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2 J. Hum. Rts. & Env't. 1 (2011)

handle is hein.journals/jhre2 and id is 1 raw text is: 

Journal of Human Rights and the Environment, Vol. 2 No. 1, March 2011, pp. 1-4


Ontological vulnerability: a viable alternative lens through which
to view   human/environmental relations

With  customary acuity the American anthropologist Margaret Mead  once said that:
'We  won't have a society if we destroy the environment'1 and in this deceptively sim-
ple statement she effectively encapsulates the indivisibility of the lot (indeed the now
almost foreseeable future fate) of humanity and the environment of which, we now
recognise, we form part. This sense of continuity or shared predicament (if that is
the right word) between  ourselves and the environment   leads us neatly into the
topic selected for this edition of the Journal: 'ontological vulnerability'. What,
many  readers may well ask, exactly is it? As the authors' contributions make clear,
attempting an answer garners both simple and complex  levels of response. In basic
terms ontology is the branch of metaphysics that considers the nature of existence/
being. Vulnerability is variously defined herein: as being concerned with the suscept-
ibility of an individual or a system to risk (Kirby); the exposure of individuals and
communities  to environmental insecurity as the provisioning capacity of the environ-
ment is impaired (Rajan); as the manifestation of presence: 'as soon as one is present,
one is vulnerable' (Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos); and as the quintessential 'affect-
ability' - or the 'openness' of corporeality itself (Grear).
   While the notion of the 'ontological' may seem a somewhat unusual concern for a
primarily legal journal, the notion of 'vulnerability' has gained much currency in law
and policy in recent years and is now arguably part of mainstream legal culture. For
present purposes the conjunction between these ideas presented by the term 'ontolo-
gical vulnerability' focally invites consideration of the ability (or otherwise) of indi-
vidual humans, communities and the ecosystems/environment of which they form part
to respond to risk and/or impairments to sustenance (Rajan). Furthermore it invites
reflection on our nature and the nature of the environment as beings and systems
possessing a fundamental  openness  or porosity - as being always exposed to the
'draughts of the world' (Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos). These themes, on even the
most cursory examination, reveal profound  concerns relevant to human rights and
environmental law, and to the commonalities between them.
   The concept of vulnerability has been much discussed in a number of academic
disciplines, particularly in the fields of disaster management and food security, and
increasingly in relation to climate change adaptation. It has moreover begun to be
theorised in more general terms as a critical normative thesis addressing the perceived
shortcomings of the operative traditional assumptions of mainstream liberal political
and legal theory. The concept  has also been much  used  in an arguably growing

1.   At <http://womenshistory.about.com/cs/quotes/a/qu-margaretmead_3.htm> (last accessed

0 2011 The Author                         Journal compilation 0 2011 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
                                  The Lypiatts, 15 Lansdown Road, Cheltenham, Glos GL50 2JA, UK
                        and The William Pratt House, 9 Dewey Court, Northampton MA 01060-3815, USA

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