Resilience and disaster risk reduction: an etymological journey
- Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London, London, UK
Abstract. This paper examines the development over historical time of the meaning and uses of the term resilience. The objective is to deepen our understanding of how the term came to be adopted in disaster risk reduction and resolve some of the conflicts and controversies that have arisen when it has been used. The paper traces the development of resilience through the sciences, humanities, and legal and political spheres. It considers how mechanics passed the word to ecology and psychology, and how from there it was adopted by social research and sustainability science. As other authors have noted, as a concept, resilience involves some potentially serious conflicts or contradictions, for example between stability and dynamism, or between dynamic equilibrium (homeostasis) and evolution. Moreover, although the resilience concept works quite well within the confines of general systems theory, in situations in which a systems formulation inhibits rather than fosters explanation, a different interpretation of the term is warranted. This may be the case for disaster risk reduction, which involves transformation rather than preservation of the "state of the system". The article concludes that the modern conception of resilience derives benefit from a rich history of meanings and applications, but that it is dangerous – or at least potentially disappointing – to read to much into the term as a model and a paradigm.