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Rights for resilience: food sovereignty, power, and resilience in development practice

Marygold Walsh-Dilley, Honors College, University of New Mexico
Wendy Wolford, Department of Development Sociology, Cornell University
James McCarthy, Graduate School of Geography, Clark University


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Even as resilience thinking becomes evermore popular as part of strategic programming among development and humanitarian organizations, uncertainty about how to define, operationalize, measure, and evaluate resilience for development goals prevails. As a result, many organizations and institutions have undertaken individual, collective, and simultaneous efforts toward clarification and definition. This has opened up a unique opportunity for a rethinking of development practices. The emergent consensus about what resilience means within development practice will have important consequences both for development practitioners and the communities in which they work. Incorporating resilience thinking into development practice has the potential to radically transform this arena in favor of social and environmental justice, but it could also flounder as a way to dress old ideas in new clothes or, at worst, to further exploit, disempower, and marginalize the world’s most vulnerable populations. We seek to make an intervention into the definitional debates surrounding resilience that supports the former and helps prevent the latter. We argue that resilience thinking as it has been developed in social-ecological systems and allied literatures has a lot in common with the concept of food sovereignty and that paying attention to some of the lessons and claims of food sovereignty movements could contribute toward building a consensus around resilience that supports social and environmental justice. In particular, the food sovereignty movement relies on a strategy that elevates rights. We suggest that a rights-based approach to resilience-oriented development practice could contribute to its application in just and equitable ways.

Key words

development; food sovereignty; human rights; resilience; social justice

Copyright © 2016 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