What is Social Resilience?

By the end of the twentieth century, understanding resilience as an individual capacity and “psychological fitness” to deal with adversity was a dominant resilience paradigm. Hence, referring to resilience as a valuable personal resource or capacity (such as self-esteem, temperament, cognitive abilities) distinguishes the ’resilient’ from the ’non-resilient’ person; where the resilient person is equipped with internal resources, regarded as protective elements to combat adversity (
Garmezy, Masten, and Tellegen, 1984; Masten, 2001).

The non-social view of resilience excludes the sociological examination of person-environment interaction and social behaviors that contribute to resilience experience (
Dagdeviren et al., 2016; Estêvão et al., 2017; Garrett, 2016). Also, the notion of ‘bouncing back’ as it appears in dominant resilience studies is not sufficient to explain how resilience works in a social system. Hence, it is pertinent to understand resilience in its continuity to ‘bounce ahead’ (Holtorf, 2018, Norris et al., 2008, Pendall et al., 2010). Estˆev˜ao et al. (2017:12-13) criticized the concept of resilience as problematic and coined it as ‘heroic resilience’. Besides the overemphasis on ’heroic’ resilience as an individual attribute, “heroic resilience seems to ignore the relationship (constraints and resources) between institutions and individuals or social structures and social practices”. While the concept of social resilience is multidimensional, complex, and dynamic, quantitative approaches to measure resilience relies on the generalization of environmental variables and do not consider the dynamic social characteristics of resilience (Schipper and Langston, 2015; Windle et al. 2011).
Social resilience is the ability of communities to absorb external changes and stresses while maintaining the sustainability of their livelihoods (Adger, 2002:358).
The term “social resilience” refers to the social aspects of human resilience. It comes into focus, however, when we shift from individual psychological characteristics to person-environment interaction, and ’I’ to ’we, us, and they’. Adger is most likely the first author to define social resilience, and his work is often mentioned in social resilience research. He defines social resilience as “the ability of individuals, groups, or communities to withstand external shocks and stresses without significant upheaval”. According to Adger, resilience is shaped by “dynamic structures of livelihoods, access to resources, and social institutions, as well as external shocks and stresses, such as changes in government policy, civil strife, or environmental hazards that exert pressures on social structures, livelihoods, and resources” (Adger et al., 2002).
Social resilience is comprised of three dimensions: 1. Coping capacities –the ability of social actors to cope with and overcome all kinds of adversities; 2. Adaptive capacities – their ability to learn from past experiences and adjust themselves to future challenges in their everyday lives; 3. Transformative capacities – their ability to craft sets of institutions that foster individual welfare and sustainable societal robustness towards future crises (Keck and Sakdapolrak, 2013:10).

Adger’s emphasis on the changing socio-political context in shaping “resilience” is intriguing. However, drawing on the social construction of resilience, I argue that social resilience should be recognized as a phenomenon tied to social experience and individual reflective agency. We live in an ever-changing world, and we experience change on several levels. We go through challenging experience, and our everyday lives are shaped by our subjective experiences as we move across time and space. Recognition of human beings as social actors should be regarded as a conceptual foundation to elaborate the intersectionality of social resilience, and human’s social experiences and practices. In this connection, I argue that social resilience should be reconceptualized (in its context) with reference to two interconnected constructs, i.e. social experience and social practice. Social experience refers to what and how we experience our environment, whereas social practice refers to how we act and react to change and challenges. To acknowledge the social dimension of resilience, social experience and practices should be included in empirical analyses of human’s transitory and transformational experiences that shape and foster the process of social resilience.
Social resilience is the way in which individuals, communities, and societies adapt, transform and potentially become stronger when faced with environmental, social, economic, or political challenges (Cuthill et al., 2008:146)

Social resilience is a relatively new term that refers to the conceptual development of resilience. Initially described as a capacity to respond, the concept of social resilience has matured into a multidimensional concept that deals with learning and adaptability in a variety of circumstances (
Keck and Sakdapolrak, 2013). The concept of social resilience, as I see, is based on the following theoretical assumptions:

  • Social resilience is a social phenomenon characterized by several interconnected social, cultural, economic, and political factors.
  • Status, network, support, and visibility are four major aspects of the social experience that are institutionally anchored.
  • To give individuals and groups a voice, it is necessary to reconsider social resilience as a socially constructed phenomenon.

A social phenomenon characterized by vulnerable individuals’ or groups’ social experiences and social practices in the face of political, economic, cultural, and social (PECS) environmental changes and challenges. Individuals or groups going through this experience learn to re-examine their lives in the new context and shape their adaptive and transformational capabilities (Qamar, 2023:3)

Human lives are anchored in their structural contexts and lived experiences. One way or another human respond to change and challenges in their lives. The social dimensions of resilience spotlight the dynamic and multifaceted concept of resilience that is complex and embedded in person-environment interactions and contextual diversities. Hence, researching social resilience requires the conceptualization of resilience regarding the environmental context and social experience corresponding to change and challenges (
Qamar, 2023; Wingens et al., 2011). Political, economic, cultural, and social environmental factors constitute the social construction of resilience and shape resilience as a social phenomenon through which individuals or groups ’bounce ahead’ to the ’new normal’ with their transformational capabilities learnt through the process of going through and getting through change and challenges.


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