Folke C.. 2006. Resilience: The emergence of a perspective for social–ecological systems analyses.. Global Environmental Change.


To provide an overview of the theoretical concept of resilience including the history of its development and its use in understanding social-ecological system dynamics.

Geographic Focus: 


Key Findings: 

This article identifies a key contribution of a resilience approach which challenges ideas of dominant stable equilibrium states, instead identifying the dynamism of complex systems and their fundamental characteristic of continual change. The historical roots of the theory are identified as being grounded in empirical observations of ecosystem processes. The article then goes on to chart the evolution of the resilience concept into the realms of social and social-ecological system dynamics. It highlights various conceptualisations of the term, including definitions that emphasise resistance to disturbance, and more recent understandings of resilience that focus on opportunities for renewal and alternative trajectories of change. In this regard, an important insight emerging from the article is a shift in focus within systems management from one of adaptation, entailing incremental adjustment to current circumstances, toward transformability. Processes of transformability draw increased attention to the broader social dimensions, including mental models and policy frameworks, which influence adaptive management and institutional change. Another important evolution in the concept of resilience has been a greater understanding of complex adaptive interactions across temporal and spatial scales.


Resilience and its underlying theoretical framework of multiple adaptive cycles across scales (panarchy), while still explorative, has important implications for a heuristic approach to learning. A major contribution is the way in which resilience, as an approach or way of thinking, allows the theorist and practitioner to confront the nature of complexity and uncertainty. This in turn challenges ideas of linearity, mechanistic-thinking, stability around equilibrium states, and command-and-control that have tended to dominate past approaches to system management. Required is an acceptance of the existence of patterns and processes that may defy direct observation or measurement through available data. Instead, it introduces the idea of novelty, diversity and self-organisation, for example, as processes that help to embrace uncertainty and change. Social-ecological resilience fully immerses human agency as internal to system dynamics and, therefore, a critical part of feedback, interdependencies and cross-scale interactions.