Walker J., Cooper. M.. 2011. Genealogies of resilience: From systems ecology to the political economy of crisis adaptation. Security Dialogue. 42(2)


Critiques the evolution of resilience theory and cautions some aspects of its current use.

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Key Findings: 

Resilience has evolved from its initial conception within systems ecology, to its current use in complex systems management and second order cybernetics. The theory was developed as a direct challenge to systems management that emphasised equilibrium states and a command and control approach. Practitioners and theorists of resilience are charged with the difficult task of converting the principles of a resilience perspective into an operational framework. However, this task is being applied to more than just the application of resilience to the environmental aspects of systems management, but instead incorporates a much broader framework of social-ecological governance. This article outlines some concern with the emerging use of resilience as a wide-ranging policy tool, arguing caution in its current application. This argument is essentially based on the observation of a tendency toward self-referencing. For example, a particular methodology of power appears to be emerging within crisis adaptation which, to some extent, inoculates itself to critique. What may be actually needed is a counter-systemic viewpoint that can challenge dominant views beyond present capabilities.


The article raises a fundamental question for those attempting to adaptively learn; how to distance oneself sufficiently from a system to allow fresh insight to emerge, while still maintaining a real sense of interconnectedness? As pointed out by the authors, to be immersed within a system can also undermine the capacity for critique. Rigidity is anathema to the concept of resilience. Therefore, nothing remains static within an adaptive learning framework. All positions are open to challenge and are constantly in states of renewal. However, there is clearly a significant challenge in implementing these principles within broad socio-political landscapes. The constant spectre of power relations is central to these challenges.