Thursday, October 22, 2009

Resilience, Vulnerability and Criticality

In my search for appropriate definitions of resilience, I have come across the work of Neil Adger, Prof. of Environmental Science at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK. Neil is a fellow at the Resilience Alliance, at the Tyndall Center for Climate Change, and one of the co-recipients of the Nobel prize awarded to scientists of the IPCC.

I am attempting to get several of his papers, some of which are not published, but one that is available online is "Social and ecological resilience: are they related?", a chapter from Progress in Human Geography, 24,3 (2000) pp. 347-364. This paper examines various definitions of 'resilience', 'vulnerability' and 'criticality'. The last term, 'criticality', is not one I had heard before:

"The concept of criticality is distinct from vulnerability. Environmental criticality ‘refers to situations in which the extent or rate of environmental degradation precludes the continuation of current use systems or levels of human well being, given feasible adaptations and societal capabilities to respond.'" (Kasperson et al., 1995: 25) (Adger 2000).

Resilience is sometimes defined as the capacity to cope with stress, at other times as the opposite of "reisistence."

"Resilience can be defined in many ways. It is the buffer capacity or the ability of a system to absorb perturbations, or the magnitude of disturbance that can be absorbed before a system changes its structure by changing the variables and processes that control behaviour (Holling et al., 1995). By contrast other definitions of resilience emphasize the speed of recovery from a disturbance, highlighting the difference between resilience and resistance, where the latter is the extent to which disturbance is actually translated into impact (see Figure 1). It is important to note that these definitions, shown for a population in the graphical representations in Figure 1, are most relevant at the ecosystem scale. (Adger 2000)

On social resilience:

"Social resilience has economic, spatial and social dimensions and hence its observation and appraisal require interdisciplinary understanding and analysis at various scales. But it is important to note that, because of its institutional context, social resilience is defined at the community level rather than being a phenomenon pertaining to individuals. Hence it is related to the social capital of societies and communities." (Adger 2000)

The empirical portion of this study focuses on the resilience of coastal communities related to changed in coastal resources, e.g. mangrove ecology in coastal Viet Nam.

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