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Interrogating resilience: toward a typology to improve its operationalization

Julie L. Davidson, Discipline of Geography and Spatial Sciences, School of Land and Food, University of Tasmania, Tasmania, Australia
Chris Jacobson, Sustainability Research Centre, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia
Anna Lyth, Sustainability Research Centre, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia; Discipline of Geography and Spatial Sciences, School of Land and Food, University of Tasmania, Tasmania, Australia
Aysin Dedekorkut-Howes, Griffith School of Environment & Urban Research Program, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia
Claudia L. Baldwin, Sustainability Research Centre, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia
Joanna C. Ellison, Discipline of Geography and Spatial Sciences, School of Land and Food, University of Tasmania, Tasmania, Australia
Neil J. Holbrook, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia; ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia; Centre for Marine Socioecology, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Michael J. Howes, Griffith School of Environment & Urban Research Program, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia
Silvia Serrao-Neumann, Griffith School of Environment & Urban Research Program, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia; CRC for Water Sensitive Cities, Monash University, Victoria, Australia
Lila Singh-Peterson, Australian Centre for Pacific Island Research, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia
Timothy F. Smith, Sustainability Research Centre, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-08450-210227

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Abstract

In the context of accelerated global change, the concept of resilience, with its roots in ecological theory and complex adaptive systems, has emerged as the favored framework for understanding and responding to the dynamics of change. Its transfer from ecological to social contexts, however, has led to the concept being interpreted in multiple ways across numerous disciplines causing significant challenges for its practical application. The aim of this paper is to improve conceptual clarity within resilience thinking so that resilience can be interpreted and articulated in ways that enhance its utility and explanatory power, not only theoretically but also operationally. We argue that the current confusion and ambiguity within resilience thinking is problematic for operationalizing the concept within policy making. To achieve our aim, we interrogate resilience interpretations used within a number of academic and practice domains in the forefront of contending with the disruptive and sometimes catastrophic effects of global change (primarily due to climate change) on ecological and human-nature systems. We demonstrate evolution and convergence among disciplines in the interpretations and theoretical underpinnings of resilience and in engagement with cross-scale considerations. From our analysis, we identify core conceptual elements to be considered in policy responses if resilience is to fulfill its potential in improving decision making for change. We offer an original classification of resilience definitions in current use and a typology of resilience interpretations. We conclude that resilience thinking must be open to alternative traditions and interpretations if it is to become a theoretically and operationally powerful paradigm.

Key words

climate change; complex adaptive systems; conceptual clarity; policy making; resilience; typology

Copyright © 2016 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.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087