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From Resilience to Transformation: the Adaptive Cycle in Two Mexican Urban Centers

Mark Pelling, King's College London
David Manuel-Navarrete, King's College London


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Climate change is but one expression of the internal contradictions of capitalism that include also economic inequality and political alienation. Seen in this way analysis of human responses to climate change must engage with social relations of power. We explore the potential for resilience theory to meet this challenge by applying a framework that integrates the adaptive cycle heuristic and structuration theory to place power at the heart of the analysis and question the transformational qualities of social systems facing climate change. This theoretical frame is applied to Mahahual and Playa del Carmen, two rapidly expanding towns on Mexico’s Caribbean coast. The resilience lens is successful in highlighting internal contradictions that maintain social relations of rigidity above flexibility in the existing governance regimes and development pathway. This generates a set of reinforcing institutions and actions that support the status quo while simultaneously undermining long-term flexibility, equitable and sustainable development. One outcome is the placing of limits on scope for adaptation and mitigation to climate change which are externalized from everyday life and development planning alike.

Key words

adaptive cycle; climate change; disaster management; Mexico; power; resilience; transformation

Copyright © 2011 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work 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