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14 Geo. J. on Poverty L. & Pol'y 39 (2007)
Dialectics of Vulnerability and Resilience

handle is hein.journals/geojpovlp14 and id is 41 raw text is: Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law & Policy
Volume XIV, Number 1, Winter 2007
Dialectics of Vulnerability and Resilience
B. E. Aguirre*
This article advances the thesis that the relationship between vulnerability and
resilience of social organizations in disasters is a dialectic duality; as in the case
of the relationship between trust and control examined by Mollering, each
assume the existence of the other, refer to each other and create each other, but
remain irreducible to each other.' Its thesis is that vulnerability and resilience
are part of a dialectic process taking place over time without end in social
organizations operating as complex open systems. Models reminiscent of this
duality-dialectical approach to resilience and vulnerability are being advanced in
ecology and other physical sciences.2 In general terms, it is useful to think of: a)
vulnerability as a thesis, or the outcome or sum total of the effects of risks faced
by social organizations at a given point in time; b) reconstruction, recovery and
mitigation as an antithesis, or the sum total of efforts by social organizations to
respond to risks that create significant change in these social organizations; and c)
a transformed social organization or synthesis resulting from changes that affect
the resilience of social organizations. This new social organization may have
higher adaptive capacity, i.e., greater capability to plan, prepare for, facilitate, and
implement adaptation options. Intrinsic to this process of change is the
acknowledgement that in the transformed social organization are often unknown
risks which are in part the result of ineffective mitigation efforts and which will
diminish future adaptive capacity.
The proposed dialectical approach to resilience and vulnerability is different
from most approaches in vogue today in the social sciences, which assert that the
two are the opposite sides of the same process (i.e., that resilience is the antidote
* Dr. Benigno E. Aguirre is a Professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the
University of Delaware and Core Faculty Associate of the Disaster Research Center.
1. Guido Mollering, The Trust-Control Duality: An Integrative Perspective on Positive Expectations
of Others, 20 INT'L SOCIOLOGY 283, 283 (2005).
2. See, e.g., Carl Folke, Resilience: The Emergence of a Perspective for Social-Ecological Systems
Analyses, 16 GLOBAL ENVTL. CHANGE 253-63 (2006) (describing the model of the adaptive renewal
3. For a similar process in environmental systems, Richard Klein et al., Resilience to Natural Hazards:
How Useful is This Concept?, 5 GLOBAL ENVTL. CHANGE PART B: ENVTL. HAZARDS 35-45 (2003) (journal
now known as ENVTL. HAzARDs); Marco A. Janssen & Elinor Ostrom, Resilience, Vulnerability and
Adaptation: A Cross-Cutting Theme of the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global
Environmental Change, 16 GLOBAL ENVTL. CHANGE 237, 237-39 (2006).

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