Vulnerability assessments (VAs) are the dominant method to establish who and what is vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change. Researchers and practitioners typically use VAs to measure material vulnerability in terms of unbalanced sets of assets and institutional vulnerability regarding socially differentiated access to rights and decision-making processes. However, as scholarship on vulnerability and adaptation aligns in a better manner with development and sustainability priorities and focuses more explicitly on interrelations between climate and global change, creative complementary approaches to understanding vulnerability are needed, both conceptually and methodologically. This article discusses the generational shifts of climate change VAs over the last 25 years, their achievements and blind spots. We note declining attention to broad structural and relational drivers of vulnerability and inequality, and an inadequate understanding of vulnerability dynamics which hampers forward-looking change processes. To remedy these blind spots, and based on the reflections on building adaptive capacity coupled with emergent debates on societal transformation, we propose a comprehensive framework for Inequality and Transformation Analyses. The framework, fusing previously fractured approaches, combines assessments of structural and relational drivers of inequalities and marginalization as well as possible solution spaces with reflective and relational opportunities for anticipatory learning and transformative change. It contributes to alternative framings for a more relational research agenda on social-ecological vulnerability and adaptation.