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Is conceptual vagueness an asset? Arguments from philosophy of science applied to the concept of resilience


  • Strunz, Sebastian


Is conceptual vagueness an asset or a liability? By weighing arguments from philosophy of science and applying them to the concept of resilience, I address this question. I first sketch the wide spectrum of resilience concepts that ranges from concise concepts to the vague perspective of “resilience thinking”. Subsequently, I set out the methodological arguments in favor and against conceptual vagueness. While traditional philosophy of science emphasizes precision and conceptual clarity as precondition for empirical science, alternative views highlight vagueness as fuel for creative and pragmatic problem-solving. Reviewing this discussion, I argue that a trade-off between vagueness and precision exists, which is to be solved differently depending on the research context. In some contexts research benefits from conceptual vagueness while in others it depends on precision. Assessing the specific example of “resilience thinking” in detail, I propose a restructuring of the conceptual framework which explicitly distinguishes descriptive, evaluative and transformative aspects.

Suggested Citation

  • Strunz, Sebastian, 2012. "Is conceptual vagueness an asset? Arguments from philosophy of science applied to the concept of resilience," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 76(C), pages 112-118.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:76:y:2012:i:c:p:112-118
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2012.02.012

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Brian Walker & Leonie Pearson & Michael Harris & Karl-Göran Maler & Chuan-Zhong Li & Reinette Biggs & Tim Baynes, 2010. "Incorporating Resilience in the Assessment of Inclusive Wealth: An Example from South East Australia," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 45(2), pages 183-202, February.
    2. Common, Mick & Perrings, Charles, 1992. "Towards an ecological economics of sustainability," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(1), pages 7-34, July.
    3. Frame, Bob & Brown, Judy, 2008. "Developing post-normal technologies for sustainability," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 65(2), pages 225-241, April.
    4. Derissen, Sandra & Quaas, Martin F. & Baumgärtner, Stefan, 2011. "The relationship between resilience and sustainability of ecological-economic systems," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(6), pages 1121-1128, April.
    5. Hirsch Hadorn, Gertrude & Bradley, David & Pohl, Christian & Rist, Stephan & Wiesmann, Urs, 2006. "Implications of transdisciplinarity for sustainability research," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(1), pages 119-128, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. Wunder, Sven, 2015. "Revisiting the concept of payments for environmental services," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 234-243.
    2. repec:eee:ecomod:v:263:y:2013:i:c:p:174-186 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Ali Kharrazi & Brian D. Fath & Harald Katzmair, 2016. "Advancing Empirical Approaches to the Concept of Resilience: A Critical Examination of Panarchy, Ecological Information, and Statistical Evidence," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 8(9), pages 1-17, September.
    4. Arora-Jonsson, Seema, 2016. "Does resilience have a culture? Ecocultures and the politics of knowledge production," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 121(C), pages 98-107.
    5. Korhonen, Jouni & Snäkin, Juha-Pekka, 2015. "Quantifying the relationship of resilience and eco-efficiency in complex adaptive energy systems," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 120(C), pages 83-92.
    6. repec:eee:ecolec:v:143:y:2018:i:c:p:153-160 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Hertz, Tilman & Schlüter, Maja, 2015. "The SES-Framework as boundary object to address theory orientation in social–ecological system research: The SES-TheOr approach," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 116(C), pages 12-24.
    8. Bernard Pelletier & Gordon M. Hickey & Kimberly L. Bothi & Andrew Mude, 2016. "Linking rural livelihood resilience and food security: an international challenge," Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food, Springer;The International Society for Plant Pathology, vol. 8(3), pages 469-476, June.

    More about this item


    Vagueness; Philosophy of science; Precision; Resilience thinking;

    JEL classification:

    • B40 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology - - - General
    • Q57 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Ecological Economics


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