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Resilience as a Unifying Concept

  • Henrik Thorén
Publishing year: 2014
Language: English
Pages: 303-324
Publication/Series: International Studies in the Philosophy of Science
Volume: 28
Issue: 3
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Taylor & Francis

Abstract english

In sustainability research and elsewhere the notion of resilience is attracting growing interest and causing heated debate. Those focusing on resilience often emphasize its potential to bridge, integrate, and unify disciplines. This paper attempts to evaluate these claims. Resilience is investigated as it appears in several fields, including materials science, psychology, ecology, and sustainability science. It is argued that two different concepts of resilience are in play: one local, the other global. The former refers to the ability to return to some reference state after a disturbance, the latter the maintenance of some property during a disturbance. An implication of this analysis is that the various uses of the resilience concept are more closely related than has been previously been suggested. Furthermore it is argued that there is a preference towards using highly abstract versions of the concept. This explains the apparent context insensitivity of the concept but presents a problem to those hoping to establish a research programme based on it. From this we argue that the project of conceptual unification does not, on its own, imply a methodologically, or even theoretically, uni- fied empirical project. Studying resilience in the field—that is the actual structures and dynamics that determine the resilience of par- ticular systems—will involve deploying a range of different methods, tools, and techniques.


  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
  • Philosophy
  • unification
  • interdisciplinarity
  • concepts
  • resilience
  • pluralism
  • sustainability science


  • ISSN: 0269-8595
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
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