In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Geographies of Resilience

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Ecological and SES Resilience
  • Resilience, Security, and Governing Uncertain Futures
  • Social and Community Resilience
  • Economic Resilience
  • Spatial Resilience
  • Critical Resilience and Critiques of Resilience (Neoliberal Urban Governance)
  • Critical Resilience and Critiques of Resilience (Disasters and Security)
  • Current and Future Threats to Resilience

Geography Geographies of Resilience
Geoff DeVerteuil
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0185


Resilience has become a buzzword of late, becoming increasingly popular within both the public imagination but also spurring considerable academic interest, more recently with human and environmental geography. Resilience refers to the “ability to recover and position elastically following a disturbance of some form” (Wrigley and Dolega 2011, cited under Economic Resilience, p. 2337). Resilience must involve a particular shock—social, ecological, political, or economic—to a system that enjoys a certain measure of stability, combined with the capacity to “bounce back” to some degree in the post-shock period while showing some evidence of adaptability and elasticity. Adopting a resilience approach moves us away from risk and vulnerability to something more proactive and prospective, of learning to live with risk and taking seriously the capacity of people and places to anticipate, endure, adapt to, and ultimately minimize the damage from inevitable threats such as climate change, economic shocks, and political upheavals. This is different from sustainability, which implicitly hopes to entirely avoid external threats via fundamental shifts in the overall system. At the same time, resilience does not necessarily lend itself to transformation—it is more about incremental change. In this respect, Cindi Katz draws useful distinctions among resilience, reworking, and resistance. Reworking involves altering the conditions of people’s existence to enable more workable lives and can include movements such as unionization, while resistance draws on and produces a critical conscience to confront and redress conditions of oppression and exploitation, of calling for and implementing wholesale change to the system. For Katz, resilience captures the “autonomous initiative [and] recuperation,” the “getting by,” protective care, and mutual aid that enables survival in circumstances that do not allow changes to the causes that dictate and constrain survival (from the book Growing Up Global: Economic Restructuring and Children’s Everyday Lives, Katz 2004, p. 242, cited under Social and Community Resilience). Geographers have been relatively late in their engagement with resilience, but this situation is beginning to improve and will form the basis for much of the Spatial Resilience and Critical Resilience and Critiques of Resilience (Neoliberal Urban Governance) and Critical Resilience and Critiques of Resilience (Disasters and Security) sections, while overcoming some of the familiar human/physical divides within geography via disaster science and socio-ecological systems. I would like to begin with general overviews of resilience, from ecology, sociology, and planning. From there, I identify a series of subfields covering ecological resilience, resilience, security and governing uncertain futures, social and community resilience, economic resilience, and spatial resilience, but also the emerging themes of critical resilience/critiques of resilience as well as threats to resilience. Beyond the Ecological and SES Resilience section, the subsequent bias is definitely tilted toward material that would interest human and environmental geographers, rather than those who study purely physical processes.

General Overviews

Resilience originates from ecology (see Ecological and SES Resilience), but it has substantially proliferated into other areas of natural sciences and perhaps more controversially, into the social sciences, particularly those related to the human-environmental nexus, including human and environmental geographers. Within the latter, general overviews of resilience have been rather thin on the ground, despite the pressing need to provide some order to what is seen by some as an unwieldy concept. Indeed, and because of its dramatic and haphazard proliferation, conceptual sprawl, operational fuzziness, and lack of unity, there is suspicion that, at least in the social sciences, resilience is unsuited for the complexity of societal dynamics and is drifting into “chaotic concept” territory, but also an increasingly normative (and perhaps essential) policy concept that informs disciplines that straddle the human-physical divide, such as disaster science. The references in this section begin to make sense of resilience from a social science (if not implicitly geographical) perspective in terms of sociology and social science (Hall and Lamont 2013), disaster science and environmental geography (Weichselgartner and Kelman 2015), planning (Vale and Campanella 2005), and crisis theory (Goldstein 2011). Expressly geographical and spatial approaches to an overall understanding of resilience remain thin on the ground, with only Weichselgartner and Kelman 2015 and, more obliquely, Simon and Randalls 2016 (cited under Critical Resilience and Critiques of Resilience [Disasters and Security]) taking it up. Throughout, there are attempts to bring some conceptual order to resilience for their respective academic disciplines, but also to underline how geography matters to resilience—in terms of context, relationality, and the complicating factors introduced by place that challenge more totalizing accounts of resilience and its purported universality.

  • Goldstein, Bruce Evan, ed. Collaborative Resilience: Moving through Crisis to Opportunity. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2011.

    In this edited volume, Goldstein gathers together chapters on how resilience relates to crisis—whether natural disaster, economic collapse, or violence—underlining the role of community in terms of the postcrisis, reconstruction period while perhaps undercutting the crucial roles that the state and markets play.

  • Hall, Peter, and Michele Lamont, eds. Social Resilience in the Neoliberal Era. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    This edited volume is the first synoptic attempt at understanding resilience in sociology more specifically, and the social sciences more generally, within the context of thirty years of neoliberalism. The focus is on resilience as a particular response to ensure well-being when faced with the challenge of the socially corrosive effects of market-led neoliberalism, especially with regard to institutional and community resilience, but also the role of the state as an important counterweight.

  • Vale, Lawrence, and Thomas Campanella, eds. The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover from Disaster. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    This compendium highlights the role of urbanization and planning with respect to resilience, of how particular cities, and larger cities especially, are universally and inherently resilient given their extensive amount of economic, infrastructural, and social redundancies. Using a comparative approach, the editors underline the acute threats to cities, and of how they “bounce back,” yet lacking a critical perspective on whether going back to the same conditions might in fact only guarantee future vulnerability and risk.

  • Weichselgartner, Jurgen, and Ilan Kelman. “Geographies of Resilience: Challenges and Opportunities of a Descriptive Concept.” Progress in Human Geography 39.3 (2015): 249–267.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132513518834

    In this synthesis piece and embedded within the larger environmental geographical literature, the authors first trace the transition of resilience from a descriptive concept in ecology to an increasingly normative policy for disaster science and human geography. They then further differentiate an ecological approach to resilience from a social-political one, suggesting that a reductionist, technical-quantitative framework will never capture the complexity of societies.

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