Resilience is a term that is widely used by scholars from different disciplines who promote action research between science and policy. This paper is largely concerned with how resilience approaches can be used as a practical tool in helping to understand complex dynamic socio-ecological systems in an urbanising world and, in particular, how resilience approaches can contribute to initiatives with normative development agendas to enhance environmental integrity and social justice.
Some key debates around differing understandings and uses of the term resilience are summarised, and criticisms discussed. An initial case study demonstrates how the resilience approach can be a useful tool in understanding key interactions between social and ecological systems that impact on the management of protected areas. Further case studies examine how resilience approaches might help in understanding more complex peri-urban situations, characterised by increasing social exclusion and environmental degradation. A final case study from Varanasi India, examines relationships between water management in the peri-urban interface and urban food systems. It utilises a resilience framework to illustrate the lack of recognition by formal institutions of actual peri-urban water use practices and the many informal transactions that occur, and to highlight some implications in relation to urban food security, environmental policies and particular marginalised groups. These examples seek to demonstrate opportunities for the use of resilience approaches as an integral part of initiatives that seek to identify opportunities for enhancing sustainability (in relation to environmental integrity and social justice) in dynamic urbanising situations.