Taking the hypothesis of the Anthropocene as a basis (for the sake of discussion), I will ponder on the concepts of resilience and of adaptation in a societal context, using a systems theoretical perspective for ’society’. My understanding of ‚society' is based on the Theory of Social Systems which has been developed by Niklas Luhmann (1986).
In 2000, a debate started whether a new geological epoch - the Anthropocene - should be declared that is based on the impact of human agency (Crutzen & Stoermer 2000). Humans, so it is argued, are no longer living in a symbiosis with nature but rather transforming the surface of the Earth as well as changing its chemical, physical and biological processes to such an extend that the remnants of our activities will sustain over a very long time (even if we as species won’t be on this planet any longer). If this is accepted to be true, many scientific issues are back on the agenda. First of all, who are we as humans? But also questions such as: How can modern societies with their slow democratic processes tackle the new uncertainties and how can they handle this type of responsibility coming with our new role as a „natural force“? Besides many other things, the hypothesis of the Anthropocene implies that is is not about the single activities of each of us individually, our impact of this planet rather emerges from non-intended side-effects of living a „normal live“ in the societal structures of - what Ulrich Beck called - the „second modernity“.
In the seminar, I am going to challenge the assumption that (1) resilience and (2) adaptation are appropriate concepts for facing the Anthropocene on a societal level.
(1) The notion of resilience is coming from psychology and describes the ability of an individual to recover from adverse events and to return to her/his original strength. In risk research, resilience is applied also to communities or societies. Coming from a systems theoretical background, I would argue that society is a fundamentally different entity than only the sum of individuals. The question will be whether a concept of resilience describing processes of individuals can be used for societies.
(2) ‚Adaptation' seems to be the key when it comes to possible societal reactions to the predicted global environmental/climate change. So far, most arguments are leaning on geo-determinism, suggesting (rather large-scale) technological solutions and by doing so pointing to a still linear thinking (i.e.‚stimulus-response’). The Anthropocene, on the contrary, points to the complexity of our physical environment. Any proposal for ‚adaptation‘ would have to take that into account.