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Community Resilience as Emergent

New findings from MAGIC project published

Community Resilience is conventionally understood as a set of inter-linked capacities, including leadership, social capital, access to information, infrastructure etc. But we know that resilience is not just the straightforward sum of these constituent capacities that determines – rather it is emergent of them. This observation has been made in previous literature but generally only theoretically or conceptually; our recent paper in the journal Ecology and Society provides an empirical analysis of  the emergent nature of Community Resilience.

Led by Lucy Faulkner from her MRes at University of Exeter and as part of our MAGIC project, the paper analyses five different capacities, and assesses how the interactions between them confer resilience in two coastal communities in Cornwall, UK. We worked in Boscastle on the north coast (pictured left), and Wadebridge on the Camel estuary. Both face diverse risks associated with coastal change and extreme weather. Boscastle experienced a flash flood in 2004 which caused extensive damage to property and livelihoods. The plaque in the photo (below) records some of the damage, but also shows how people came together to re-build and ‘bounce back’ following the event.

The five capacities we analysed are place attachment, leadership, community cohesion and efficacy, community networks, and knowledge and learning. Based on a survey

and focus group discussions, our results show that residents draw on these capacities in different combinations, enabling resilience in diverse ways. For example, at both places, a shared sense of place was seen to be an important enabler of other capacities. It was seen as fundamentally important to build resilience. The paper thus provides a dynamic and socially nuanced perspective on community resilience as process, rather than a more static view of it as a set of traits or a characteristic. This view clearly has implications, given that so many policies and responses to risks, environmental and other changes, stress the need to build resilience of and for communities. We think the paper might potentially inform theory and practice of conservation, disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and community development.

Faulkner, L., K. Brown, and T. Quinn. 2018. Analyzing community resilience as an emergent property of dynamic social-ecological systems. Ecology and Society 23(1):24.

Download the paper here  

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