Re-framing Resilience: Trans-disciplinarity, Reflexivity and Progressive Sustainability – a Symposium Report

Working Paper

The concept of resilience is now capturing high interest across academic, policy and popular debate. In a world where threats – whether linked to climate change, epidemic disease, or fluctuating financial markets – loom ever larger, resilience thinking valuably highlights the complex, open, path-dependent dynamics of coupled social-economic-environmental systems. Not only does it provide an increasingly vigorous and sophisticated body of analysis, resilience thinking also offers prospects for more integrated and effective policy making towards sustainability. How does resilience intersect with development and debates about it? What insights does resilience thinking bring to understanding and action concerned with reducing poverty, vulnerability and marginalisation? What are some of the frontier challenges, tensions and gaps as resilience thinking engages with perspectives and debates from other angles and disciplines?

The STEPS Centre Symposium, which was held at Sussex University from 24-25 September 2008, set out to explore these questions, and to consider their implications for practical policy challenges in fields such as climate change adaptation, agricultural innovation, pharmaceutical and seed regulation, dealing with disease epidemics, water management and peri-urban transitions. Over an intense day and a half, the Symposium brought together a range of key researchers who identify themselves as part of the Resilience Alliance with those from other backgrounds – including in development studies, science and technology studies, history and anthropology, and in policy-oriented settings.