Cause and response: vulnerability and climate in the Anthropocene

Jesse Ribot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Causal analysis of vulnerability aims to identify root causes of crises so that transformative solutions might be found. Yet root-cause analysis is absent from most climate response assessments. Framings for climate-change risk analysis often locate causality in hazards while attributing some causal weight to proximate social variables such as poverty or lack of capacity. They rarely ask why capacity is lacking, assets are inadequate or social protections are absent or fail. This contribution frames vulnerability and security as matters of access to assets and social protections. Assets and social protections each have their own context-contingent causal chains. A key recursive element in those causal chains is the ability – means and powers – of vulnerable people to influence the political economy that shapes their assets and social protections. Vulnerability is, as Sen rightly observed, linked to the lack of freedom – the freedom to influence the political economy that shapes these entitlements. In the Anthropocene, human causes of climate hazard must also now be accounted for in etiologies of disaster. However, attention to anthropogenic climate change should not occlude social causes of (and responsibility for) vulnerability – vulnerability is still produced in and by society.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)667-705
Number of pages39
JournalJournal of Peasant Studies
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Anthropocene
  • access
  • adaptation
  • climate change
  • emancipation
  • representation
  • risk
  • vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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