Making sense of resilience

Jose Carlos Cañizares*, Samantha Marie Copeland, Neelke Doorn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
97 Downloads (Pure)


While resilience is a major concept in development, climate adaptation, and related do-mains, many doubts remain about how to interpret this term, its relationship with closely overlap-ping terms, or its normativity. One major view is that, while resilience originally was a descriptive concept denoting some adaptive property of ecosystems, subsequent applications to social contexts distorted its meaning and purpose by framing it as a transformative and normative quality. This article advances an alternative philosophical account based on the scrutiny of C.S. Holling’s original work on resilience. We show that resilience had a central role among Holling’s proposals for re-forming environmental science and management, and that Holling framed resilience as an ecosys-tem’s capacity of absorbing change and exploiting it for adapting or evolving, but also as the social ability of maintaining and opportunistically exploiting that natural capacity. Resilience therefore appears as a transformative social-ecological property that is normative in three ways: as an intrinsic ecological value, as a virtue of organizations or management styles, and as a virtuous understanding of human–nature relations. This interpretation accounts for the practical relevance of resilience, clar-ifies the relations between resilience and related terms, and is a firm ground for further normative work on resilience.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8538
Number of pages19
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Antifragility
  • Ecosystem science
  • Efficiency
  • Environmental management
  • Lock-ins
  • Normativity
  • Resilience
  • Robustness
  • Sustainability


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  • Normativity and Justice in Resilience Strategies

    Cañizares Gaztelu, J. C., 2023, 177 p.

    Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)

    Open Access
    67 Downloads (Pure)

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