Toward a Social Theory of Resilience: Social Systems, Cultural Systems, and Collective Action in Transitioning Forest-Based Communities


  • In memoriam Dr. Ken Hatt, 1937–2012. We thank the editor and reviewers for their very helpful comments and suggestions, as well as Naomi Krogman, Theresa Garvin, Debra Davidson, and Wayne Crosby for their insightful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. We are also in debt to Kelsey Jansen for GIS help in assembling Figure . A special thank you must go to the participants and communities who made this research possible. This research was funded through a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Please address correspondence to Christopher Lyon, School of the Environment, University of Dundee, Nethergate, Dundee DD1 4HN, Scotland, UK. Email:


Impacts from post-Fordist and poststaples economic transition in the Canadian natural resource sector have resulted in dramatic challenges to the livelihoods of many rural residents and the viability of many rural communities. This study seeks to understand community response to economic transition through a lens of social ecological resilience. This article puts forward Archer's theory of cultural morphogenesis as an analogous model of social ecological change that focuses attention on cultural systems, cultural elaboration, and collective action within an adaptive cycle of resilience. With case material from focused ethnographies of two forest-dependent communities, we identify distinctive interactions between culture and agency over time that condition community response to change, and we make an analytical distinction between the social system and cultural system. These insights point to catalysts for collective action and adaptation within a resilient cultural realm that extend beyond institutional factors such as economic dependency or political opportunity. By integrating culture, we also deepen the social theory contribution to social-ecological resilience.