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Progress in Human Geography
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Social and ecological resilience: are they related?
W. Neil Adger Prog Hum Geogr 2000 24: 347 DOI: 10.1191/030913200701540465 The online version of this article can be found at: http://phg.sagepub.com/content/24/3/347

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Progress in Human Geography 24,3 (2000) pp. 347–364

Social and ecological resilience: are they related?
W. Neil Adger
School of Environmental Sciences and CSERGE, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK

Abstract: This article defines social resilience as the ability of groups or communities to cope with external stresses and disturbances as a result of social, political and environmental change. This definition highlights social resilience in relation to the concept of ecological resilience which is a characteristic of ecosystems to maintain themselves in the face of disturbance. There is a clear link between social and ecological resilience, particularly for social groups or communities that are dependent on ecological and environmental resources for their livelihoods. But it is not clear whether resilient ecosystems enable resilient communities in such situations. This article examines whether resilience is a useful characteristic for describing the social and economic situation of social groups and explores potential links between social resilience and ecological resilience. The origins of this interdisciplinary study in human ecology, ecological economics and rural sociology are reviewed, and a study of the impacts of ecological change on a resourcedependent community in contemporary coastal Vietnam in terms of the resilience of its institutions is outlined. Key words: cultural geography, ecological resilience, human ecology, resource dependency, sustainable development.

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Introduction

The concept of resilience is widely used in ecology but its meaning and measurement are contested. This article argues that it is important to learn from this debate and to explore social resilience, both as an analogy of how societies work, drawing on the ecological concept, and through exploring the direct relationship between the two phenomena of social and ecological resilience. Social resilience is an important component of the circumstances under which individuals and social groups adapt to environmental change. Ecological and social resilience may be linked through the dependence on ecosystems of communities and their economic activities. The question is, then, whether societies dependent on resources and ecosystems are themselves less resilient. In addition, this analysis allows consideration of whether institutions © Arnold 2000 0309–1325(00)PH285RA

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348

Social and ecological resilience: are they related?

themselves are resilient to change. Institutions in this case are defined in the broadest sense to include habitualized behaviour and rules and norms that govern society, as well as the more usual notion of formal institutions with memberships, constituencies and stakeholders. This broad definition is important because institutional structures such as property rights, govern the use of natural resources creating incentives for sustainable or unsustainable use. Hence they are a central component linking social and ecological resilience. The article illustrates these themes through a review of the emerging...
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