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Resilience Thinking: Integrating Resilience, Adaptability and Transformability

Carl Folke, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University; Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Stephen R Carpenter, Center for Limnology, University of Wisconsin
Brian Walker, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems; Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University
Marten Scheffer, Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management Group, Wageningen Agricultural University
Terry Chapin, Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Johan Rockström, Stockholm Environment Institute; Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University


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Resilience thinking addresses the dynamics and development of complex social–ecological systems (SES). Three aspects are central: resilience, adaptability and transformability. These aspects interrelate across multiple scales. Resilience in this context is the capacity of a SES to continually change and adapt yet remain within critical thresholds. Adaptability is part of resilience. It represents the capacity to adjust responses to changing external drivers and internal processes and thereby allow for development along the current trajectory (stability domain). Transformability is the capacity to cross thresholds into new development trajectories. Transformational change at smaller scales enables resilience at larger scales. The capacity to transform at smaller scales draws on resilience from multiple scales, making use of crises as windows of opportunity for novelty and innovation, and recombining sources of experience and knowledge to navigate social–ecological transitions. Society must seriously consider ways to foster resilience of smaller more manageable SESs that contribute to Earth System resilience and to explore options for deliberate transformation of SESs that threaten Earth System resilience.

Key words

adaptability; adaptation; resilience; social-ecological systems; transformability; transformation

Copyright © 2010 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087