'Vulnerability is universal': considering the place of 'security' and 'vulnerability' within contemporary global health discourse

Soc Sci Med. 2011 Feb;72(3):319-26. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.09.010. Epub 2010 Sep 29.


The question of global health has, at least since 9/11, (re)emerged as one of the world's key geopolitical issues and, as many scholars have noted, this increased attention to the state of world health is especially focused on questions of national security and vulnerability. Despite its prominence in political, health policy and scholarly circles, health geographers have tended to overlook this particular aspect of global health discourse. This paper seeks to redress this lacuna. It does so for three reasons. The first lies in the idea that this discourse is inherently geographical; after all, it is in essence concerned with the flows of human and non-human agents within and, more importantly here, across, national borders. It is also of interest because a focus on vulnerability allows for an analysis that goes beyond the current fixation with emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. Although it is certainly true that the concern with such diseases dominates, and the recent focus upon H1N1 swine flu is testament to that, there is also a suggestion that the processes associated with the enhanced threat posed by these diseases are similar to those that have caused non-communicable diseases to become a global health problem too. A third reason for focussing on this aspect of the global health discourse is that the subsequent search for 'security' is highly problematic; especially if we consider the question of "who is to be protected, and from what". The aim of the paper is, then, to offer a critical review of the international discourse on global health and to highlight its relevance to scholars that self-identify as health and medical geographers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Communicable Diseases / transmission
  • Geography*
  • Global Health*
  • Humans
  • Security Measures
  • Topography, Medical