Vulnerability as Particularity: Towards Relativizing the Universality of Human Rights?

Project Details


While ‘vulnerability’ has become a regularly used notion in human rights law, as a legal concept it remains ambiguous and contested. It is now necessary to take a critical look at the vulnerability reasoning as a structural element in human rights law. Is the expansion of vulnerability reasoning indicative of a trend towards particularisation of human rights? The aim of the project is to unpack the notion of vulnerability in order to analyse its function in the interpretation of law and to problematize its use as an operative principle in the implementation of policies and laws. Drawing on discourse analysis and interviews, the project addresses vulnerability from three angles: particularity, exclusion and inclusion, and power. The project contributes to an analytically critical understanding and operationalisation of the notion of vulnerability.The project runs over the period of September 2017 to August 2021 at the Åbo Akademi University Institute for Human Rights, Åbo/Turku, Finland. The project is led by Professor Elina Pirjatanniemi. The research team is supported by a pool of resource persons consisting of Jutta Ahlbeck (D.Soc.Sc., Åbo Akademi University); Rusi Jaspal (Professor of Psychology and Sexual Health, De Montfort University, Leicester); Dr Tanya Ní Mhuirthile (Assistant Professor in Law, Director of the Socio-Legal Research Centre, School of Law and Government, Dublin City University); Dr Alexandra Timmer (assistant professor at the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM)); Nesa Zimmermann (University of Geneva); and Eva Österbacka (Professor of Economics, Åbo Akademi University).
Short titleRELAY
Effective start/end date01/09/1731/08/21


  • Research Council of Finland

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 1 - No Poverty
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions