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Access and Resilience: Analyzing the Construction of Social Resilience to the Threat of Water Scarcity

Ruth Langridge, University of California, Santa Cruz
Juliet Christian-Smith, University of California, Berkeley
Kathleen A. Lohse, Global Institute of Sustainability, Arizona State University

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Abstract

Resilience is a vital attribute that characterizes a system’s capacity to cope with stress. Researchers have examined the measurement of resilience in ecosystems and in social–ecological systems, and the comparative vulnerability of social groups. Our paper refocuses attention on the processes and relations that create social resilience. Our central proposition is that the creation of social resilience is linked to a community’s ability to access critical resources. We explore this proposition through an analysis of how community resilience to the stress of water scarcity is influenced by historically contingent mechanisms to gain, control, and maintain access to water. Access is defined broadly as the ability of a community to actually benefit from a resource, and includes a wider range of relations than those derived from property rights alone. We provide a framework for assessing the construction of social resilience and use it to examine, first, the different processes and relations that enabled four communities in northern California to acquire access to water, and second, how access contributed to their differential levels of resilience to potential water scarcity. Legal water rights are extremely difficult to alter, and given the variety of mechanisms that can generate access, our study suggests that strengthening and diversifying a range of structural and relational mechanisms to access water can enhance a community’s resilience to water scarcity.

Key words

Access; resilience; vulnerability; water
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087