Complex socio-ecological systems/Critique of Resilience

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April 8th

Critique of Resilience Concept

Jerneck, A. & Olsson, L., 2008. Adaptation and the poor: development, resilience and transition. Climate Policy, 8(2), pp.170-182.
The authors assert that the status quo for risk minimization is not sufficient for poor people engaged in livelihoods that will be most affected by environmental change. They argue that mitigation is discussed in light of climate change policy, but that adaptation needs to be more explicitly addressed at local, national and global levels. Jerneck and Olsson assess poverty-relevant adaptation using three discourses: development, resilience, and transition theory. By development theory, they refer to modernist development theory that projects few solutions for adaptation and transitions to sustainability. They critique resilience for its reliance on ecological theory, arguing that while resilience emerged in reaction to theories concerning equilibrium, resilience appears to operate only incrementally and does not recognize that social change mainly implies transitions to renewed forms of production, consumption and distribution. The authors argue that these are accompanied by new combinations of organizational, institutional and technological structure. They conclude by positing that transition theory is most appropriate for an analysis of multilevel changes in complex systems.

Davidson, D., 2010. The Applicability of the Concept of Resilience to Social Systems: Some Sources of Optimism and Nagging Doubts. Society & Natural Resources, 23(12), pp.1135-1149.
Davidson analyzes the applicability resilience theory to social systems. She starts by arguing that the sustainability paradigm in its current form is of limited utility in understanding global environmental crises, and more importantly for planning for environmental crises in the future. Davidson contrasts this with resilience theory, which she maintains offers some promise theoretically, but that, she argues, its current iteration is not readily applicable to any social systems. In her estimation both multiscalar system complexity and agency (individual and collective) need to be more thoroughly explored if resilience is to continue to have resonance with the social sciences. Her method is to provide an overview and critique of recent academic treatments of the concept of resilience, using examples of where social and ecological phenomena may converge, before ending with prescriptions for how resilience might be better utilized in future research. Additional Reading:

Hornborg, A. 2009. Zero-Sum World. Challenges in Conceptualizing Environmental Load Displacement and Ecologically Unequal Exchange in the World-System. International Journal of Comparative Sociology vol 50(3-4):237-262.