Resilience2017

By Jack Simkin

Resilience2017 is an annual conference, held this year in Stockholm, Sweden August 20-23rd for researchers to meet and discuss the ‘Resilience frontiers for Global Sustainability’. As stated by Carl Folke in the opening plenary, resilience thinking is about ‘having the capacity to live with change, and deal with complexity and true uncertainty’.

I was lucky enough to have my abstract accepted to be presented as a 4 minute speedtalk; a new format for the conference. Presenters speak one after the other, keeping to the 4 minute timeline, and then guests were invited to go and speak to their presenter of choice afterwards.

Condensing a 6,000 research paper into a 4 minute presentation is a difficult task, that requires focusing on key themes and messages, and thinking about what information is really important to share, and what might be interesting for the wider audience.

My project investigates the barriers and enablers of social-ecological resilience in two communities on Qamea Island, Fiji – Dreketi and Togo. These two villages have around 300 villagers each, and in the 18 months have suffered severe property loss from Cyclone Winston in February and a landslide in December.

In Dreketi, the landslide destroyed their community centre, school and medical centre – their three recognised cyclone evacuation centres.

In addition to discussing the impact of formal and informal communication channels on community resilience on Qamea Island, my research looks at other contributing factors to building or inhibiting resilience, such as decision-making hierarchies, community cohesion, and environmental conditions.

This presentation outlines a small aspect of my larger Masters thesis, due for submission in October this year.

My research abstract had changed significantly since its submission at the start of the year. Originally designed to focus on the political ecology of the case study area, it ended up investigating more towards social-ecological system dynamics and relationships.

I have written a brief reflective piece on the field work component of my research, with this presentation being much more formal and academically focused.

I presented in the last session of the first day, which – while not helped by the jetlag caused from arriving 7am the day before – meant that I was able to enjoy the remainder of the conference stress free.

The above gallery shows Tone Bjordam's sculpture Nature/Society/Economy - depicting the interconnectedness between the different facets of the global system, and how the economy depends on the structures provided by society, yet they both depend on the environment for survival. 

Source: Tone Bjordams website. Middle image authors own

Conference highlights and wrap up

The standout highlight for me was the second day plenary presentation by 'the musician with a science hobby' Marten Scheffer, artist Tone Bjordam, and biologist Bridgette Baptiste.

The presentation discussed at depth the relationships between art and science, and how much potential the two often contrary disciplines have to further each other.

Bridgette Baptiste is the Director of the Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute in Colombia, investigating Colombian environmental challenges and the economics of biodiversity conservation.

In her lecture, she introduced me to the concept of ‘queering ecology’, where a queer theoretical perspective is applied to ecological challenges. 

One line from her presentation that sticks in my mind is:

From the idea of queering ecology... we can think a bit about the idea of living in ambiguity. We don’t need to define the objects of our management that clearly... We can live with certain amounts of ambiguity
— Bridgette Baptiste

The core of the queer ecology lens is that duality and ambiguity exist in nature. Trying to create names and labels are contributing to the reduction of concepts into smaller, often conflicting categories, are distracting from appreciating the wider spectrum of 'reality'. 

For those interested, I highly recommend watching the entirety of the plenary presentation, but for if you’re looking for queering ecology, skip forward to 40:30. 

This lecture brought together many concepts I had been struggling with recently, especially when trying to find explanation and measurement of uncertainty in applying research outcomes to policy or real world solutions.

Perspectives on the experience

This was the first conference I had attended - both as a presenter and as an observer, and I have to say - it gets a bit hectic!

Nearly 1000 people attended Resilience2017, and every lunch time and coffee break was filled with old friends meeting up, new academic partnerships being forged, and random conversations about the full spectrum of resilience ideas. 

It started out being quite overwhelming. It was difficult knowing who was in an impromptu meeting and didn't want to be disturbed, and those conversations that had spare room for a Masters student from Melbourne. 

Being able to put some faces and voices to the many names I've been reading on journal publications over the past 18 months was a great experience, and very humbling to be a part of.

Hopefully it's the first of many.

Source: Banner image authors own