Natural Hazards

, Volume 58, Issue 2, pp 789–810 | Cite as

Contextualizing social vulnerability: findings from case studies across Europe

  • Christian KuhlickeEmail author
  • Anna Scolobig
  • Sue Tapsell
  • Annett Steinführer
  • Bruna De Marchi
Original Paper


Social vulnerability is a term that has been widely used in the natural hazards literature for quite a few years now. Yet, regardless of how scholars define the term, the approaches and indicators they use remain contested. This article presents findings from social vulnerability assessments conducted in different case studies of flood events in Europe (Germany, Italy and the UK). The case studies relied upon a common set of comparable indicators, but they also adopted a context-sensitive, qualitative approach. A shared finding across the case studies was that it was not possible to identify a common set of socio-economic–demographic indicators to explain social vulnerability of groups and/or individuals for all phases of the disastrous events. Similarly, network-related indicators as well as location- and event-specific indicators did not have the relevance we expected them to have. The results underline that vulnerability is a product of specific spatial, socio-economic–demographic, cultural and institutional contexts imposing not only specific challenges to cross-country research concerning social vulnerability to flooding but also to attempts at assessing social vulnerability in general. The study ends with some reflections upon the methodological, practical and theoretical implications of our findings.


Flood Social vulnerability assessment Indicators Case studies Europe Interviews Focus groups Qualitative and quantitative methods Triangulation 



The work described in this publication was supported by the European Community’s Sixth Framework Programme through the grant to the budget of the Integrated Project Floodsite (2004–2009;, contract GOCE-CT-2004-505420. The article reflects the authors’ views and not those of the European Community. Neither the European Community nor any member of the FLOODsite Consortium is liable for any use of the information in this article. We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful and constructive comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Kuhlicke
    • 1
    Email author
  • Anna Scolobig
    • 2
  • Sue Tapsell
    • 3
  • Annett Steinführer
    • 4
  • Bruna De Marchi
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Urban and Environmental SociologyHelmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ)LeipzigGermany
  2. 2.Risk, Policy and Vulnerability ProgramInternational Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)LaxenburgAustria
  3. 3.Flood Hazard Research Centre (FHRC)Middlesex University (MU)LondonUK
  4. 4.Institute of Rural StudiesJohann Heinrich von Thünen Institute (vTI), Federal Research Institute for Rural Studies, Forestry and FisheriesBraunschweigGermany
  5. 5.Mass Emergencies Programme (PEM)Institute of International Sociology of Gorizia (ISIG)GoriziaItaly

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