Understanding our responses to environmental change

My Latest Book

My new book: Resilience, Development and Global Change, has been published by Routledge. You can find it here.

Book coverI became interested in resilience because as a concept it brought a perspective on understanding change that accounts for uncertainty and non-linearity, which better reflects the realities of rapidly changing world. It provided a way of accounting for shocks to the system and understanding why different people and different places are affected differently by these shocks. As I read more about resilience I became really interested in how the concept was used in different fields and disciplines – from child developmental psychology, disaster studies, ecology and urban design – and what core similarities there were and what important divergences were. The term itself prompts much debate amongst different scientists, yet it has been adopted – primarily in last 8 years – extremely widely in policy discourses, and thus has found its way into public debate. This intrigued me, especially because the applications of resilience, and types of policies which were being promoted using the concept, were often out of step with the dynamism at its science core.

This was especially the case in my analysis of the international development and environmental change policy literature between 2008-2012. So I started to look further at how resilience ideas more broadly were being taken up in international development. In the book I examine how some of the core ideas stemming from the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary literature on resilience speaks to central development concerns; about poverty, security, hazards and disasters, as well as environmental change.

The applications of resilience to development have recently led to a plethora of different measures of resilience (see for example recent paper by Allyson Quinlan and colleagues). When resilience is an objective of interventions, then there must be ways of assessing its attainment. Many of the measures suggested are complex, cumbersome and resource intensive. There is a lively debate around resilience measurement and assessment at present, which exposes some of the rather loose and wooly thinking and use of the term.

Yet resilience remains very prominent, especially in discussions around climate change, disasters, SDGs and of course in UK DFID’s latest aid strategy.

I’ve written that one of the motivations to write the book was when I heard that resilience has become the new development paradigm. I believe that the assertion about resilience and development, the drive for a new paradigm, stems from gaps in current development science and practice, where development theory and knowledge really does not explain what has happened, and doesn’t give adequate means of integrating, sudden shocks, systemic change and uncertainty – be that global financial crisis, environmental change or ‘crisis states’ (a focus of DFID’s strategy). A major reason why we need a new approach to understanding development is climate change, which brings challenges so profound and so wide reaching that the only thing we can expect of the future, is that it will be nothing like the past, or even the present. Climate change threatens current theories and practice of development and demands a new approach to wellbeing, progress, justice and environment. I see my book as responding to these scholarly and policy imperatives for a new set of ideas about development in this age of uncertainty and recurrent crises.

I apply a broadly defined set of ideas around resilience to international development in the face of global change. The book is aimed primarily at scholars, particularly researchers on environmental change and international development; and practitioners, including those who work in large organisations and development agencies devising strategic approaches to addressing climate change and other major disruptions, and those in NGOs tackling poverty and responding to disasters. The books also speaks to the broad area of sustainable development and my proposals present a new way of thinking about sustainability and related fields – environmental change, international development, systems thinking. Amongst my ambitions for the book, is the hope that it can inspire more integrated thinking, and challenge some assumptions about the relationship between change and development, about winners and losers, and about human agency in the face of the profound, rapid and irreversible changes we collectively face.

Resilience, Development and Global Change is published by Routledge – see here