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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


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.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
  • Philosophy
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1400217
JournalScience Advances
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

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).

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