Rethinking resilience and development: A coevolutionary perspective

The interdependence of social and ecological processes is broadly acknowledged in the pursuit to enhance human wellbeing and prosperity for all. Yet, development interventions continue to prioritise economic development and short-term goals with little consideration of social-ecological interdependencies, ultimately undermining resilience and therefore efforts to deliver development outcomes. We propose and advance a coevolutionary perspective for rethinking development and its relationship to resilience. The perspective rests on three propositions: (1) social-ecological relationships coevolve through processes of variation, selection and retention, which are manifest in practices; (2) resilience is the capacity to filter practices (i.e. to influence what is selected and retained); and (3) development is a coevolutionary process shaping pathways of persistence, adaptation or transformation. Development interventions affect and are affected by social–ecological relationships and their coevolutionary dynamics, with consequences for resilience, often with perverse outcomes. A coevolutionary approach enables development interventions to better consider social–ecological interdependencies and dynamics. Adopting a coevolutionary perspective, which we illustrate with a case on agricultural biodiversity, encourages a radical rethinking of how resilience and development are conceptualised and practiced across global to local scales. 

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Keywords: Coevolution Development, Filtering, Resilience capacities, social-ecological

Citation: Haider, L.J., M. Schlüter, C. Folke and B. Reyers. 2021 Ambio 50(7):1304-1312.

Rethinking resilience and development: A coevolutionary perspective

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