Melissa Leach reports from Resilience 2008

Melissa Leach, co-author of the well known book Misreading the African Landscape and director of the STEPS centre, provides her perspective on the Resilience 2008 conference, on STEP’s Centre’s Crossings blog.  She writes:

Despite the avowed interdisciplinarity of resilience studies, one such tension is still beteween those who come primarily from an ecological science or a social science perspective. Brian Walker’s introductory talk, and Steve Carpenter’s plenary today, both argued that the tendency for ecologists to ‘black-box’ social processes and social scientists to black-box ecological ones, badly needs to be overcome.But many talks here expose how far this is not happening – yet. Meanwhile, panels that Adrian has been contributing to indicate that technology-focused perspectives and work on socio-technical transitions provide a further view, and integrating this with studies of socio-ecological systems is not straightforward. …

Yesterday afternoon, a panel on development and adaptation involving Emily Boyd and Polly Eriksen from Oxford, along with Emma Tompkins, Henny Osbahr and Hallie Eakin, debated vulnerability-resilience ‘trade-offs’ head-on. The ways in which ‘resilience’ (like ‘development’) can be co-opted as a disempowering discourse were raised. But these more politicised discussions are fairly rare in a conference that for the most part sees systems as ‘out there’ and the problems facing society as shared, even if often difficult to deal with.

In addition to the chance to reflect on these dilemmas and meet up with those sharing them in the coffee breaks around the Aula Magna’s gallery (and last night, over drinks in the designer boutique hotel owened by Abba’s Benny Anderson) high points of these days for me have included a brilliant talk on urban system challenges and social movements; and an excellent panel on globalisation, tipping points and the new social contracts that may be required for governance in this context.

In a packed plenary, Steve Carpenter has just given us a system’s ecologist’s perspective on scenarios and imaginations for global futures. And Eric Lambin is about to fill another hall, I suspect, in a session on land use transitions. Rich stuff indeed. And lots of fuel for our thinking in the STEPS centre, both in our projects and in our own ‘Reframing Resilience’ symposium planned for September this year which will follow up on a number of the debates aired here.

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