What Resilience Means

A mode of seeing, describing, and analyzing the cultural texts, events, and political and social desires shaping our current and possible relationships to the analytic category of environmentalism. An invitation to think both against and with other disciplines, to improvise a common conversation, to stake out and describe an environmental sensibility that can account for transformations in key terms like “knowledge,” “nature,” “humanities,” and “culture.”

In the inaugural issue of the journal, we’ll be publishing short manifestos from leading environmental humanities scholars on what the word “resilience” means to them. Before they weigh in, we’re asking our community to tell us what the word means to you. Here are some of your responses.

Citra Ayu: “Adaptation”

Zareen Bharucha: “The ability to survive and thrive – as an individual, a household, a community, a country, a Planet.

Conferred by being flexible, having ‘buffers’ in place, being able to learn from experience and anticipate change.

Not synonymous with static, stubborn adherence to one way of being.”

Rafael Hernandez Chapparo: “Is the capacity of a complex system of maintain his identity trough the changing environment. It all related with adaptability.”

Gladys Chua: “Resilience is the result of the capacity to fluidly shift our scales of thinking between the individual, the national, the regional and the global, across systems (technical, social, and natural), and make reasonably informed decisions that address our vulnerability in the changing world.”

Diego Galafassi: “A positive way of approaching the challenges we face by focusing on the inherent capacity systems of people and nature have to reorganize and sustain their functioning in the face of disturbance.”

Margarita Carretero González: “Resilience is the ability of any living organism to remain virtually intact after a period of stress. A fantastic survival strategy for those lucky enough to possess it!”

Shé M. Hawke: “Integrity, diversity and strength in the face of complex adaptation and connectivity in ways of being in the anthropocene”

Natalie Jeremijenko: “resilience means response – ability, or a systematic capacity to respond in ways that improve shared environmental health. When applied to the anthropocentric context, where natural, cultural and designed responses are interdependent. Resilience is not a one-time testable parameter but requires systems of experimenting that foster the capabilities of response.”

Susan Laird: “Resilience is the aim of childrearing at its best, therefore one of the most significant educational aims. Resilience requires responsibility and capacities for learning to love, survive, and thrive despite our worst troubles. Resilience is indomitability in the face of bigotry, tyranny or disaster. Drought, extreme heat waves, tornados, hurricanes, wildfires all demand resilience–not only from humans, but also from flora and fauna. Climate change and injustices make education for resilience urgent. Friendships with people and animals, reading and writing poetry, listening to and playing music, looking at art, walking in the woods and hiking mountain trails, cycling on the prairie, watching and listening to birds, gardening and farming, cooking and eating healthy delicious food, doing yoga and t’ai chi, participating in collective civic actions–these are all possible means for resilience. Resilience is a ‘basic.’”

Erin Harkness McKinnon: “Resilience means having the wherewithal to weather any situation with integrity and grace and not waver from your cause. In terms of sustainability, to maintain climate change mitigation efforts in every sector from technology to culture in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and not give in solely to adaption scenarios due to financial or political constraints.”

Phaedra Pezzullo: “Striving for survival with keen reflectivity of limits and impurity”

AG Rud: “My work over the past number of years has grown out of thinking about Albert Schweitzer’s Reverence for Life, and Paul Woodruff’s idea of reverence as a forgotten virtue. Learning from them, I try to keep limits and finitude clearly in front of me, with awe and humility, about life, learning, and nature. That said, I try to look forward and ahead, in the face of environmental crisis, to continue the hard work of dialogue across differences about environmental sensibilities.”

Howard Silverman: “I sometimes think of the resilience-transformation relationship as binary, like man-woman or black-white: the existence of each dependent on the other. No resilience without transformation.

And I sometimes picture resilience and transformation interacting across time, in an unfolding resilience-cum-transformation narrative. System resilience following system transformation.”

Josh Stack: “Adaptively managing change to preserve Identity.

Resilience, designed well, is abundance.”

Therese Tierney: “Resilience – for an urbanist – means reconsidering established norms and expectations, such as the personal automobile, by reimagining how cities could be more sustainably and equitably organized.”

Donna Volpitta, Ed. D.: “Resilience is our response to any challenge. Our resilience is guided by our understanding of four Ss: Self, Situation, Supports, and Strategies.

The way that we frame those four Ss determines how we respond. Are we victims or survivors? Is this a tragedy or a challenge? Are we alone or do we have help available? Are we at a loss as to what to do or do we have multiple options?

When we think of the global environmental crisis, the solutions really come down to personal resilience- ourt ability to frame those everyday challenges in a resilient way.”

Richard Pauli: Spirit within the survivor.

Nicole Klenk: A process, not a theory.

An intention, not a structure.

Mindfulness, not abstraction.

Another word for learning to live


in the presence

of difficulties.

Poppy Davis: Resilience.  Able to withstand the forces of nature amplified, diminished.  Able to grow food, build shelter, find water and be healthy.  Able to hope and love and smile.

Karen Fort: Speaking up against pollution and greed can be depleting. The deniers of climate change can trigger my rage and leave me drained. Mounting theater productions like Naomi Wallace’s ‘Slaughter City’, I recover from burn out slowly by replenishing balance in my life in specific, concrete baby steps. I connect with other people who understand. I pace myself, but I don’t give up looking for the next great theater piece about the environment. I’m still looking.

Thaisa Way: For humans, the capacity and the will to transform crisis into opportunity for moving forward positively, for non-humans, the ability to change and continue to grow/ survive.

Kerstin Rudolph: Defiance without destruction.

Anuj Vaidya: Application of Sattva (Goodness) in all processes, relationships, and goals as a balanced mixture of practical resourcefulness and persistent ingenuity founded on common spiritual and ethical principles for the welfare of all existing things, living and non-living.

Joshua Barnett: Resilience is an orientation toward maximizing flourishing while minimizing precariousness. Always contextual and always in response to an existing exigency, resilience is predicated on rhetorical practice, that is, on an engagement with the material and symbolic resources one is able to conjure in a given moment. Rather than espousing a utopian worldview, an orientation toward resilience invests in a wording marked by “better,” not “best,” a wording that is attuned to the particularities of the ways in which lives are lived at the level of the everyday.

Lucy Metcalf: Will





Val Flynn: Linking humanitarian action and Development.

Laura Bilhimer: To bend without breaking. Both to change and to maintain.

Nigussie Tefera: Resilience is the capacity of individuals, households or communities to withstand shocks or upheavals through different coping strategies without compromising for the future. For resilient individuals, households or communities an upheavals could be a learning experience and would be better-off than even before shocks. Resilient individuals, households or communities would have an aspiration and think for long-term investment including sending their children to school, adopting drought resilient crops and managing scarce resources. Moreover, there is some ambiguity between resilience and vulnerability, as one of them seems to be the ‘other-side-of –the coin’. However, it seems to me quite different. Vulnerability is the probability of being in a risk or poverty. However, resilience is not only the capacity of withstanding shocks but also being better-off than before shocks.

Chris Doel: Expecting the worst and being prepared for it, as opposed to trying to change things for the better, for yourself or for others.

Alison Bodkin: Tenacity.  Inner strength.  Perseverance.

Amy Brunvand:


My scar still itches.

Skin grows back, but remind me,

Don’t do that again.

Spencer LeMenager: the ability to cope and hope to recover.

Lampito Alexandre: Homeostasis by any means necessary.

Greta Gaard: Resilience involves not turning away—from animal suffering across the species, from toxic waste, from human shortcomings, from repeated attempts and partial successes for enacting justice. In Buddhism, the capacity for empathy or lovingkindness (metta) requires the resilience of staying present with all our relations, aware of our energetic exchanges, our reciprocities, and our diverse yet fundamentally-shared needs for health and justice. From simple acts like retrieving recyclables from trash containers, and taking the trapped insect or bird back outdoors, to larger acts of resistance and conscience that prompt civic engagement, witnessing, and even civil disobedience, resilience enacts solidarity, promotes survival, and aspires to flourishing interdependencies. It is a creative practice of commitment to what Audre Lorde has called “the erotic,” a life force that is simultaneously ecological, psychological, social and spiritual.

Erika Berroth: Resilience– associations and sounds:
re – again, against, interaction, connection, one fabric twisting and turning, a recovery, a response, being part of a continuity…
sil – evocative of a range of responses and integrations – silly– silky–silent, the interplay of imaginative, active and contemplative modes, forceful and slow…
ience – a science, something we know, encompassing different ways of knowing and different forms of knowledge…
resilience – an integrated way of being, feeling, thinking, meaning making, flexibility of mind or body to adjust, adapt, respond, and persevere—always as part of, in community with, and responding to an Umwelt.

Kumi Kato: Authentic robustness of a system that maintains its innate strength of self-healing and growth nurtured by the nature’s wisdom not entirely known to humans. For us, humans, it is a sense of ethics, responsibility and gratitude of being in this work, which demands ongoing reflection and redirection of the way we exist.

John Claborn: I believe in planetary resilience, that the planet will persist through another mass extinction and thrive with life again in a hundred million years; I believe in personal resilience, that people can survive floods and heat waves; but is there a collective resilience that can respond to and persist through a slow-moving catastrophe?

Nurmalahayati Nurdin: to deal with uncertainty and look for better opportunities.

Denis Hickel: Long term stable ecological health

Fathimah dzakiyyah: faithful

Tim Hill: bouncbackability

Gareth Johnston: Resilience to me means a stronger fairer planet where societies and environment co-exist, where we anticipate and mitigate risks, think and act in the unknown and share in a better future.

Laura Rival: resist capital’s self-naturalization for ever

Peter king’ori: Resilience is the ability to bounce back after a shock.  For example, if a flood hits a village and destroys all the property, some families who had a member in employment or cash in bank may bounce back to their former status faster than a family that relied on livestock and physical capital that is carried away in floods.