sociological resilience

In sociology the concept of social resilience exists, which means the resilience of social groups or entities. Along with terms such as vulnerability, adaptation, adaptability, adaptive capacity, or responsiveness, resilience is often considered while analyzing (global or social) change.

Resilience in sociology and ecology has three defining characteristics (according to

  • The amount of change the system can undergo and still retain the same controls on function and structure
  • The degree to which the system is capable of self-organization
  • The ability to build and increase the capacity for learning and adaptation

Applied to social systems a fourth point is relevant: the capacity of human beings to anticipate and plan the future.

Social resilience

A social group or a society can be considered as resilient if they are able to deal with unexpected change in their environment and if they are able to recover without losing their complexity nor their former abilities. In short if they are able to continue their every day life. Moreover, the social group should be able to re-organize, change, and learn in response to a risk. In general, resilience must not necessarily lead to desirable change and sometimes it can even prevent desirable change from happening.

To describe what might happen to social groups while undergoing some sort of change (e.g. climate change), one have to look at how vulnerable (in certains terms) the considered group is, but also in which points it is resilient to change or risks. Then a conclusion can be drawn on the extent the group is able to adapt to the risk or change that is ongoing. It doesn’t make much sense to look at social resilience without having considered social vulnerability and vice versa. To set the social resilience in a context, the vulnerability of a social group needs to be analyzed as well. Furthermore, the results won’t be very meaningful without drawing conclusions on the social adaptability (Having analyzed vulnerabilites and the resilience of a social group, how will the respond to the actual change?).

The risk of climate change, for example, is a given risk. What about social change? The extent to what a social group is resilient to change in general will set the conditions in which (global/social) change is possible. At this point I would like to state that a vulnerable and not very resilient social group will push more likely to change their situation then a not very vulnerable and resilient group. This thesis I would like to keep in mind while analyzing different situations in my blog.

Vulnerable physical environment

Vulnerable physical environment

The Analytical Approach

How do I approach the analyses? In my master’s thesis I developed a framework of the main determinants which allow for a holistic examination of vulnerability, resilience and adaptability of social systems. The determinants which I used for the analytical part of my master’s thesis (and which I want to keep using while writing this blog) were:

               ecological indicators
               legal and institutional indicators
               physical indicators
               economical and social indicators
               community competences


A qualitative analysis of these determinants allows for conclusions on how vulnerable and resilient a group is as well as what kind of adaptive capacities it has for dealing with change.

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