Isaac Lyne, Ann Hill, Elizabeth Barron, Alison Guzman and Ignacio Krell

Resilience has become a “buzzword” of our time. It is commonplace to hear individuals, communities, organisations, and systems described as resilient. Resilience has also become a buzzword In development discourse and practice. World Bank programmes for instance, refer to ‘resilient cities’, ‘resilient institutions’ and climate risk management ‘resilience strategies’. As noted by developer thinker Andrea Cornwall (2007), buzzwords tend to garner general abstract consensus around the importance of certain concepts but they equally can be vague and ‘fuzzy’, providing little sense of what a concept actually ‘looks like’ or how it translates in practice and in specific contexts. Here, we provide some clarity around the concept of resilience and how it is used in development today. We provide contextual examples drawing on development practice in Chile and Cambodia.

It is common in contemporary development practice and discourse for resilience to be framed within scientific understandings of how ecological systems work. An alternative framing and the position we take as authors, combines science and social science perspectives and defines resilience as an ability of humans and nonhumans to ‘survive well’ in the face of change and crisis (Gibson-Graham, Hill and Law, 2016). Within this frame, disturbances can be understood as a range of human and nonhuman processes including recovering from severe illness, emotional, and or socio-cultural trauma, navigating a significant economic shock, or surviving an extreme weather event. If resilience is understood as the ability to survive well, then development can thus be thought about as the active work of creating and maintaining the conditions of possibility for surviving well. This includes economic and livelihood conditions, and sociocultural and ecological ones.

Suggested citation

Lyne, I., Hill, A., Barron, E., Guzman, A. and Krell, I. Forthcoming. "Resilience". In M. Clarke and A. Zhao (Eds) Elgar Encyclopedia of Development. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.