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Why resilience is unappealing to social science : Theoretical and empirical investigations of the scientific use of resilience

  • Lennart Olsson
  • Anne Jerneck
  • Henrik Thorén
  • Johannes Persson
  • David O Byrne
Publishing year: 2015
Language: English
Publication/Series: Science Advances
Volume: 1
Issue: 4
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
Additional info: The research has been funded by the following research projects: Swedish Research Council Formas Linnaeus grant LUCID, Lund University Centre of Excellence for integration of Social and Natural Dimensions of Sustainability (259-2008-1718), and Rockefeller Foundation project on Measuring and Profiling Multiple Dimensions of Community Resilience (2012 RLC 304).

Abstract english

Resilience is often promoted as a boundary concept to integrate the social and natural dimensions of sustainability. However, it is a troubled dialogue from which social scientists may feel detached. To explain this, we first scrutinize the meanings, attributes, and uses of resilience in ecology and elsewhere to construct a typology of definitions. Second, we analyze core concepts and principles in resilience theory that cause disciplinary tensions between the social and natural sciences (system ontology, system boundary, equilibria and thresholds, feedback mechanisms, self-organization, and function). Third, we provide empirical evidence of the asymmetry in the use of resilience theory in ecology and environmental sciences compared to five relevant social science disciplines. Fourth, we contrast the unification ambition in resilience theory with methodological pluralism. Throughout, we develop the argument that incommensurability and unification constrain the interdisciplinary dialogue, whereas pluralism drawing on core social scientific concepts would better facilitate integrated sustainability research.


  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
  • Philosophy


  • LUCID - Lund University Centre of Excellence for Integration of Social and Natural Dimensions of Sustainability
  • ISSN: 2375-2548
Henrik Thorén
E-mail: henrik [dot] thoren [at] fil [dot] lu [dot] se

Visiting research fellow

LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)



Theoretical Philosophy


P.O. Box 170, SE-221 00 Lund, Sweden
Phone: +46(0)46- 222 80 81
info [at] lucsus [dot] lu [dot] se