Exploring Power in the Theory and Practice of Resilience

  • Christopher Lyon

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This thesis explores the question of how social power is accounted for in the theory and practice of resilience. Beginning with a critical assessment of the social ecological systems (SES) perspective that underpins much of the theory and study of resilience, this thesis develops a framework, based on Gaventa’s powercube, for understanding power that also incorporates a much less hierarchical understanding of the dimensions of space and time. This revised ‘powerplane’ framework is applied to two empirical case studies of practices of resilience. Applying the powerplane to the case of government-led Scottish community emergency resilience planning finds that while the practices of resilience result in greater levels of engagement and interaction between local and regional levels of government, a gap exists between local government and the public it represents. Applying the powerplane to the grassroots case of Transition Town Peterborough, Canada, shows that intimate knowledge of local social and political institutions can allow a grassroots organisation to introduce resilience ideas into social and political community life. Together the two case studies reveal three key insights from resilience practices aimed at local contexts, rooted in: (1) institutionalising community engagement practices; (2) differences between formal and informal understandings of resilience; and (3) the scope of the risks resilience is aimed at mitigating. Critically exploring these issues in turn helps to illuminate questions about the efficacy, as well as the social and political implications of the resilience practice in question. For theory, the research shows that reconsidering hierarchical notions of scale and time in SES resilience can provoke new thinking about the role of power in resilience practices. In doing so, insights from this research offer novel challenges and complementarities to they way existing critiques of resilience approaches to account for social power issues.
    Date of Award2017
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorIoan Fazey (Supervisor) & Susan Mains (Supervisor)


    • resilience
    • social-ecological systems
    • power
    • ontology
    • complexity

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