Holling C.S., Meffe G.K. 1996. Command and control and the pathology of natural resource management. Conservation Biology. 10(2)


To highlight the issue of command and control in natural resource management and its negative influence on resilience

Geographic Focus: 


Key Findings: 

Societal pressures are increasing the desire for command and control of natural resources. Institutional response to disturbance and surprise events demonstrates this behaviour. This response, however, usually results in circumstances that were unforeseen, even where initial success may have been experienced. A fundamental result of command and control tends toward a reduction in the natural variation of the system and, therefore, decreased resilience. This in turn creates increased vulnerability to external perturbations, leading to an increase in disturbances and surprise events. This cycle of behaviour is described as pathological in nature. This pathology increases isolation from the system being managed, creates inflexibility or rigidity in institutional structures, and causes increasing levels of dependence by the broader society. Solutions to this pathology are suggested through innovation, flexibility, self-organisation, improved knowledge and maintenance of diversity.


This seminal article outlines many of the foundational concepts of social-ecological resilience as it is currently understood in the sustainability literature. Although the problems associated with command and control approaches to natural resource management have long been identified, the same approaches persist. This is a clear and significant example of a learning paradox that continues to plague many human-ecosystem interactions. In fact, in attempts to maintain particular system states, the concept of resilience is itself used in some areas of natural resource and social-ecological system management to promote agendas of increased command and control. This is a profound distortion of the resilience term as it was intended in this article. A number of suggestions are made where adaptive learning frameworks can be employed in attempting to address this pathology.