Did you ever say ‘Resilience’? Conceptual issues, measurement and public action’

Dubois, Jean-Luc; Ky, Barbara (2014). ''Did you ever say 'Resilience'? Conceptual issues, measurement and public action'' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

In a world characterized by innovation and competitive change, excessive pressure is exercised on human and natural resources to ensure a certain style and level of development. The economic agents and institutions face uncertainties and encounter regularly various types of shocks and crises. In some places, these shocks are related to natural disasters and to civil uprisings and conflicts, in others they are linked to the adverse effects of public policies. All of them are making people more vulnerable and fragile to the volatile global environment. To cope with such shocks and crises, the poor search for innovative strategies to resist and reverse the adverse effects of these shocks.

Whatever the type of the shock or the crisis, a key question remains: would the victim of this shock be able to cope and bounce back to achieve his/her aspired life? This ability to bounce back is reflected in the agent's resilience. Resilience comesfrom the Latin resilire (to recoil or leap back) and refers to the ability that an agent, community, and system, have to overcome the effects of the shocks encountered and to re-build its capabilities for sustainable human development. Exploring the sustainability of human development therefore requires an investigation of this resilience behavior and an analysis of the conditions that can contribute to its promotion.

Coming from the scientific world, the concept of resilience is nowadays regularly used by experts and decision-makers at the time of crises, either for finding ways to overcome these crises, or to anticipate their potential effects. As a result, two sets of policies can be developed: (1) ex-ante policies aiming at preventing crises and disasters, and (2) ex-post interventions aiming at mitigating their impact. A common base of interdisciplinary knowledge sought to understand the link between shocks, breakdown, and the ability to rebound through the resilience processes by individuals, social groups, communities or socio and ecosystems. For instance, social resilience would be the capability of human communities to withstand and recover from stresses, such as environmental changes or social, economic or political upheavals.

A number of questions about the resilience process still remain unanswered: what are its various forms, which factors explain resilience, how to relate vulnerability to resilience indicators when referring to the capability approach, how to value the role of positive players of resilience, etc. This paper seeks to answer these questions by looking at experiences from various case studies in Asia and Africa. It links the literature on resilience and the capability approach, to show how agents are able to use their collective agency to build strategies that reinforce their individual and communal resilience. The paper shows how the capability approach and its emphasis on human agency provides a suitable analytical framework for analysing the determinants and actors of the resilience process and for developing appropriate indicators for its measurement.

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