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Ways forward for resilience thinking: lessons from the field for those exploring social-ecological systems in agriculture and natural resource management

Katrina Sinclair, NSW Department of Primary Industries; Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, Australia
Andrea Rawluk, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, University of Melbourne
Saideepa Kumar, School of Environmental Sciences, Charles Sturt University
Allan Curtis, Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, Australia


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Resilience thinking appears to offer a holistic approach that can be used by social researchers to interpret past and contemporary conditions and identify possible futures for social-ecological systems (SES). Resilience thinking is shaping contemporary environmental policy and its implementation in Australia, Europe, and North America. At the same time, social researchers have raised concerns about the limitations of resilience thinking, particularly in its handling of human agency, power relationships, social thresholds, and the social construction of SES definitions. We argue for a reflexive turn in resilience thinking as a way to address these concerns. We draw on lessons from three Australian case studies where a reflexive application of resilience thinking generated insights for research and practice. We propose six areas for reflexive inquiry: (1) focal scale and level, (2) SES definition, (3) narratives of change, (4) processes of knowledge production, (5) social transition trajectories, and ( 6) social thresholds. In so doing, the assumptions of resilience thinking are politicized and problematized, which improves its theoretical analytical utility, and in practice generates new insights into social processes. Reflexivity offers opportunity for greater cross-disciplinary dialogue between resilience thinking and the social sciences, while allowing methodologies with differing ontologies and epistemologies to be applied in a complementary manner.

Key words

agriculture; limitations; natural resource management; reflexivity; resilience framework; social-ecological systems

Copyright © 2017 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