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The turbulent world of resilience: interpretations and themes for transdisciplinary dialogue

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Resilience has experienced exponential growth in scholarship and practice over the past several decades. We conduct a meta-analysis of recent review papers on resilience from all relevant fields to distill key themes emanating from both research and practice. These themes reflect prevalent debates, trends and insights from the thousands of underlying papers. The seven themes are: 1) the distinction between resilience as a system trait, process, or outcome; 2) the importance of resilience as a strategy for dealing with uncertainty; 3) a shift from understanding resilience to active resilience building; 4) the incorporation of transformation into resilience; 5) the increasingly normative interpretation of resilience; 6) the growing emphasis on measuring and evaluating resilience; and 7) the mounting critiques of the resilience agenda demanding attention. We discuss each in detail and find that they help explain both why resilience has attracted widespread attention, but also why it is an increasingly contested concept. We offer several steps to engage in productive dialogue across differences in resilience interpretations and conclude that this interand transdisciplinary dialogue is the difficult and necessary work that must be done, if resilience scholarship and practice is to advance in productive ways in the future.

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Fig. 1


  1. March 28, 2017

  2. These search terms reflected the expertise of Aspen workshop invitees and—inter alia—the expertise of this author team.

  3. It is precisely this opportunity afforded by resilience as a boundary object that brought the transdisciplinary group of researchers and practitioners together in Aspen, resulting in a week of grappling with imprecise or divergent meanings and searching for mutual understanding.


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Correspondence to Susanne Moser.

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Moser, S., Meerow, S., Arnott, J. et al. The turbulent world of resilience: interpretations and themes for transdisciplinary dialogue. Climatic Change 153, 21–40 (2019).

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