Original Research - Special Collection: Framing and modelling disaster risk

Reflections on a vulnerability framework for sustainability science

Billie L. Turner II, Bing-Bing Zhou
Jàmbá: Journal of Disaster Risk Studies | Vol 15, No 1 | a1335 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/jamba.v15i1.1335 | © 2023 B.L. Turner II, Bing-Bing Zhou | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 28 April 2022 | Published: 26 July 2023

About the author(s)

Billie L. Turner II, School of Geographical Science & Urban Planning, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe and School of Sustainability, College of Global Futures, Arizona State University, Tempe, United States
Bing-Bing Zhou, School of International Affairs & Public Administration, Ocean University of China, Qingdao; and Key Laboratory of Coastal Science and Integrated Management, Ministry of Natural Resources, Qingdao, China


The first vulnerability framework for sustainability science was published about two decades ago. It embedded vulnerability analysis into the foundational lens of sustainability and resilience research – the social-environmental system (SES) – and called for an integration of the vulnerabilities of the social and environmental subsystems as opposed to the dominating attention given at the time to societal vulnerability. The framework recognised that the environment itself is vulnerable to disturbances and that the interactions of the two subsystems create a system-wide vulnerability central to questions of sustainability or sustainable development. It also provided multiple components of analysis that should be considered if vulnerability research and assessments were to contribute more fully to sustainability themes. Using bibliometric analysis and attention to subsequent vulnerability publications, various impacts of this original framework on vulnerability studies were examined in the study, including its recognition by citations, citation pathways and fields of study, and the degree to which its various dimensions were employed. It was found that its large citation recognition was not necessarily matched by attention to the dimensions the framework proposed, noting several exceptions.

Contribution: The authors interpreted this discrepancy to have followed from the analytical complexity fostered by the framework and to the significant proportion of vulnerability interests that was and remains focused on societal vulnerability as opposed to the social-environmental one, even in this moment in which sustainability in the Anthropocene has become a paramount query.


sustainability science; vulnerability; new millennium; resilience; social-environment.


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