Resilience, Adaptability and Transformability in Social-Ecological Systems


The authors argue that “the stability dynamics of all linked systems of humans and nature emerge from three complimentary attributes: resilience, adaptability, and transformability” (p. 1), then distinguish and clarify these core concepts. “Resilience is the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks” (p. 2). “Adaptability is the capacity of actors within a system to influence resilience” (p. 3). And transformability refers to the “capacity to create a fundamentally new system when ecological, economic, or social (including political) conditions make the existing system untenable” (p. 3). The authors then apply these concepts to stability landscape diagrams, where resilience concerns the depth and breadth of a basin of attraction, adaptability concerns the ability of agents to reshape that basin, and transformability is a system’s ability to transform into an entirely different system on a new stability landscape with different state variables.


Brian Walker, C. S. Holling, Stephen R. Carpenter, and Ann Kinzig

Publication Date



Ecology and Society (vol. 9, iss. 2, art. 5)



Resource Type

Academic Journal Article

Resource Theme

Sustainability and Transition • Theory Building
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