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The Concept of Resilience from a Normative Perspective: Examples from Dutch Adaptation Strategies

Andrea M. Keessen, Utrecht Centre for Water, Oceans and Sustainability Law
Jurrien M. Hamer, PhD-candidate Moral Philosophy, Utrecht University
Helena F. M. W. Van Rijswick, Utrecht Centre for Water, Oceans and Sustainability Law
Mark Wiering, Nijmegen School of Management, Radboud University Nijmegen


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Both in academic literature and political practice, resilience is becoming a central evaluative concept for assessing climate adaptation policies. This makes sense because society’s main challenge in an altering the environment is to adapt to the inevitable changes. However, applying the concept of resilience to devise adaptation strategies reveals that social-ecological resilience acquires different meanings depending on the social context. There is no straightforward application of resilience. In this contribution, it will be argued that giving meaning to the concept of resilience in adaptation strategies requires making normative choices. These choices concern whether there is a public interest in adaptation, the distribution of private and public responsibilities, and striking a balance between individual rights and general interests. Because these normative choices can be questioned and revised, it is important that they are made explicit to enable a democratic debate on the direction that adaptation strategies should take. Simply referring to the concept of resilience in an adaptation strategy does not suffice, but occludes this discussion. Through formulating and applying a condensed scheme of politico-theoretical approaches that underpin diverging adaptation approaches, this contribution reveals the various underlying normative assumptions and explicates the relevant political choices. Three Dutch adaptation strategies serve as empirical examples. They illustrate the importance of the societal context in giving meaning to resilience in the development of adaptation strategies.

Key words

adaptation strategies; the Netherlands; normative choices; political theory; public interest

Copyright © 2013 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087