-action. What matters is not just the system of cultural norms, values, attitudes and behaviours
that is transmitted across generations, but also the degree to which a person assumes these or identifies herself with them.
Table 9. Agency and vulnerability by a wellbeing lens Agency Dimension of wellbeing with examples Material Relational Subjective Material political economy Institutions (e.g. North), Power as discourse (i.e. (i.e. Marx), and the available norms, and conventions, Foucault) and embedded in resources upon which children including the formal/informal values and ways of seeing the can call ‘rules of the game’ or ways of world, (e.g. the social doing things in terms of construction of ‘childhood’) children-adult relationships Material Material Relational Relational Subjective Subjective snakes and buffers and snakes and buffers and snakes and buffers and ladders passports ladders passports ladders passports Taking Helping Reappraising advantage of parents with daily situation informal and housework in a positive ad-hoc and childcare. light. opportunities to earn income. Petty crimes. Borderline noncompliance with rules and obligations of welfare receipts (i.e. conditional cash transfers). Children can and influence parental Vandalism and drug/solvent use.
Agency as everyday and personal
Getting by coping strategies, personal and social resources, and augmenting resources through the informal economy Getting back at the channelling of anger and despair into activities and lifestyles that signal resistance to bureaucratic and social norms.
Agency as strategic and political
Getting out seeking routes out of poverty via
Children deciding to look for, or
Agency officially sanctioned responses to poverty Getting organised – collective responses
Dimension of wellbeing with examples Material Relational take work decisions to and/or look for work, education. seek education etc. Child labour collectives/uni ons. Collective self-help, political action, and gendered action.
Child collective action based on identity as children or childlabourers, etc.
Source: Adapted from Sumner (2010).
5. CONCLUSIONS 5a. The point of departure We noted at the outset that research has tended to view vulnerability households by disciple or sector and yet individuals and and experience multiple, interacting sometimes
compounding vulnerabilities at the same time and that multidimensional and compound vulnerability is only likely to come further to the fore. This paper has sought to review different approaches to vulnerability in order to contribute to understanding multi-dimensional vulnerability. This paper had drawn in particular on Room’s (2000) ‘snakes and ladders’ and unexpected and expected variability that can lead to advancement (ladder) or decline (snake) in wellbeing and ‘buffers and passports’ to refer to resilience stock/capacities (buffers) and abilities to take opportunities (passports). 5b. What does wellbeing add? In light of the above what might a ‘Human Wellbeing’ approach contribute to the analysis of vulnerability? First, insecurity is a dimension of poverty and illbeing in its own right (subjective wellbeing) and perceptions of insecurity can frame and influence both material and relational domains of wellbeing. The threat of hitting critically low outcome levels (in any dimension) is already a form of hardship. Lack of ‘peace of mind’ is a form of deprivation (Wood, 2008). Second, if insecurity is chronic or the ‘norm’ rather than a crisis/shock then wellbeing helps understand various sources of stressors. Third, vulnerability and resilience are not opposites – resilience is a sub-set of vulnerability as capacity to cope – and wellbeing helps to identify material, relational and subjective dimensions. Fourth, a wellbeing lens helps with analysis of
information on the causes of vulnerability and consider the dynamics of vulnerability before, during and after the hazard occurs. Fifth, wellbeing helps move analysis from thresholds to continuums and dynamics – from vulnerability to poverty (based on a poverty line threshold) to vulnerability to greater poverty severity and a focus on processes as well as thresholds or the gradient of downward spiral. Sixth, wellbeing can help with the ‘vulnerability/resilient to what’ question and to identification of different entitlement losses. Not only in the material domain - land; labour; state transfers; remittances but also the relational and subjective dimensions. 5c. Key questions for researching vulnerability via a wellbeing lens Key questions for future research that wellbeing could thus assist with are: What are the endowments and buffers (or lack of them) that are especially likely to make people vulnerable? How to understand that where people are located in society not only plays a role in the different snakes and ladders they face but how their end goals differ too by different tastes and goals and differences in capacities to cope under adversity? Why are opportunities open to some as coping strategies proscribed to others due to gender, ethnicity, class, etc? How does the nature of exposure to harm extent in time, quantity and weight of exposure, speed and density (ie chronic or slow stressor) shape vulnerability and resilience? How do major disinvestments as a result of snakes lead to future risks? How do entitlement failure types – production-based entitlement; labour entitlements; trade entitlements; transfer entitlements – interact with stressors and shocks? To what extent are there ‘layers of resilience’ like an onion? (ie the formal welfare system of the state if it exists; social relationship support in groups and networks, and distressed asset sales and ill-health as coping mechanisms), and how are vulnerability and resilience transmitted across time and
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