The Power and Peril of “Vulnerability”: Approaching Community Labels with Caution in Climate Change Research


  • Bethany Haalboom
  • David C. Natcher



vulnerability, climate change, Arctic, indigenous peoples, labels, policy


Indigenous communities in the Arctic have become increasingly characterized as “vulnerable” in the context of climate change research. We question the use and application of this term in light of the potential consequences it may bring for indigenous peoples. First, the label “vulnerable” is often generated by those who are more or less unfamiliar with the complexities of local culture, economies, and capabilities. Second, we are concerned that such labels can generate misguided actions and policy responses built on how peoples and places come to be seen and understood by others. Third, the label “vulnerable” has the potential to shape how northern indigenous peoples come to see themselves as they construct their own identities—and identifying themselves as vulnerable may ultimately hinder their efforts to gain greater autonomy over their own affairs. As researchers become more engaged in the social dimensions of climate-change research, we encourage more careful and critical attention to the power and potential peril of community labels.