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Does the concept of resilience serve to bridge academic fields and why is it relevant to fisheries studies?


Does the concept of resilience serve to bridge academic fields and why is it relevant to fisheries studies?

MARINA post-doctoral researcher, Denis Hellebrandt (University of East Anglia), and colleagues at the University of Exeter and Arizona State University have recently published a paper entitled, “Boundary object or bridging concept? A citation network analysis of resilience”. The paper appears in Ecology and Society, a prestigious open-access journal founded by the Resilience Alliance. Here Dr. Hellebrandt discusses their study and its relevance to fisheries studies:

 Resilience is a popular concept in many fields but its precise definition varies slightly between fields such as engineering, ecology, and social sciences. In all cases, however, “the definitions relate to the ability of a system to respond to change while maintaining specific attributes (or functions and controls)” as defined in our recently published study, Baggio et al (2015). Precisely because of its malleability and pervasiveness, resilience has the potential to act as a common ground on which different disciplines can stand together, using the concept to frame their interdisciplinary work.

 Specifically, resilience thinking has framed research into marine issues for decades, with much of the seminal work in resilience drawing heavily on empirical evidence from small-scale fisheries cases (Berkes and Folke 2008). A more recent trend, the effective merging of resilience and social-ecological systems approaches (Fabinyi et al 2014), is again observed in a wide range of studies applied to fisheries. Several scholars have used empirical studies (Béné et al 2011) or synthesis of knowledge about fisheries (Coulthard 2012) to advance critical arguments on the use of resilience thinking and related system approaches.

 Therefore, further reading on resilience and its role in interdisciplinarity is likely to be useful to anyone with an interest in fisheries, particularly those who understand them as coupled social and ecological systems.

 Our analysis presented in Baggio et al (2015) probes how well the concept of resilience brings together different schools of thought, as well as its potential to foster dialogue. We looked at the role of resilience as a "boundary object" (an entity shared by several different communities but viewed or used differently by each of them) or "bridging concept" (an entity that serves to brings disparate concepts together in an integrative way), two closely related yet distinct perspectives on interdisciplinarity. The study applied bibliometric and social network analysis to 994 papers and 35,952 citations to reveal the connectedness and links between and within fields. We found that, with few exceptions, "most papers cite exclusively within their own field" and despite evidence of "shared understandings across diverse disciplines and fields", "distinct fields do not widely or routinely refer to each other".

 Even though our findings indicate that resilience is only partially effective in bridging academic fields, the concept might have a more influential role amongst the policy community and in connecting scientists, policy-makers and practitioners as noted in other syntheses (Davoudi et al 2012, Brown 2012). These findings suggest that, given the complexity of fisheries, and in particular of their governance, the fisheries field is bound to remain fertile ground for applications of resilience as well as for further tests of its power to foster dialogue and innovation in research and practice.

Citation and web link:

Baggio, J. A., K. Brown, and D. Hellebrandt. 2015. Boundary object or bridging concept? A citation network analysis of resilience. Ecology and Society 20(2): 2.



Béné et al. 2011. Testing resilience thinking in a poverty context: Experience from the Niger River basin. Global Environmental Change 21: 1173–1184

Berkes and Folke. 1998. Linking social and ecological systems: management practices and social mechanisms for building resilience. cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Brown, K. 2012. Policy discourses of resilience. Pages 37-50 in M. Pelling, D. Manuel-Navarrete and M. Redclift, editors. Climate change and the crisis of capitalism: a chance to reclaim self, society and nature. Routledge, London, UK.

Coulthard, S. 2012. Can we be both resilient and well, and what choices do people have? Incorporating agency into the resilience debate from a fisheries perspective. Ecology and Society 17(1):4.

Davoudi, S. et al. 2012. Resilience: a bridging concept or a dead end? Planning Theory and Practice 13(2):299-333.

Fabinyi et al 2014. Social-ecological systems, social diversity, and power: insights from anthropology and political ecology. Ecology and Society 19(4):28.