“Sustainable Development, Vulnerability and Resilience” Working Group


New Initiative on Climate Change, Sustainable Development and the Environment, first virtual session on 27 February, 4pm UTC

Read more: New Initiative on Climate Change, Sustainable Development and the Environment, first virtual session on 27 February, 4pm UTC
27 Feb 2019

In preparation of the EADI General Conference “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice” in June 2020, our Working Group on the Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development is reaching out for topics, good ideas and new participants.

Re-thinking Development Research

Read more: Re-thinking Development Research
29 Aug 2018

Despite a broad consensus that global problems require global solutions, academia and research remain dominated by Western scholars and epistemologies. Western knowledge and its forms of production are considered as universally applicable and relevant while Southern knowledge(s) continue to be marginalized and/or silenced.

About this Working Group

The “Sustainable Development, Vulnerability and Resilience” Working Group combines the contribution of different disciplines to the study of Sustainable Development, with a strong emphasis on those two critical dimensions of sustainability, vulnerability and resilience, which are often not given the proper level of importance when conceptual analysis, as well as implementation strategies, are discussed.

The aim of the WG is to share the experience that has been acquired through research, teaching and expertise by members of EADI research centres, in order to contribute to the scientific analysis and to the teaching on the topic. We believe that six years of common activities represent a reasonable period of time, which will also allow the WG to participate to the 2014 and 2017 EADI Conferences.

The Working Group will specifically contribute to the EADI Conferences by presenting the significance, as well as the capacity, of the multidisciplinary approach to sustainable development, aiming at gaining a better understanding of the inter-linkages with vulnerability and resilience, thus improving the theoretical basis for policies to be undertaking in the area of sustainability.

Scientific background

Literature on the topic we are dealing with is quite large, at present. We analyse this literature starting from the more general issues linked to the area of Sustainable Development, which includes many different disciplinary approaches. Our analysis will concentrate mainly in the contribution that social sciences gives, i.e. green economy, local planning, sustainable cities, energy sources, rural sustainable development etc. We also explore different methods of analysis, research and policy, taking into account the suggestion coming from Sustainability Science that suggest a “problem solving” approach. To this aim, we will share experiences coming from specific achievements that researchers and practitioners have realised for the analysis of actual case studies.

In recent years “resilience” definitions have moved from “bouncing back”(to an earlier state) to “bouncing forward” (Manyena 2011; Dodman and Ayer 2009) or striving for transformation (Pelling 2010). The aim then becomes not to sustain or bounce back to current patterns of development, but to use situations of uncertainty, stress or crisis to realize improvement. Emphasis therewith shifts to learning, innovation and the role knowledge can play in this. Both “pro poor adaptation strategies” as “green growth” strategies can exemplify these trends.

The main common trait that one observes in literature is the predominance of single discipline approaches: sociological, economic, environmental, etc. A multidisciplinary – even a trans-disciplinary – approach has been frequently considered as unavoidable, but on the other hand is particularly difficult to find pieces of research that pursue such a multidisciplinary approach, with very limited exceptions. In particular, the working group will act to effectively combine biophysical notions of vulnerability with its political economic conceptions.

While we believe that the analysis related to Sustainable Development must be carried out with a solid disciplinary specialisation, we also believe that, due to the complexity of the problems, only the combination of these specialised analyses could provide the overall research with more comprehensive results. In order to address this specific problem, the WG will give large space to issues such as language, logic, and technical aspects. In other words, the identification of a sound and solid multidisciplinary research method will be at the core of our activity.

Other questions will be discussed such as the analysis of the resilience implications on adjustments to climate change and hazards, its links with green growth strategies, and the problem of integrating vulnerability and resilience within a single coherent framework.
Our background starts from some basic definitions and continues to the more recent publications and our personal experiences.

Literature on Sustainable Development is quite huge and shows that a commonly accepted definition is still missing. Moreover, as far as SD deals with human action and public intervention, many kinds of procedures have been endeavoured. Recently, embracing the pragmatic problem solving approach, Arnim Wiek (2010), in accordance to Gibson (2006) has presented an interesting way to analyse the actual sustainability problems and to plan and support development sustainable actions.

An effective and useful definition of Vulnerability has been drawn by Terry Cannon in 1994, and then further elaborated by Hilhorst & Bankoff  (2004) in the Introduction to the famous book Mapping Vulnerability. Disaster, Development and People. We consider these definitions as a fruitful starting point for a multidisciplinary debate.

With reference to Resilience – and the related issue of  “Adaptive capacity” – we refer to the synthesis of the definitions given by Gill Windle (2011) in his recent paper entitled ‘What is resilience? A review and concept analysis’, and the analysis proposed by Bahadur et al. (2011), as well as the work conducted by Lino Briguglio (2004, 2006).


We are planning to organise at least two meetings every year in different locality, where a member of the WG can arrange a proper location. The contributions to the debate will be distributed to the EADI members by means of a “Newsletter” containing links to the papers that have been discussed.We will start our work focusing on the issues and fields on which each Convenor is already working. This allows some initial economies in pointing out individuals and institutions more interested and available in participating to the WG itself. Among these issues, we could focus first on the role of Natural Resource Availability and of Energy Requirements for Vulnerable Communities, which are broad issues in which all conveners are involved. Initially these issues will be analysed within the context of Small Island States. Then, a general framework will be built in order to deal with the policies that are aimed at improving the Resilience and the Adaptive Capacity at local level – with reference to communities – and to regional level – with reference to territories. Since strategies for improving resilience and to create adaptive capacity of vulnerable communities are at the core of local, national and global policies, the WG intends to promote the participation of the research centres to calls for proposals of the European Commission and of other International Organizations that promote and support scientific research.


Claudio Cecchi
SPES – Development Studies Research Centre at the University of Rome “La Sapienza” – EUROSAPIENZA - European Research Centre of International Studies and Development, Rome, I

David Dodman

International Institute for Environment and Development – IIED, London, UK

Stefano Moncada
Institute for European Studies at the University of Malta, La Valletta

Ugo Guarnacci
School of Politics, Economics & International Relations University of Reading United Kingdom

Latest Publications on Sustainable Development