The concept of vulnerability emphasizes the social characteristics and configurations used by communities to face the challenges of the physical environment. It refers to both, the susceptibility to the negative socioeconomic impacts of environmental variability and the degree to which a community is capable of coping with, resisting, and recovering from the impacts of specific environmental events. Vulnerability studies carried out by BARA researchers have a comparative component which offers a more complete picture of how differences in access to resources, state involvement, class and ethnicity result in drastically different vulnerabilities within similar biophysical contexts. We also place an emphasis on the historical context of vulnerability as a dynamic social process with socioeconomic and environmental consequences. We use the concepts of buffering and coping to compare adaptations of different groups that, despite a very similar biophysical context, face very different vulnerability profiles.
Environmental vulnerability studies carried out by BARA researchers have focused on rural populations in the U.S.-Mexico border region of Arizona and Sonora. BARA researchers have also done research on ranching and agricultural communities in Northwest Mexico.