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SEI brief

What is equitable resilience?

This discussion brief examines equity, and outlines four key elements for equitable resilience-building in development and disaster risk management: recognizing subjectivities, working toward inclusion and representation, working across scales and promoting transformative change.

Aftermath of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. Photo: Sonny Inbaraj.

Jon Ensor, John Forrester, Marion Davis / Published on 9 April 2019
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The concept of resilience has gained prominence in recent years as a key goal of efforts to adapt to climate change and to reduce disaster risks. This view holds that while some stresses and shocks may be unavoidable, resilient societies will be better prepared to cope, recover and adapt – or even to make fundamental changes for transformation. Yet for all the interest
in resilience, it has been criticized for failing to account for power relations and how the complexity of social dynamics determines outcomes of environmental change and governance.

This discussion brief examines equity. Equity places focus on the needs of those who are disadvantaged by relations of power and inequalities of opportunity, and on how these barriers to human flourishing can be identified, understood and addressed. From this perspective, the apparent failure of resilience to attend to the distributive and power dimensions of environmental and development challenges limits the concept for analysis and practice.

Based on a systematic analysis of the peer-reviewed literature on social-ecological resilience, including a wide range of critiques, this brief considers what the concept of resilience means in practice for development, adaptation and disaster risk reduction. The goal is to achieve equitable resilience. Four key elements of equitable resilience-building are identified:

  • Recognizing subjectivities: How social contexts, power relations and categorization of people determine social and economic entitlements
  • Working toward inclusion and representation and avoiding processes that disenfranchise some groups
  • Attending to multiple levels of governance as well as geographical and temporal aspects of scale
  • Promoting system(s) transformation when existing arrangements degrade well-being or increase risks for certain sections of society

This discussion brief is based on the journal article: Matin, N., Forrester, J., & Ensor, J. (2018). What is equitable resilience? World Development. worlddev.2018.04.020


Read the brief / PDF / 1 MB

SEI authors

Profile picture of Jon Ensor
Jon Ensor


SEI York

John Forrester
John Forrester

SEI Affiliated Researcher

SEI York

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