Introduction: Conditions of vulnerability

Sally Engle Merry

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingForeword/postscript


    Vulnerability is central to human rights activism and intervention. In identifying which individuals are understood as victims of human rights violations, those who are selected are typically those who are in some way helpless, powerless, unable to make choices for themselves, and forced to endure forms of pain and suffering. Women and children, indigenous people, poor people, and marginalized ethnic and racial groups are the most common categories of people who are identified as suffering human rights violations. Because this understanding of the human rights victim is so fundamental, advocates and even victims tend to define themselves in these terms. They do this even when they are not as helpless and vulnerable as the image of victim requires. This conception of vulnerability hinges on the idea of agency. The vulnerable person is one who has little choice or capacity to escape pain and injury. Those who choose to put themselves in a dangerous situation are less deserving of the status of victim, as in the case of people who climb high mountains or engage in drug selling in drug-prone urban neighborhoods, for example, than those who have no choice. Risk-takers tend to elicit less sympathy when they are injured and are unlikely to be defined as victims of human rights violations.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Title of host publicationThe Practice of Human Rights
    Subtitle of host publicationTracking Law Between the Global and the Local
    PublisherCambridge University Press
    Number of pages9
    ISBN (Electronic)9780511819193
    ISBN (Print)9780521865173
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2007

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Social Sciences


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