Resilience as a Unifying Concept

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


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.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
  • Philosophy


  • unification, interdisciplinarity, concepts, resilience, pluralism, sustainability science
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-324
JournalInternational Studies in the Philosophy of Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Publication categoryResearch