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  • Dr. Marcus Moench

Introduction to the Resilience Narratives: Buzzword Lemmings

What is Resilience:

A) a buzzword B) a concept of profound importance C) a term of common speech D) a word of multiple meanings in different contexts E) All of the above

The answer is, of course, all of the above.

In 2012, resilience was highlighted as the buzzword of the year by Time Magazine.[1] Its use has proliferated in everything from national and development policy debates to discussions of personal and community identity. At the same time, the concept of resilience has been actively explored by scientific and academic communities as an attribute of the complex ecological, social, behavioral and psychological systems of which all humans are a part. Understanding the factors that contribute to resilience in systems has profound importance for everything from society’s ability to respond to climate change to post disaster or trauma recovery. Resilience also is a common word of speech that applies to the, often inherent, ability of people or things to withstand and recover from disruption. As with many words in the English language, the meaning is not precise but depends on the context and purpose of use.

The purpose of the Resilience Narratives is to explore the notion of resilience, particularly its dual application as a word with common meaning and conceptually as an attribute of complex systems. Why? The growing use of “resilience” as a buzzword undermines the ability to use resilience concepts to diagnose and respond to some of the very real problems global society faces as a result of climate change, rapid urbanization, conflict and a host of other challenges. At the same time, the multiple ways the word is used in common speech tie in strongly to how people understand themselves and describe others and the world around them. These common meanings are as important as the more technical ones in understanding and catalyzing responses across a broad range of society to the same set of challenges.

The Resilience Narratives blogs will feature a broad range of short pieces on resilience. Some of these will be stories that tell tangible tales of resilience in individuals, households, urban areas and other “real” contexts. Other pieces will be academic and fully referenced, designed to explore the dynamics of complex systems, the attributes that contribute to resilience, adaptation and transformation within them, and the social consequences that generates. Most pieces will focus on urbanization and climate change – two of the most significant processes shaping our common future. One goal is to create a forum that will highlight both the common meanings of resilience and the manner in which resilience terms can contribute to much more profound understanding of complex system dynamics. Another, equally important, goal is to avoid the term “resilience” becoming a lemming and jumping off the cliff after “sustainability” (and a host of other terms) into a morass of meaninglessness.

As a starting point, the blogs will follow the definition of resilience provided by the Resilience Alliance: Resilience is “the ability to absorb disturbances, to be changed and then to re-organise and still have the same identity (retain the same basic structure and ways of functioning).[2]”


[2] accessed June 5, 2014

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