The Paradox of Transformation and Persistence

In the introduction to their 2008 Ecology and Society article “Adaptive Capacity and Traps,” Stephen Carpenter and William Brock offer this nuanced description of resilience:

How do transformation and persistence coexist in living systems? This paradox is addressed by the concept of resilience (Holling 1973, Folke 2006). Resilience is not about an equilibrium of transformation and persistence. Instead, it explains how transformation and persistence work together, allowing living systems to assimilate disturbance, innovation, and change, while at the same time maintaining characteristic structures and processes (Westley et al. 2006).

Resilience is a broad, multifaceted, and loosely organized cluster of concepts, each one related to some aspect of the interplay of transformation and persistence. Thus, resilience does not come down to a single testable theory or hypothesis. Instead it is a changing constellation of ideas, some of which are testable through the usual practices of natural or social science. Although particular ideas may be rejected or supported, the program of research on resilience itself is evaluated in a different way. As long as resilience thinking produces interesting research ideas, people are likely to pursue it. When it seems empty of ideas, it will be abandoned or transformed into something else.

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