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Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 2010, 3, 59–70


Resilience, adaptation and adaptability

Andy Pikea, Stuart Dawleya and John Tomaneya,b

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Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS), Newcastle University,
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE1 7RU, UK. andy.pike@ncl.ac.uk, s.j.dawley@newcastle.ac.uk,
Institute for Regional Studies, Monash University, Gippsland Campus, Northways Road,
Churchill Victoria 3842, Australia. john.tomaney@newcastle.ac.uk

Received on May 22, 2009; accepted on January 7, 2010

The resilience of places in response to uncertain, volatile and rapid change has emerged as
a focus of academic and policy attention. This paper aims to contribute to understanding
and explaining the resilience of places. Drawing upon evolutionary Economic Geography,
the concepts of adaptation and adaptability are developed in a framework based upon
agents, mechanisms and sites. In contrast to equilibrium-based approaches, this approach
can better capture the geographical diversity, variety and unevenness of resilience and
address questions of what kind of resilience and for whom.

Keywords: resilience, evolutionary Economic Geography, adaptation, adaptability

JEL Classifications: O10, R00

Introduction emergent rubric in this changing context, resilience

is attracting burgeoning academic and policy atten-
Resilience has emerged as a notion seeking to cap-
ture the differential and uneven ability of places to tion in both the USA (Foster, 2007a; Pendall et al.,
react, respond and cope with uncertain, volatile and 2007) and Europe (CLES, 2008; Colbourne, 2008;
rapid change. Discussions of regional development Edwards, 2009; Folke et al., 2002).
have recently broadened from a focus on growth to Our central aim is to contribute to understanding
increasingly encompass the relative resilience of and explaining the resilience of places. The paper
regions in responding to an evermore diverse array is organized in the following parts. First, we dis-
of external shocks and transitions, including finan- cuss how existing multidisciplinary research on
cial crises, dangerous climate change, terror cam- resilience is characterized by multiple conceptuali-
paigns and extreme weather events. The potential zations and limited theorization as well as fragmen-
vulnerabilities of localities and regions to such en- tation across different starting points and foci.
dogenous and exogenous risks are understood as Second, we outline the emergent research on the
being heightened as part of the increased permeabil- spatial and territorial aspects of resilience that takes
ity and interdependence between places. As an equilibrium-based approaches. These perspectives

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Pike et al.

are focused upon adjustment to single or multiple points and foci ranging from the individual to the
equilibria and provide inadequate explanations of spatial. Psychology and psychiatry focus upon the
the geographical differentiation of resilience. Third, individual and their resilience during life course
drawing upon evolutionary work in Economic Ge- transitions and events (Kaplan, 1999). In ecological
ography, we define and develop the concepts of ad- systems, resilience is related to system functioning
aptation and adaptability. A preliminary analytical rather than the stability or otherwise of its compo-
framework based upon agents, mechanisms and sites nent populations and maintenance or loss of steady
is then outlined to demonstrate how adaptation and states (Adger, 2000). For Adger (2000, 347), social
adaptability can deepen our understandings of the resilience is ‘‘. the ability of communities to with-

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causal explanations of the resilience of places. We stand external shocks to their social infrastructure’’.
show how this approach is better able than equilib- Work connecting ecological and social resilience
rium-based work to capture the geographically di- has noted its multiple definitions and temporal
verse, varied and uneven resilience of places. Last, dimensions, drawing upon ecosystem notions to in-
we address a neglected aspect of the existing literature terpret resilience as ‘‘. the buffer capacity or the
on resilience. This section uses the tensions between ability of a system to absorb perturbations, or the
adaptation and adaptability to examine the normative, magnitude of disturbance that can be absorbed be-
political and policy questions involved in framing and fore a system changes its structure by changing the
contesting the question of what kind of resilience and variables and processes that control behaviour’’
for whom. We draw upon ongoing comparative re- (Adger, 2000, 347). Such approaches recognize that
search on ‘old industrial regions’ to illustrate our although resilience is ‘‘. widely used in ecology
arguments. As places in the vanguard of early 19th . its meaning and measurement are contested’’
century industrialization and latterly in parts of newly (Adger, 2000, 347). Engineering resilience focuses
industrializing countries facing maturity, their predic- upon the vulnerability of people and places to haz-
ament is particularly relevant to considerations of ardous environments and natural disasters, forecast-
resilience, adaptation and adaptability. Such places ing the likelihood of catastrophic events and
have faced prolonged challenges involving long-term systemic breakdowns and their social and economic
and uneven processes of de-industrialization and tran- implications (Vale and Campanella, 2005). Con-
sition towards service-dominated economies, often ceptions from across the disciplines give resilience
punctuated by shocks that have accelerated and/or particular and different meanings. Systems theory is
inflected trajectories of change (see, for example commonly utilized to understand the relationships
Birch and Mykhnenko, 2009; Birch et al., 2008; and interactions between component elements that
Bluestone and Harrison, 1982; Cooke, 1995; underlie the presence or absence of resilience in
Grabher, 1993; Hassink and Shin, 2005; Hudson, relation to exogenous as well as endogenous per-
2005; Rodrı́guez-Pose et al., 2001). This body of turbations. Emphasis is typically placed upon the
work demonstrates the failures of equilibrium-based return or displacement to single or multiple equilib-
accounts to provide convincing explanations and ria and upon internal and external factors that either
remedies for their persistent economic and social strengthen or threaten systems, either contributing
concerns. The final section presents our conclusions to or weakening their resilience.
and reflects on the policy implications of our Recently, attention has turned specifically to con-
analysis. sider spatial and territorial aspects of resilience in
local and regional development and planning in the
USA, originating in the response of regions and
Resilience and equilibrium-based metropolitan areas to shocks such as 9/11, Hurri-
economic approaches cane Katrina and plant and military base closures
Existing literatures on resilience span several disci- (see, for example Foster, 2007a; Hill et al., 2008).
plines and are fragmented across different starting Our aim here is not to provide a systematic review

Resilience, adaptation and adaptability

and critique of existing approaches because this (2007, 2), for example, note the interest in path
work is being undertaken elsewhere (Foster, dependency to understand ‘‘multiple equilibria
2007a; Pendall et al., 2007; Swanstrom, 2008). In- and the persistence of sub-optimal ones’’. Hill
stead, our focus is on the explanatory weaknesses of et al. (2008, 4) interpret path dependence as predi-
equilibrium-based approaches and their emphasis cated on multiple equilibria ‘‘not all of which are
upon adjustment to single or multiple equilibria. efficient (in a static and/or dynamic sense)’’ and
These approaches are ill-equipped to explain the may lock a regional economy into ‘‘a level or
geographical diversity, variety and unevenness of growth path of economic performance that is sub-
the resilience of places. To date, this type of work optimal’’. For Hill et al. (2008, 4), this ‘‘. sug-

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has been focused at the national level. Here, resil- gests a concept of regional economic resilience in
ience is interpreted as the ability of nation states to which resilience is the ability of a regional economy
avoid disturbance of their equilibrium position to avoid becoming locked-into such a low-level
through avoiding, withstanding or dampening the equilibrium or, if in one, to transition quickly to
effects of shocks by diversification and/or macro- a ‘better’ equilibrium’’. Such approaches are bound
economic stability (Briguglio et al., 2007; Duval by their assumptions of adjustment to multiple
et al., 2007). equilibria and their readings of evolutionary eco-
Latterly, this economic equilibrium-based frame- nomics derived from the behaviour of individuals
work has been utilized in considering the ‘resilience and organizations are scaled-up to apply to spatial
metaphor’ for regions and metropolitan areas entities such as metropolitan areas and regions.
(Pendall et al., 2007, 2). Single equilibrium-based Our aim of better understanding and explaining
accounts interpret ‘‘. the most natural meaning of the resilience of places confronts several issues.
regional economic resilience’’ as ‘‘. the ability of First, there is a multitude of meanings of resilience
a regional economy to maintain a pre-existing state and lack of conceptual and theoretical clarity across
(typically assumed to be an equilibrium state) in the a range of disciplines. Basic definitional questions
presence of some type of exogenous shock’’ and the therefore remain unresolved and the theorization of
‘‘. extent to which a regional or national economy causal agents, relationships and mechanisms is un-
that has experienced an external shock is able to derdeveloped. Second, current work on resilience is
return to its previous level and/or growth rate of out- dominated by economic approaches based largely
put, employment or population’’ (Hill et al., 2008, upon neo-classical theory and adjustment towards
3). Resilience here is understood as whether or not single or multiple equilibria. This work provides
and to what degree and in what time frame a spatial thin abstractions and a somewhat reductionist and
unit can return to its pre-shock position and level of limiting frame with which to interpret the geograph-
output or employment. Such accounts are under- ical differentiation and unevenness of the resilience
mined by their limiting assumption of adjustment of places facing volatile and uncertain changes.
through the free and flexible operation of factor mar- Third, the spatial scope of emergent resilience re-
kets and return to a single-equilibrium state. The search is limited to the region and the metropolitan
framework jumps scales of analysis from the na- area with little or no engagement with other geog-
tional to the regional and metropolitan without dis- raphies or contemporary territorial and relational
cussion of whether or not resilience can or should readings of space and place. Last, the political econ-
mean the same things at different geographical levels. omies of power in contemporary engagement with
Other accounts of resilience have drawn from resilience have been neglected. This gap raises
institutionalist readings of evolutionary ideas such the prospect that resilience becomes a useful but
as path dependence that emphasize closed systems, underspecified metaphor among policymakers in
stable system structures over time and accidents of the context of uncertain and disruptive change.
history and chance events in stimulating develop- Without scrutiny and reflection, echoing Lovering’s
ment trajectories (David, 2001). Pendall et al. (1999) concerns, this situation again risks policy

Pike et al.

leading conceptual and theoretical development marketization’’ towards optimal, equilibrium out-
and analysis in unhelpful ways. comes. Instead, they claim that ‘‘. although such
institutional homogenization might foster adapta-
tion in the short run, the consequent loss of institu-
Insights from evolutionary Economic tional diversity will impede adaptability in the long
Geography run’’. This is because homogenization would limit
Recent work on evolution in Economic Geography ‘‘. the search for effective institutions and orga-
provides ways of tackling the conceptual, theoreti- nizational forms to the familiar Western quadrant of
cal, analytical and political concerns raised by cur- tried and proven arrangements’’ likely to cause neg-

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rent geographical treatments of resilience. From ative lock-ins in post-socialist countries and to re-
heterodox roots in evolutionary and institutional strict them to ‘‘. exploiting known territory at the
economics and political economy, the evolutionary cost of forgetting (or never learning) the skills of
approach to economic change eschews neo-classical exploring for new solutions’’ (original authors’ em-
notions of adjustment and convergence mechanisms phasis). Here, adaptation is defined as a movement
towards a balanced equilibrium or movement be- towards a pre-conceived path in the short run, char-
tween multiple equilibria (Boschma and Martin, acterized by strong and tight couplings between
2007, Grabher, 2009). Evolutionary analysis social agents in place. Whereas adaptability is de-
emphasizes the path-dependent unfolding of trajec- fined as the dynamic capacity to effect and unfold
tories of change, shaped by historically inherited multiple evolutionary trajectories, through loose
formal and informal institutions, whereby eco- and weak couplings between social agents in place,
nomic geographies are marked by diversity and va- that enhance the overall responsiveness of the
riety (Boschma and Martin, 2007, Martin and system to unforeseen changes.
Sunley, 2006). As Grabher and Stark (1997, Our intention, then, is to deploy these specific
535) put it, ‘‘Evolution . does not proceed along definitions of adaptation and adaptability as central
a single grand avenue toward perfection but causal concepts in explaining the geographically
along multiple paths which do not all lead to uneven resilience of places. Under these definitions,
optimal change’’. In its political–economic vari- adaptation and adaptability can be seen as in tension
ant (Goodwin, 2004; Jones, 2008), evolutionary with each other as explanations of different kinds of
Economic Geography emphasizes the integral role resilience. In contrast to the equilibrium-based view
of socio-spatial relations between the social that interprets resilience as a generic feature and
agents of capital, labour, the state and civil society quality of a closed system, adaptation and adapt-
and power and politics in shaping and, in turn, ability are dialectically related in an inherent ten-
being shaped by pathways of change (MacKinnon sion within a more open system that has to be
et al., 2009; Sunley, 2008). In reading the eco- accommodated or brought into balance by social
nomic landscape as a ‘complex adaptive system’ agents. In old industrial regions, for example, ad-
(Martin and Sunley, 2006, 573), evolutionary aptation can explain a form of resilience based upon
Economic Geography can illuminate our under- the renewal of a pre-conceived and previously suc-
standing and explanation of the geographical cessful development path in the short term. Con-
differentiation of the resilience of places. versely, adaptability can explain a different kind of
The evolutionary conceptualization of post-so- resilience and one that maybe necessary to cope
cialist transformation of Grabher and Stark (1997, with unforeseen futures. Resilience through adapt-
534) is instructive in distinguishing the concepts of ability emerges through decisions to leave a path
adaptation and adaptability. They question the con- that may have proven successful in the past in fa-
ventional argument that ‘‘Economic efficiency will vour of a new, related or alternative trajectory. This
be maximised only through the rapid and all- different kind of resilience carries a series of sub-
encompassing implementation of privatization and stantive challenges in developing capacities and

Resilience, adaptation and adaptability

tolerances to deal with the cognitive uncertainties, timing and nature, rate and duration of change.
economic inefficiencies and political unpopularity For example, episodes when little or nothing
of moving from an established to alternative re- appears to change in a place in a specific time pe-
gional niche. Therefore, on the one hand, adapta- riod are conceived not as stable single or multiple
tion and adaptability may offer contrasting equilibria among phenomena but as relative stasis
explanations for the differentiated resilience of pla- and/or stability within unfolding paths of change.
ces. On the other hand, adaptation and adaptability Further, a temporal distinction between ‘shocks’
might be complementary in explaining how differ- and ‘slow-burn’ disturbances can be made:
ent elements of a region (sectors, labour markets,

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political interests, etc.) might integrate to provide . system shocks include disasters (for example
a more complex form of resilience in any particular Hurricane Katrina, California earthquakes, the
place. Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic) and, to
For old industrial regions, cases of adaptability a lesser extent, plant closings in cities that are
where new paths are effected are evident but rela- heavily dependent upon those plants. Shocks,
tively rare. Commonly cited examples include the can, of course, recur, even every year, as when
transition in Massachusetts, USA, from declining Florida experiences repeated hurricanes or
textiles ‘rustbelt’ to emergent high-technology southern California bursts into flame in the late
complex around Route 128 (Harrison, 1984); the summer. Shocks can also be of the positive
reconfiguration of the coal and steel complex in variety, such as when a region wins a bid for
the Ruhr, Germany, towards clean coal and envi- the Olympic Games or learns of success in luring
ronmental technologies (Grabher, 1993) and the a major new economic investment to the commu-
restructuring of traditional industries in the Basque nity. Examples of ‘slow burns’ (or ‘slow moving
Country and consumption-oriented urban regener- challenges’) include deindustrialization, urban
ation in Bilbao (Gonzalez, 2006). More typical for sprawl (which usually occurs ‘below the radar’),
old industrial regions are experiences of weaker prolonged population growth, and global climate
adaptation shaped by entrenched path dependency change (Pendall et al., 2007, 13).
and protracted decline, including the continued
economic weaknesses and long-run marginalization We would add the need to address the extent to
of North East England (Hudson, 2005) and the which the disturbance is anticipated or not and
post-transition rationalization of steel and attempts whether it is a high-probability and low-risk or
to construct new economic growth paths in low-probability and high-risk occurrence. A further
Ma1opolskie, Poland (Dawley et al., 2008). Feyrer recognition is the magnitude of perturbations and
et al. (2007) too demonstrate how in the late 1970s their subsequent resonance to capture potential
and early 1980s auto- and steel-dominated localities ‘after-shocks’ and second, third and so on order
in the USA regained ‘pre-shock’ employment lev- effects. Indeed, ‘shocks’ (exogenous and/or endog-
els within 5 years but ended up being displaced enous) are often closely intertwined with the
onto low growth development paths. Each kind unfolding of broader, longer run and slow-burn pro-
of experience demonstrates differing kinds and cesses of change. In old industrial regions, the de-
degrees of resilience. Informed by evolutionary mise of particular economic activities may produce
notions of path dependency, the concepts of the shock events of rationalization and job loss due
adaptation and adaptability are more able than an to factory, mine or office closures but such
equilibrium-centred view to tackle the legacies of moments need to be contextualized as embedded
history and context in explaining the differentiated within deep-seated processes of de-industrialization
resilience of regions, old industrial or otherwise. and attendant economic, social, political, ecological
Informed by path dependency, adaptation and and cultural changes (Hudson, 2005; Pike, 2005).
adaptability can address effectively issues of the This more supple approach to the nature of change

Pike et al.

over time and the blurring between single-event and more novelty and mutation (Grabher and Stark,
process-based change moves our understanding be- 1997, 538). Grabher and Stark (1997, 538) ac-
yond the existing work on resilience that focuses knowledge, however, that loose coupling may not
only on relative changes in pre- and post-shock only be positive for network adaptability because it
economic indicators such as growth and employ- can also ‘‘. result in a cacophony of orientations,
ment. We accept, however, the methodological and perceptions, goals and world-views that confounds
analytical challenges this kind of thinking raises. even minimal cohesiveness’’.
As mechanisms shaping adaptation or adaptabil-
Towards an analytical framework: agents, ity, evolutionary Economic Geography emphasizes

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mechanisms and sites the importance of ‘lock-in’. Grabher (1993) identi-
To develop the potential of the concepts of adapta- fies various kinds of lock-in, comprising functional,
tion and adaptability to explain geographically un- cognitive and political, whereby economic, social
even resilience, an analytical framework can begin and institutional outlooks, relationships and config-
by distinguishing agents, mechanisms and sites and urations in place ossify over time, relying upon pre-
their interrelationships. This focus remedies the vious growth paths and inhibiting adaptive
existing equilibrium-based work’s emphasis upon behaviours. Such lock-ins can overlap and become
abstract notions of adjustment from which social interdependent, even self-reinforcing, in particular
agency has been evacuated. Who or what is adapt- places over time. The branch plant economy is
ing or being adapted foregrounds the agency of characteristic of the kind of historically accumu-
actors and their relationships to structures. ‘State- lated lock-ins that skew and reproduce particular
managed regions’ (Hudson, 1989) facing protracted kinds of development in old industrial regions de-
decline, for example, have attempted to shape the nuded of higher level and strategic functions capa-
adaptation or adaptability undermining or promot- ble of fostering the adaptability of responding more
ing their resilience in the context of politics and effectively to change (Firn, 1975; Richardson et al.,
changes in national state structures and the agency 2000). How places interpret and address lock-ins is
of government in policy and spending priorities. central to the geographically differentiated adapta-
Agents within places do not simply react to external tion and adaptability explaining resilience. In
forces and pressures emanating from higher spatial West Münsterland, for example, a degree of adapt-
scales; actors are typically implicated to greater or ability explained the re-direction of its development
lesser degrees in constructing and reproducing such paths by successfully connecting textile producers
structures and tendencies through their agency. to new markets for industrial and medical applica-
Relations between agents are integral to thinking tions (Hassink, 2007). In contrast, Mecklenburg-
through the mechanisms of adaptation and adapt- Vorpommern experienced less success in the adap-
ability explaining the differentiated resilience of tation of its shipbuilding and engineering special-
places. Grabher and Stark (1997, 542) conceive of izations in the context of fierce international
‘adaptive capacities’ to refer to the differential abil- competition and the lock-ins of entrenched vested
ities of places to adapt and emphasize the causal interests in the local, regional and federal state, cap-
importance of a rich diversity of organizational ital and labour (Eich-Born and Hassink, 2005). In
forms, strong and weak ties between social actors an evolutionary framework, lock-ins are not inevi-
within social networks and the learning of search table end points, however. Martin and Sunley
skills. Loose couplings directly and indirectly con- (2006) usefully identify several ‘de-locking’ mech-
necting social agents are considered ‘‘. crucial for anisms capable of providing the basis of adaptabil-
the adaptability of networks’’ because they allow ity: marshalling technological developments,
elements to adapt and modify in response to con- drawing upon innovation and novelty generated
tingency without disrupting the whole system, offer by heterogeneous economic agents, importing and
wider bases of local knowledge and accommodate embedding external resources, diversification and

Resilience, adaptation and adaptability

wholesale upgrading of the economic structure. (see, for example Chapple and Lester, 2007). For the
Such ideas suggest that places can enhance their framework elaborated here, this spatial lens provides
adaptive capacities if they can develop collective an overly narrow view of the diverse and varied
understanding and strategies to recognize and over- geographies of resilience explained by adaptation
come the lock-ins that may be constraining their and adaptability. In considering sites of adaptation
adaptability to disruptive changes. and adaptability, it is useful analytically to explore
Related variety informs mechanisms of adapta- the ongoing tensions between territorial and rela-
tion and adaptability in its focus upon how existing tional views of scales and networks (Hudson,
paths are shaped and how paths are destroyed and 2007; MacLeod and Jones, 2007; Pike, 2007). On

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created anew (Martin and Sunley, 2006). Variety, the one hand, sites of adaptation and adaptability are
heredity and selection condition the degree of het- articulated and interrelated between territorially de-
erogeneity of economies and the knowledge and marcated arenas—for example economic assets tied
capability of economic actors in framing possibili- to place and the jurisdictional and geographical reach
ties for the generation of novelty in response to of regulatory institutions. While on the other hand,
rapid and/or slow changing environments (Frenken increased global economic integration is promoting
and Boschma, 2007). Homogenous and narrowly spaces of flows and more expansive relational net-
based economies with ignorant and incapable eco- works that transcend and challenge territories (for
nomic actors, for example, suggest weak adaptive example transnational corporations; transnational
capacity. Conversely, heterogeneous and diversi- governance institutions). For old industrial regions
fied economies with knowledgeable and highly ca- carving out new roles in spatial divisions of labour,
pable economic actors confer potentially stronger for example, the recent and rapid decimation of the
adaptive capacity. This echoes the argument that UK’s semiconductor fabrication industry in Scotland
diversified economies are more adaptable because and North East England demonstrated that the attrac-
they act as a ‘shock absorber’, dissipating negative tion and embedding of high-technology and high-
effects across an array of economic activities and skilled foreign direct investment remained vulnera-
places rather than concentrating and reinforcing ble to the vagaries of extra-local corporate socio-
them. Within old industrial regions, related variety spatial power relations and industry dynamics (Daw-
presents a challenging potential mechanism for the ley, 2007). Scales and territories remain relevant here
adaptation or adaptability in shaping existing spe- to explaining this lack of adaptability and resilience.
cializations and comparative strengths in traditional It was not a simple and rigid hierarchy of ‘global’
economic activities towards emergent and growing structures impacting upon the agency of ‘local’
markets. Traditional maritime engineering special- actors but part of a more interdependent set of
izations on Tyneside, for example, focused upon socio-spatial relationships and networks.
shipbuilding and, later, oil and gas extraction equip- In existing work, classification and typology of
ment fabrication. The resilience of this regionally the resilience of places has been deployed (Pike
embedded sector has been supported by its adapt- et al., 2009). Chapple and Lester (2007) focus on
ability in evolving to engage market shifts towards start and end status for below (stagnant and falter-
mobile and sub-sea extraction technologies, ship ing) and above (transformative and thriving) aver-
conversion and repair and pipeline technologies, age performance for cities and counties across an
shaped by business and local authority cooperation array of economic and social indicators. Hill et al.
(Whitehurst, 2007). (2008, 5) identify three kinds of responses to neg-
Sites are where agents and mechanisms of adap- ative economic shocks: economically resilient
tation and adaptability unfold their diverse and var- regions returning or exceeding their growth path
ied pathways. Existing resilience studies utilize within relatively short time periods; shock-resistant
a territorial frame based on regions and metropoli- regions not disturbed from their growth paths and
tan areas and focus upon functional economic areas non-resilient regions ‘‘. unable to rebound and

Pike et al.

return to or exceed their previous path’’. In conceiv- resilience is imbued with American values of heroic
ing of adaptation and adaptability to explain the individualism, self-reliance, distrust in government
geographical differentiation of resilience, our ana- and the need for people and places to demonstrate
lytical framework of agents, mechanisms and sites their resilience in the face of adversity (Pendall
begins to unpack such typologies and addresses the et al., 2007). Indeed, the political construction of
geographically diverse, varied and uneven resil- adaptation and adaptability narratives has become
ience of places. especially important for old industrial regions as
they seek to articulate stories of recovery in the
context of interterritorial competition for invest-

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What kind of resilience and for whom? ment, workers, residents and visitors. Transforma-
Although Adger (2000, 354) identifies ‘‘. the na- tive interventions have been central in attempting to
ture of economic growth and the stability and distri- construct meaningful narratives of change to con-
bution of income among populations’’ as important vince within and outwith that places have ‘bounced
to resilience, political concerns have largely been back’ and ‘turned a corner’ (Pendall et al., 2007:
neglected in existing work. However, central to 18). While seeking distinctiveness, such regenera-
explaining the geographical differentiation of the ad- tive practices have involved similar material and
aptation and adaptability explaining resilience is an symbolic changes, often focused on consumption-
understanding of how power relations, politics and oriented services, signature architecture and public
the uneven contestation and cooperation between art in central urban cores (Turok, 2008).
capital, labour, the state and civil society shape and In the politics of adaptation and adaptability
are shaped by evolutionary paths. Contentious poli- integral to resilience, nation states are centrally im-
tics accompany considerations of the renewing or portant agents in framing and narrating development
jettisoning of historically successful activities and paths in places. The nation state continues to shape
development paths framed by adaptation or adapt- and control the levels of autonomy, scope and resour-
ability. Distributional and normative concerns are ces available for sub-national institutions to conceive
central to the question of what kind of resilience and implement strategies of adaptation or adaptabil-
and for whom? As Pendall et al. (2007, 14) note: ity. Value judgements and political choices are bound
up with definitions of adaptation or adaptability and
Slow burns (slow-moving crises), unlike shocks, decisions concerning appropriate strategies and path-
tend to be corrosive of regional unity . they can ways. State authority exerts powerful roles in script-
exacerbate division among constituencies who ing the narrative, albeit often contested, of what
perceive that resource levels or allocations are adaptation and adaptability could or should mean.
shifting, creating winners and losers as resource The markedly different strategies for managing coal
supply falls out of step with demand . they can industry contraction in old industrial regions in the
lead to flight by those who have enough resour- UK and Germany, for example, demonstrates how
ces to leave but too few to win in competitions contrasting values, priorities, national and regional
for the regions’ remaining resources, a form of regulatory systems and institutional arrangements
regional survival of the fittest . incremental framed adaptation and adaptability capacities, strate-
changes to the reigning institutional tissue in gies and paths. In the shared context of changing in-
organizations and practices can upset the politi- ternational energy markets and EU state aid policies,
cal and social balance of power, creating tensions the UK followed a path of privatization, deregulation
across generations, regional tenure, ethnicity, and industrial confrontation. An adaptation trajectory
political affiliation, and geographic location. was marked out of accelerated rationalization in
regions such as North East England, South Yorkshire
The ideological and political content and mean- and South Wales and post-industrial transformation
ing of language is important. In the US context, and service sector growth (Pike et al., 2006).

Resilience, adaptation and adaptability

Whereas in Germany in the Ruhrgebiet joint deci- we see merit in the further conceptual and theoret-
sion-making involving employers, unions and public ical development of resilience. Rather than using its
authorities promoted a very different kind of adapta- shortcomings to dispense with the idea at this stage
tion based upon active restructuring and re-orienta- of its development, we see value in prompting fur-
tion of existing supply chain competences towards ther cross-disciplinary research on the resilience of
new growth paths in new environmental technolo- places. We have sought to demonstrate how evolu-
gies and renewable energy equipment encouraged by tionary approaches in Economic Geography pro-
national state energy policy (Grabher, 1993). vide a means of understanding and explaining the
Addressing the question of what kind of resil- geographically differentiated and uneven resilience

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ience and for whom foregrounds the qualitative na- of places. In contrast to the narrow explanatory
ture of adaptation and adaptability not just their frame of equilibrium-based accounts and their em-
quantitative extent. The character of adaptation phasis upon adjustment to single or multiple equi-
and adaptability raises issues of normative values, libria, we have elaborated concepts of adaptation
principles and priorities and their political determi- and adaptability in a framework organized around
nation. Such dialogue is important when adaptation agents, mechanisms and sites. Building upon
especially in old industrial regions is long term, Grabher and Stark’s (1997) insights, we distin-
even generational. Coalfield communities in the guished adaptation as the geographically uneven
UK, for example, only regained quantitative levels ways in which strong and tightly connected social
of employment 20 years after the demise of the pits. agents in places respond, cope with and shape
But the qualitative nature of employment was mark- movements towards pre-conceived paths in the
edly different with more women working, lower short run. Interrelated and in tension or complemen-
wages, more service sector jobs, increased use of tary with adaptation, we interpreted adaptability as
flexible and temporary contracts and generally the geographically differentiated capacity of
poorer terms and conditions (Beatty et al., 2006). loosely and weakly connected social agents in pla-
Thinking in terms of the adaptation and adaptability ces to interpret, frame and effect multiple evolution-
of agents, mechanisms and sites to distinguish the ary trajectories over time. The tensions between
quantitative and qualitative dimensions of resilience adaptation and adaptability highlight neglected
encourages consideration of short-term and reactive normative, political and policy dimensions of
responses to shocks and longer term and proactive resilience—to date relatively neglected within the
strategies. The short term necessarily confronts the literature. In response, we emphasized the impor-
quantitative aspects of immediate challenges such tance of power relations and the role of nation states
as job loss with fire-fighting measures to ameliorate in framing and responding to the question of what
initial negative effects. Longer term views might kind of resilience and for whom at the regional and
better engage the qualitative concerns by stepping local levels. We intend that our contribution stim-
back and reflecting upon different ways out of im- ulates a constructive and reflective dialogue about
mediate predicaments through paths better able to more conceptually robust and policy-relevant
withstand reoccurrence. In practice, balancing short notions of resilience regionally and locally.
and long term, quantitative and qualitative concerns Facing uncertainty, rapid change and resonant
may be evident with the possibility of longer term events, policy interest has focused upon how places
thinking in relation to slow-burn processes, can ‘rebound’ (Hill et al., 2008, 3) and cultivate
although without the stark imperatives to act. greater resilience, with case analyses of places
‘snapping back’ (Foster, 2007b, 27). But how can
regional and local institutions develop adaptive
Conclusions capacities better able to read, respond and promote
In conclusion, despite its somewhat chaotic (Sayer, adaptation or adaptability, especially given the tur-
2000) and fuzzy (Markusen, 1999) current nature, bulence and flux in the context of ‘state rescaling’

Pike et al.

(Lobao et al., 2009)? Identifying appropriate points sense of disruptive challenges is preferable to any
and moments for intervention is complex and diffi- simple reactive and/or ‘off-the-shelf’ response.
cult but critical in adaptation and adaptability
processes when doing nothing is seldom a viable Acknowledgements
option because as the economy evolves ‘‘social Thanks to the Editors of the Special Issue for the invita-
agents are unable to ‘sit out’ events’’ (Clark et al., tion to contribute and editorial advice and the reviewers
1986, ix). Our analysis suggests, first, that the long- for their valuable comments. Andy Pike would also like
standing binary of specialization versus diversifica- to acknowledge the contribution of ongoing work on
tion remains influential in discussions of what kinds

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evolutionary political economy with Andy Cumbers
of regional and local economies might be prone to and Danny MacKinnon at the University of Glasgow.
adaptation or demonstrate adaptability. Evolution- Earlier versions of the paper benefited from the comments
ary Economic Geography has emphasized related and questions of contributors at the Cambridge Univer-
and unrelated variety (Frenken and Boschma, sity Centre for Business Research and Warwick European
2007), promoting its importance for ‘constructing Policy Network ESRC Seminar ‘Regional Diversity and
Local Economic Development’, University of Warwick,
regional advantage’ among EU policymakers
4 June 2009; Institute of Australian Geographers Annual
(Cooke et al., 2006). New notions of ‘diversified Conference, James Cook University, Cairns, 28 September
specialization’ warrant attention to try and balance to 1 October 2009 and the Regional Studies Association
specialization for relative competitiveness and Policy Conference ‘Beyond the Global Credit Crunch:
growth in specific economic activities with suffi- Prospects for Mature Industrial Regions’, Coventry
cient diversification to prevent over-dependence University, 3 December 2009. We would like to acknowl-
upon narrow economic bases. Second, resilience edge the support of the UK Spatial Economics Research
underlines the need for intelligent institutional lead- Centre funded by the ESRC, Department for Business,
ership with a heightened sensitivity and/or pre- Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Department for Com-
paredness for rapid and pervasive changes. Such munities and Local Government and Welsh Assembly
leadership would be capable of framing and articu- Government. The usual disclaimers, as always, apply.
lating the nature of the event, crisis or slow-burn
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