University news

The article on vulnerability was rewarded as the best publication in social work research

European Social Work Research Association has granted its annual Award for an Outstanding Publication in European Social Work Research to the article ‘The contested concept of vulnerability – a literature review’.

The article is written in cooperation with the University of Helsinki and the University of Jyväskylä. The authors are Elina Virokannas, currently professor of practice research at the University of Helsinki, and doctoral student Suvi Liuski and professor Marjo Kuronen from the Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of Jyväskylä.

The article is based on a systematic literature review, which analyses how the concept of vulnerability has been used in the international social scientific research.

“In Finnish research, vulnerability is a rather new concept and adjoining concepts like marginalisation and social exclusion are more often used”, Kuronen says.

In the international discussion, vulnerability has been widely used not only in scientific research but also in policy making, social and health services and in social work practice related to certain individuals, groups or communities.

“However, it is also a contested concept, criticised of being too loose and unclear and even stigmatizing for those labelled as vulnerable. It is important to analyse whether it is useful as a scientific concept. That is the main aim of the article”, Kuronen states.

The literature review shows that the presented criticism is relevant. In the international publications, vulnerability is related to a large variety of different research topics and often used in unspecified way. The analysis shows that there is an important critical commentary on the concept, but only a few efforts to specify, theoretically analyse or reconceptualise the concept.

“As conclusions, we suggest that in social work and social policy research and practice, instead of vulnerable groups or individuals, it is important to focus on social processes and structures that are producing vulnerability”, Kuronen says.

Even the service system itself, when not working properly, might maintain and (re)produce vulnerability instead of reducing it. That is why the ongoing research project is critically studying the welfare service system and its practices from the standpoint of women in vulnerable life situations.

The article ‘The contested concept of vulnerability – a literature review’ has been written in the Academy of Finland project ‘Transforming welfare service system from the standpoint of women in vulnerable life situations’ led by professor Kuronen. It was published in the European Journal of Social Work in 2018.

The award was announced in the European Social Work Research Conference at the University of KU Leuven in Belgium 12.4.2019.

Elina Virokannas, Suvi Liuski & Marjo Kuronen (2018) The contested concept of vulnerability – a literature review, European Journal of Social Work DOI: 10.1080/13691457.2018.1508001

Further information:

Marjo Kuronen
+358 40 805 4231

Website of the project: