Separating adaptive maintenance (Resilience) and transformative capacity of social-ecological systems

Samuel Wilson, Leonie J. Pearson, Yoshihisa Kashima, Dean Lusher, Craig Pearson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Citations (Scopus)


Many rural communities are vulnerable social-ecological systems (SES) that must do more than become resilient to future environmental and social shocks: they must transform to achieve sustainability. We aimed first to conceptually explore the proposition that SES characteristics (identity, feedbacks, structure, and functions) necessary for transformation may be distinct from those necessary for adaptive maintenance or resilience, and second, to propose metrics that may be used to assess these two types of system changes. We did this by interrogating literature and by investigating two rural towns in Australia using a combination of quantitative methods and focus groups to interrogate community social networks, capitals (human, natural, built, and social) and future scenarios. Results indicated that (1) it is practicable to carry out a holistic assessment of SES characteristics (identity, feedbacks, structure, and functions), and (2) purposeful, positive transformation is supported by vision, identification with place, unhappiness (with the status quo), high personal contribution to social capital, open social networks, and latent capital(s). We conclude that rural communities possess capacities for adaptive maintenance (resilience) and for system-wide transformation, and that the metrics used to assess each are sometimes discrete, sometimes common.

Original languageEnglish
Article number22
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


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