Tag Archives: University of East Anglia

Critical Reflections on resilience thinking in the Transition Movement

The Resilience Alliance website has pointed to an interesting working paper from Alex Haxeltine, and Gill Seyfang from the Tyndall Centre in the UK Transitions for the People: Theory and Practice of ‘Transition’ and ‘Resilience’ in the UK’s Transition Movement, whose focus on developing transition towns to respond to the challenges of climate change and peak oil we have covered before on this blog.

Haxeltine and Seyfang state they write as ‘critical friends’ of the transition movement and address the transition movements equation of localism with resilience (which I believe is incorrect, and likely counterproductive).  It is wonderful to see resilience researchers engaging with they dynamic transition movement.  They write:

The specific language used is of “rebuilding resilience” – drawing on historical descriptions of towns in the UK around 100 years ago, the handbook argues that resilience has been decreased in recent decades. The narrative describes how localised patterns of production and consumption (and the associated skill sets and community cohesion) were eroded in a relentless shift to ever larger scale industrialized systems of production and consumption, made possible by the use of fossil fuel energy sources. Hopkins argues that there is now a great urgency to the need to rebuild resilience because of imminent disturbances (or shocks) in the form of peak-oil, climate change, and the associated impacts on economic systems and trading patterns (Hopkins, 2008). He links this urgency directly to our current oil dependency: “it is about looking at the Achilles heel of globalization, one from which there is no protection other than resilience: its degree of oil dependency” (Hopkins, 2008).

The framing of the Transition model provided in the handbook does explicitly draw upon the academic literature on resilience in socio-ecological systems (citing a 2006 introductory text by Brian Walker and David Salt for example), but what ideas are being taken from this literature, and to what extent is the resulting framework consistent with the interpretation of resilience quoted in section 2 of this paper? The Transition Handbook (Hopkins, 2008) cites studies of what makes ecosystems resilient, identifying: diversity, modularity and tightness of feedbacks:

These initial resilience indicators rely heavily on equating resilience with the re-localisation of systems of production and consumption. So the Transition Handbook could be said to provide a starting point for talking about resilience in a Transition Town, but it is still a long way from being clear about what is needed in practice. Furthermore the evidence from observation of the local Transition groups (during 2008-2009) is that they are in an equivalent situation of trying to frame multiple actions in terms of the building of resilience but relying heavily on equating resilience with a re-localisation of production-consumption patterns.

Resilience theory highlights the fact that building resilience to a specified disturbance (such as Peak Oil) does not necessarily provide the same resilience to all possible disturbances. Some properties of a Transitioning community, such as strong community networks and diverse skill sets, may help provide resilience to most disturbances, while other properties may be very specific to one disturbance. If one were to take the position that the greatest shocks in the coming years may, in the end, turn out not to be the ones that we expected, then successfully building a specific resilience to an expected threat (such as Peak Oil) may not provide resilience against realized disturbances. So what may be required is to build resilience to specific threats in a way that also builds system properties that help in coping with diverse possible threats – implying, for example, a need for a capacity to innovate.

The current framing of resilience equates resilience with localisation in a rather unquestioning way, as demonstrated by the resilience indicators given in the Transition Handbook. We would argue that increasing any one of these indicators could actually either increase or decrease resilience to a specific disturbance, depending the exact nature of the disturbance and on the exact systemic changes used to enhance the indicator. We also argue that the desirable goal is not to simply increase such indicators as much as possible, but to find the right balance between resilience and other goals, such as quality of life and well being.

New academic positions in International Development at Univ. of E. Anglia

Tim Daw writes:

I wanted to highlight the following job opportunity at my department in UEA. It’s an exciting time for us as we’re hiring up to 4 new faculty. Although I never considered myself an academic in ‘International Development‘, I’ve found the school atmosphere a stimulating place to explore interdisciplinary angles of natural resource management and learn from/work with economists, anthropologists etc. We also have links with good people at the renowned School of Environment.

Following success in the RAE2008, the School of International Development (www.uea.ac.uk/dev) is investing in one or more of six research strengths:- business, accountability, regulation and development; behavioural/experimental economics; climate and environmental change; health economics, social epidemiology and health policy; livelihoods, migration and social protection; and social identities, wellbeing and social justice. We aim to appoint top academics drawn from economists, anthropologists, sociologists, geographers, and political and environmental scientists. The six research fields are advisory, applicants with an internationally recognised profile working in other subject areas related to development studies are welcome to apply.

Up to four posts may be available from 1st December 2009 on a full-time indefinite basis. The School expects at least one post to support postgraduate research training at a strategic level and one post to be filled by an economist. For lecturer level you must have an honours degree and a PhD, or equivalent level of qualifications, in relevant subject area, or be nearing completion with submission and award of PhD within 3 months of commencing in post. For senior lecturer/reader level you must have a PhD or equivalent level of qualification. For all posts you must have high quality publications commensurate with your stage of career and be able to satisfy all the essential criteria in the person specification.

Closing date: 12 noon on 12 October 2009.

More information can be found here