Global Environmental Change 16 (2006) 253–267
Resilience: The emergence of a perspective forsocial–ecological systems analyses
Centre for Transdisciplinary Environmental Research (CTM), Department of Systems Ecology, Stockholm University, SE-10691 Stockholm, Sweden
The Beijer International Institute of Ecological Economics, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden
The resilience perspective is increasingly used as an approach for understanding the dynamics of social–ecological systems. This articlepresents the origin of the resilience perspective and provides an overview of its development to date. With roots in one branch of ecologyand the discovery of multiple basins of attraction in ecosystems in the 1960–1970s, it inspired social and environmental scientists tochallenge the dominant stable equilibrium view. The resilience approach emphasizes non-linear dynamics, thresholds, uncertainty andsurprise, how periods of gradual change interplay with periods of rapid change and how such dynamics interact across temporal andspatial scales. The history was dominated by empirical observations of ecosystem dynamics interpreted in mathematical models,developing into the adaptive management approach for responding to ecosystem change. Serious attempts to integrate the socialdimension is currently taking place in resilience work reﬂected in the large numbers of sciences involved in explorative studies and newdiscoveries of linked social–ecological systems. Recent advances include understanding of social processes like, social learning and socialmemory, mental models and knowledge–system integration, visioning and scenario building, leadership, agents and actor groups, socialnetworks, institutional and organizational inertia and change, adaptive capacity, transformability and systems of adaptive governancethat allow for management of essential ecosystem services.
2006 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Resilience; Social–ecological systems; Adaptive capacity; Transformations
Humanity is a major force in global change and shapesecosystem dynamics from local environments to the bio-sphere as a whole (Redman, 1999;Steffen et al., 2004;
Kirch, 2005). At the same time human societies andglobally interconnected economies rely on ecosystemsservices and support (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment(MA), 2005). It is now clear that patterns of production,consumption and wellbeing develop not only fromeconomic and social relations within and between regionsbut also depend on the capacity of other regions’ecosystems to sustain them (Arrow et al., 1995;Folke
et al., 1998). Therefore, a major challenge is to developgovernance systems that make it possible to relate toenvironmental assets in a fashion that secures theircapacity to support societal development for a long timeinto the future (Costanza et al., 2000;Lambin, 2005). It will
require adaptive forms of governance (Dietz et al., 2003;Folke et al., 2005).This paper will address the challenge using work relatedto the concept of resilience (Holling, 1973, 1986, 2001).A lot of work on resilience has focused on the capacity toabsorb shocks and still maintain function. But, there is alsoanother aspect of resilience that concerns the capacity forrenewal, re-organization and development, which has beenless in focus but is essential for the sustainability discourse(Gunderson and Holling, 2002;Berkes et al., 2003). In a
resilient social–ecological system, disturbance has thepotential to create opportunity for doing new things, forinnovation and for development. In vulnerable system evensmall disturbances may cause dramatic social consequences(Adger, 2006). Old dominant perspectives have implicitlyassumed a stable and inﬁnitely resilient environment whereresource ﬂows could be controlled and nature wouldself-repair into equilibrium when human stressors were
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