• Is „resilience‟ a buzzword or a useful concept?
• Is it replacing „sustainability‟ in policy
• Three meanings of resilience:
• Pitfalls of translating resilience from the
natural to the social world
Resilience: etymology & origin
• From Latin root
Resilire: to spring
• Used by physical
scientists to denote
The ‘founding father’ of resilience thinking
• Holling, C. S. (1973)
Annual review of
Crawford Stanley (Buzz) Holling
Emeritus Professor of Ecological Sciences
University of Florida
1. Engineering Resilience
• “…The ability of a system
to return to equilibrium
state after a temporary
• Fail-proof design:
(Bruneau, et al, 2003)
Arup, Foster and Caro, 2000/2
2. Ecological Resilience
“… the magnitude of the
disturbance that can be
absorbed before the system
changes its structure and
• Not just how long, but
also how much
Liberty Lake, WA, with summer
Bouncing back and bouncing forth
• Engineering resilience:
– Single equilibrium to which a
resilient system bounces back
• Ecological resilience:
– Multiple equilibria to which a
resilient system bounces forth
• Systems flipping between one
stable state and the next.
(Scheffer et al, 2001)
Equilibrium-based resilience and the
• World as a predictable
• To be kept in order by
command and control
Wetherell's Clockwork Universe sculpture at
Canberra, Australia (2009)
‘Bounce-back-ability’ is everywhere!
• Resilience as the “capacity to absorb shocks and
to bounce back into functioning shape ....”
(D. Omand, quoted in Demos, 2009:18 emphasis added)
• The reorganisation was to „take all practicable
steps to… respond and cope with major shocks
[so] we can bounce back quickly‟.
(J. K. MacAskill, quoted in Demos, 2009:18 emphasis added)
Returning to ‘normal’?
• The aftermath of 2005
Hurricane Katrina, New
Favouring post-disaster emergency
• Focuses on sudden, large and
turbulent events (disasters)
• At the expense of gradual,
small and cumulative changes.
• Focuses on short term damage
• Rather than long term adaptive
3. Evolutionary Resilience
• Systems as complex, non-linear,
and self-organising, “permeated by
uncertainty and discontinuities”
(Berkes and Folke, 1998:12)
• The ability of complex socio-
ecological systems to change,
adapt, and transform in response to
stress. (Carpenter et al, 2005)
• Create untried beginnings
• Break away from undesirable
A watershed system, Durban, SA
(Pendall, et al, 2010:76; adapted from Gunderson & Holling, 2002)
The ‘panarchy’ model of adaptive cycle
16(Gunderson, 2009:5 adapted from Gunderson & Holling, 2002)
Interaction at multiple scales, speeds
• Small changes can
amplify into a
• Large interventions
may have little or no
The butter fly effect (Edward
Lorenz, dynamical systems, 1963)
• Is emergent:
– not as a fixed asset, but as a continually
– not as a being, but as a becoming
• Is performed when systems are confronted
with disturbance and stress
The world breaks everyone and afterward
many are strong at the broken places.
Ernest Hemingway, A farewell to Arms (1929)
20(Davoudi, et al, 2013, after Folke et al, 2010)
• Adaptive cycles seem
• In the social context,
adaptive cycles and their
outcomes are „tendencies
rather than inevitabilities‟.
(Holling and Gunderson, 2002)
• There is room for preparedness
The politics of resilience
3. Systems boundary
4. Power, politics and justice
1. From self-organisation to self-reliance
• Expecting people to, “pull themselves up by
their bootstraps and reinvent themselves in
the face of external challenges”.
A misguided translation from ecology to society
• “If the Government takes greater responsibility for
risks in the community, it may feel under pressure
to take increasingly more responsibility, thereby
eroding community resilience”. (RRAC, 2009:6)
2. Outcome and purpose of resilience
• Resilience towards what?
• Defining what is desirable is a normative
• Is social conformity a desirable / „natural‟
outcome of resilience?
3. Systems boundary
• “Resilience of what to what?” (Walker, 2002:187)
• Where do we draw the boundary in the social
• Do resilient communities make up a resilient
• Does greater resilience of one nation / one city /
one individual lead to lesser resilience for
4. Power relations
• “Resilience of what to what, and who gets to
decide?” (Porter and Davoudi, 2012: 331)
– Who defines resilience?
– What is its desired outcome? Who decides?
– Resilience for whom? under what conditions? etc
• In ecological literature, resilience is power-blind
and apolitical, partly because….
– “There are in nature no rewards or punishments, just
consequences” (Westley et al, 2012:103) 27
Justice and fairness
• In society some people gain, others lose in the
process of resilience building.
• Raising questions about distributive and
Lost in translation?
• “Applying the framework of ecological
resilience to human institutions and
governance processes generates paths to
greater understanding, as well as dead ends”.
(Swanstrom, 2008: 6).
• A potential bridging concept between the natural
and the social sciences.
• Capable of stimulating interdisciplinary
• In trying to understand societies through the
lens of ecology, we should not lose the
insights from critical social science.
• In the social world, resilience has as much
to do with shaping the challenges we face
as with responding to them.
Further details and full references
• Davoudi, S. (2012) Resilience: A bridging concept or a dead
end? Planning Theory and Practice, 13 (2) 299-307
• Davoudi, S., Brooks, E. and Mehmood, A. (2013) Evolutionary
resilience and strategies for climate adaptation, Planning
Practice and Research, 28(3):307-322
• Porter, L. & Davoudi, S. (2012) The politics of resilience for
planning: A cautionary note, Planning Theory and Practice,
• Davoudi, S. (2013) On resilience, DisP: the Planning Review,