This open access book brings together scholars in the fields of management, public policy, regional studies, and organization theory around the concept of resilience. The aim is to provide a more holistic understanding of the complex phenomenon of resilience from a multi-sectorial, cross-national, and multidisciplinary perspective. The book facilitates a conversation across diverse disciplinary specializations and empirical domains. The authors contribute both to theory testing and theory development and provide key empirical insights useful for societies, organizations, and individuals experiencing disruptive pressures, not least in the context of a post-COVID-19 world.
Diverse chapters are held together by a clear organization of the volume across levels of analysis (resilience in organizations and societies) and by an original perspective on resilience derived from an extended review, by the editors, of the existing literature and knowledge gaps, according to which each of the individual chapter contributions is positioned and connected to.
Rómulo Pinheiro is a Professor of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Agder (UiA), Norway
Maria Laura Frigotto is professor at the Department of Economics and Management of the University of Trento
Mitchell Young is an Assistant Professor at the Department of European Studies at Charles University, Czech Republic
From Chapter 1 (pagg. 9-12)
Missing Links on Resilience: Five Key Questions
In this section, we provide a brief overview of five key questions that need to be addressed in order to reach the next step of resilience theory development and empirical understanding.
In physics, resilience refers to a precise kind of disturbance, namely the ability of a system (typically a material) to absorb energy before breaking down when subject to a dynamic perpendicular force (shock) (Kalpakjian & Schmid, 2016). This shock is standardized into the Charpy pendulum, which is used to measure the resilience of materials. Resilience is high when a material has a high level of elasticity. For example, the strings of a tennis racket deform due to the impact of a ball and accumulate potential energy that is released during the return stroke. The opposite of resilience is fragility, which is characteristic of materials with little elasticity and that are close to their breaking point. Unlike resistant materials, resilient materials do not oppose shocks until they break, but absorb shocks due to their elastic properties.
Similarly, resilience in the social sciences represents the ability of a social entity—such as an individual, organization, system, or society—to retain its function while responding to adversity. However, this metaphor is responsible for both the appeal and the opaqueness of the concept in the social sciences (Carpenter et al., 2001), as ‘ability’ and ‘adversity’ have been variously understood (e.g. Britt et al., 2016), leading many scholars to ask for further theoretical elaboration (Britt et al. 2016; Duchek, 2020; Fisher et al., 2019; Linnenluecke, 2017; Kossek & Perrigino, 2016; Vanhove et al., 2016). A decade ago, de Bruijne et al. (2010) outlined some of the elements that were lost in translation. This yielded a set of pertinent questions regarding the need for theoretical elaboration, which have been echoed by more recent literature reviews (e.g. Duchek, 2020; Fisher et al., 2019; Linnenluecke, 2017; Kossek & Perrigino, 2016; Ruiz-Martin et al., 2018).
Five questions have remained largely implicit in the understanding of the parallel between materials in physics and individuals, organizations and societies in the social sciences. Here we identify and reframe them to develop three principles that both organize our current understanding of resilience and suggest future directions of research.
First, in the social sciences, resilience has been used in quite a broad way. Following a thorough literature review on existing perspectives, concepts and methodologies, Bhamra (2016, p. 24) contended that ‘it is essential to understand whether resilience is a measure, a feature, a philosophy or a capability’, as in the present literature it refers to all of these. Critics of resilience claim that the concept has been adopted too broadly in the social sciences and provocatively ask: ‘At this rate, what isn’t resilience?’ (Roe & Schulman, 2008, p. 163). To progress with conceptual elaboration, this implies asking: What is the core of resilience? Addressing this question clarifies how the concept of resilience can be characterized and better specified to include different conceptual and analytical manifestations while still allowing for the cross-fertilization of concepts, ideas and best practices across the social sciences.
Second, when we say that resilient social entities reach a final state after facing adversities, how should this final state be understood? Answering this question means clarifying when we can talk about resilience, and when we cannot. Rather than redefining resilience, we aim to define the boundaries and the core of the concept by specifying what ‘stable final state’ in the social sciences might correspond to the steady states of engineering materials. The fact that a given material finds an equilibrium (i.e. the same state before and after a shock), allows scholars to claim that it is resilient. However, the ways in which individuals, organizations and/or societies respond, recover and return to ‘normality’ always entails a change—if only because time has passed and experience (learning) has occured. Contrary to physical materials, social systems and the agents that are embedded in them exercise agency, which affects how they adapt to external events. Moreover, it is crucial to clarify whether we can talk of resilience when a ‘new normal’ is reached in a social system, or if that means that the original system was not resilient and that a new system (with a different state and function) has emerged. So, we ask: what is the outcome of resilience? Does the recognition of resilience depend upon this outcome?
Third, how can disturbances or adversity triggers be qualified in the social sciences? Recent studies reviewed the following examples of adversity triggers (Britt et al., 2016; Duchek, 2020; Fisher et al., 2019; Kossek & Perrigino, 2016; Linnenluecke, 2017; Vanhove et al., 2016): for the individual, the death of a beloved person or a divorce; for organizations, a new technology that challenges extant business value propositions; and for systems, a new political movement that gains ground. In physics, shocks are precisely defined: they have a certain strength and hit from a certain angle (Frigotto, 2020). In the social sciences, the ability to anticipate, resist and respond to adversity is contingent on knowledge of adversity triggers: when they are well-known and well-defined, they can be anticipated or at least a precise response can be prepared that is activated when they occur; when they are poorly-known and ill-defined, understanding them is part of the challenge (cf. Logan, 2009). Some authors refer to this in terms of the expected and the unexpected (e.g. Weick & Sutcliffe, 2001). While this distinction is intuitive, a more precise elaboration could clarify the impacts of different kinds of adversity and their potential for triggering resilience and its various empirical manifestations.
Fourth, in the social realm, resilience concerns an entity’s responses to a shock over time, including before (preparedness), during (recovery) and after (outcome). While a temporal dimension is noticeable in social systems that might take time to show resilience, what some call ‘dynamic capability’ (Giustiniano et al., 2018, p. 38), others consider a process, as well as, a property and an outcome (Bhamra, 2016) So, the following question arises: does resilience have a temporal deployment upon which it should be observed and assessed as a whole?
Fifth, what is the subject of resilience? In general, we have referred to system resilience as having a generic subject in the social sciences, and other times and more precisely, we have articulated three main levels of analysis, i.e. individual (micro), organization (meso) and society (macro). This plurality of levels at which it can manifest adds a layer of fuzziness to resilience, as in the same setting, a lower level entity can show resilience, while at a higher level there might be none and vice versa. Carpenter et al. (2001, pp. 765–767) claim that it is always necessary to specify resilience in relation to a social system or a level of analysis by asking: ‘Resilience of what to what?’ In particular, it is necessary to address if there is a correspondence between lower and higher levels of resilience, and if lower levels of resilience guarantee higher levels of resilience. This has become crucial for policymakers, institutions and citizens in understanding how resilience can be cultivated, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g. Giovannini et al., 2020).
These five questions, in our opinion, advance the academic debate by allowing us to frame resilience in light of the dynamic nature and complexity and ambiguity inherent to social systems at multiple levels of analysis. This introduction outlines three organizing elements that serve as a starting point for the theoretical and empirical analyses in the chapters that make up the bulk of this edited volume. We argue that resilience needs to be grounded in both stability and change, given that ‘becoming’ is a characteristic of social entities. We define resilience in terms of change that maintains a continuity of essence, whether self-assessed by those that dealt with the adversity—and that recognize themselves through change—or exogenously assessed when an observer can detect or identify some form of persistence of identity, processes, mindsets, etc.
This book is open access and can be read and downloaded from the Publisher website.