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Resilience thinking: A bibliometric analysis of socio-ecological research

  • NSW Department of Planning and Environment; University of Saskachewan;

Abstract and Figures

Resilience thinking is a rising topic in environmental sciences and sustainability discourse. In this paper, a bibliometric method is used to analyse the trends in resilience research in the contexts of ecological, economic, social, and integrated socio-ecological systems. Based on 919 cited publications in English which appeared between 1973 and 2011, the analysis covers the following issues: general statistical description, influential journal outlets and top cited articles, geographic distribution of resilience publications and covered case studies, national importance of resilience researchers and leading research organisations by country. The findings show that resilience thinking continues to dominate environmental sciences and has experienced a dramatic increase since its introduction in 1973. More recently, new interest has emerged for broadening the scope and applying the concept to socio-economic systems and sustainability science. The paper also shows that resilience research overall is dominated by USA, Australia, UK and Sweden, and makes the case for the need to expand this work further in the urgent need for practically oriented solutions that would help arrest further ecological deterioration.
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Resilience thinking: a bibliometric analysis
of socio-ecological research
Li Xu Dora Marinova
Received: 19 December 2012 / Published online: 3 February 2013
´miai Kiado
´, Budapest, Hungary 2013
Abstract Resilience thinking is a rising topic in environmental sciences and sustain-
ability discourse. In this paper, a bibliometric method is used to analyse the trends in
resilience research in the contexts of ecological, economic, social, and integrated socio-
ecological systems. Based on 919 cited publications in English which appeared between
1973 and 2011, the analysis covers the following issues: general statistical description,
influential journal outlets and top cited articles, geographic distribution of resilience
publications and covered case studies, national importance of resilience researchers and
leading research organisations by country. The findings show that resilience thinking
continues to dominate environmental sciences and has experienced a dramatic increase
since its introduction in 1973. More recently, new interest has emerged for broadening the
scope and applying the concept to socio-economic systems and sustainability science. The
paper also shows that resilience research overall is dominated by USA, Australia, UK and
Sweden, and makes the case for the need to expand this work further in the urgent need for
practically oriented solutions that would help arrest further ecological deterioration.
Keywords Bibliometrics Sustainability Resilience Socio-ecological systems
The concept of resilience was firstly introduced by Holling (1973) in an ecological context.
He defined resilience as: ‘‘A measure of the persistence of systems and of their ability to
absorb change and disturbance and still maintain the same relationships between popula-
tions or state variablesand it is concerned with persistence or probabilities of extinction’
(Holling 1973, p. 14). In recent decades, resilience thinking has been increasingly
L. Xu D. Marinova (&)
Curtin University Sustainability Policy (CUSP) Institute, Curtin University, Perth, WA, Australia
L. Xu
Scientometrics (2013) 96:911–927
DOI 10.1007/s11192-013-0957-0
permeating sustainability debates in the context of social-ecological systems and the
impact human activities have on the planet’s physical environment. According to the
Resilience Alliance, an interdisciplinary network of scientists and practitioners established
in 1999, resilience in social-ecological systems has three defining characteristics: ‘‘the
amount of change the system can undergo and still retain the same controls on function and
structure, the degree to which the system is capable of self-organisation, and the ability to
build and increase the capacity for learning and adaptation’’ (Resilience Alliance 2002,
n.p.). Resilience has also been identified as one of the most influential concepts in sus-
tainability research (Quental and Lourenc¸o 2012).
The prevailing perspectives on sustainability and natural resources management focus
on how to achieve stability, manage effectively and control change and economic growth
(Adger et al. 2005; Folke 2003,2006). However, this is not enough in a constantly
changing globe and further research needs to allow for multidisciplinarity (McMichael
et al. 2003), interdisciplinarity (Bjurstro
¨m and Polk 2011) and transdisciplinarity (Mari-
nova and McGrath 2005; Burns and Weaver 2008) in order to better understand any
occurring transformations. Jappe (2007) describes this as mutual task dependence of all
scientific fields. Resilience as a new concept and way to look at the world was introduced
in order to analyse how complex systems are adapting to climate change and human
disturbance. Many argue that resilience thinking for social-ecological systems will be the
optimal way to enhance the likelihood of sustainability in the uncertain future (Walker
et al. 2004; Adger et al. 2005; Folke 2006).
The main purpose of this study is to identify trends in resilience research using a
bibliometric analysis. In particular, we identify the prevailing patterns of influence resil-
ience research has in different contexts and the geographical distribution of this research
output. The paper consists of four sections as follows. Section ‘‘Methodology and data’’
describes the bibliometric analysis (procedures) used in the study, including data source,
applied keywords, types of publications and limitations to data collection. Statistical
analysis, ranking and distribution mapping of the resilience research outcomes are pre-
sented in Sect. ‘Results and discussion’. The last section contains concluding remarks
about the outcomes from this analysis.
Methodology and data
The study is based entirely on bibliographic desk-based research conducted in July–August
2012. It uses data sources available to almost all academic institutions in western countries.
As the aim is to analyse the impact and importance of resilience research, we opted to
investigate only publications that have been cited (instead of providing a general
description of all resilience publications irrespective as to how valuable they have been to
other researchers). The main imperative that triggered this choice are the concerns of the
scientific community associated with climate change and the need to see fast considerable
real changes in order to address the deteriorating state of the planet. Despite the many
questions and valid points raised around the use of citation analysis (MacRoberts and
MacRoberts 1996), the fact remains that cited research is a valid indicator for the influence
of any work, at least on other researchers (Cole and Cole 1972). Small’s (2004) study
identifies interest, novelty, utility and significance—all linked to research importance, as
interrelated reasons stated by academic authors for their research to be cited.
Analysing only numbers of cited publications, rather than the actual number of cites
they have attracted on the other hand, helps deal with problems associated with citation
912 Scientometrics (2013) 96:911–927
counts, such as biased over-citing, citing of a well-recognised body of literature, socio-
psychologically motivated reasons to increase cites, different citation rates across disci-
plines as well as institutional and self-citations. More information about the methodology
of the study is presented below.
Data sources
The data in this study was retrieved from three widely used databases, namely:
(1) Google Scholar—a freely available web-based tool in operation since 2006 that
allows search for scholarly literature across disciplines and sources, including theses,
books, papers and abstracts (Google Scholar 2012);
(2) Web of Science—an academic citation indexing and search service of Thompson
Reuters’ Web of Knowledge (formerly operated by the Institute for Scientific
Information, ISI) launched in 2002 which claims to be ‘‘today’s premier research
platform for information in the sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities’
(Thompson Reuters 2012, n.p.) and covers journals, conference papers, websites,
patents and chemical structures; and
(3) Scopus—launched by SciVerse in 2004 to facilitate library searches around the world
with an easy access to ‘‘the world’s largest abstract and citation database of peer-
reviewed literature’’ (Elsevier 2012, n.p.) covering journals, trade publications, book
series and conference papers.
The period of examination spans from 1973 to 2011, i.e. from the year when resilience
was first introduced to the most recent year. The data from these different databases is
analysed but also compared between the three sources with the aim to identify the general
trends in resilience research. According to Aguillo (2012), Google Scholar provides the
largest coverage of sources. Its free-of-charge availability also makes it accessible to all
researchers, including outside the western academic system. These are the reasons why we
opted to use Google Scholar to further analyse the geographical distribution of research
outputs related to resilience.
Keywords used
In order to identify resilience related publications, we applied keyword searches within the
titles, keywords and abstracts of the various research outputs. The keywords used to search for
such publications are mainly associated with the word ‘‘resilience’’ and also include
the following combinations ‘‘ecological resilience’’, ‘‘economic resilience’’, ‘‘social resil-
ience’’, ‘‘resilience and sustainability’’, ‘‘resilience and sustainable development’’, ‘‘resil-
ience and social-ecological systems’’, ‘‘social-ecological resilience’’, ‘‘resilience and
environment’’, ‘‘resilience and natural resources’’ and ‘‘resilience and assessment’’. The
targeted coverage was intended to provide insights not only about ecological resilience but
also how the concept relates to sustainability and the integration of its social, economic and
environmental tenants.
References selected
The publications selected in our study are those cited journal articles, books, conference
papers, working papers, comments, theses and reports that list the word ‘‘resilience’’ in the
title or as their keyword. In addition, if ‘‘resilience’’ does not appear in any of the above,
Scientometrics (2013) 96:911–927 913
we included the publication in the dataset only if ‘‘resilience’’ appears at least three times
in the abstract. In other words, we have applied a very strict and generally limiting way of
categorising a publication’s belonging to our sample in order to accurately reflect the
penetration of resilience thinking in academic research. A less restrictive approach would
probably have expanded the size of the sample but would have raised questions as to how
reliable any claims are.
Limitation of the data selection
It should be acknowledged that some limitations exist in the dataset used for this analysis.
The publications counted in the study include only those containing ‘‘resilience’’ either in
their title, keywords or abstract whilst publications based on possible synonyms, such as
stability, adaptability, resistance, reliability and robustness, or antonyms, such as vulner-
ability, susceptibility and defencelessness, are excluded. Also, the selected publications
include only documents in English which have been cited by other publications in English,
and non-English publications were not considered.
Thus the publications counted in this paper do not include all publications in resilience
research. The existing publications and research outcomes no doubt overweigh what we
could find and access in this study. There are certainly other scholarly papers that are
making their contribution to this area, particularly in languages such as Chinese, German,
Spanish and French and this study is not trying to undermine the work done by these
researchers. Any limitations should be seen as a deficiency in the current web-based data
search engines rather than a deliberative decision by the authors. It will be interesting to
compare the results from this study with any further work as the capacity of search tools
Results and discussion
The analysis in this section is organised around five research directions. The first one is
general statistics which describe the total number of cited publications on resilience and the
particular context that has been the focus of this resilience research. In addition, we
compare the data obtained from Google Scholar, Scopus and the Web of Science to
illustrate the total trend in resilience thinking. Journal output and paper citation analyses of
resilience publications represent the second research direction. The third direction engages
with the spatial geographical distribution of the studies and particular case studies repre-
sented in the cited resilience publications. This is followed by an analysis of the national
affiliations of the publications’ authors and how different countries around the world are
represented in resilience research. The last aspect shows the leading research institutes in
the top 15 productive countries in the area of resilience.
General statistics
Resilience thinking has come a long way since its 1973 inception with the number of
publications steadily on the increase. The annual numbers of cited publications for the
1973–2011 period are shown on Fig. 1. In total 919, 939 and 942 cited publications were
found through the respective databases of Google Scholar, Scopus and Web of Science. It
is interesting to observe that contrary to popular believes and earlier studies (e.g. Yang and
Meho 2006), the largest amount of resilience publications are captured by the Web of
914 Scientometrics (2013) 96:911–927
Science which is the most academically oriented database. In other words, there are many
highly specialised scholarly publications that target the scientific community and are not
necessarily captured by the more popular Google Scholar and Scopus search engines. On
the other hand, the discrepancy between the three databases is relatively low, at around
2 %. Most importantly, the overall trend and fluctuations appear to be very similar, irre-
spective as to which database is used. Hence, resilience research is very well represented
by any of the three databases which does not seem to be the case in other research areas,
such as for example medicine Falagas et al. (2007) or social sciences (Harzing 2012).
In addition to resilience publications (right vertical axis), Fig. 1also shows the total
number of cited publications for all research fields (left vertical axis) for the 1973–2011
period. Against the overall consistently increasing trend in total research outputs, resilience
publications show a significant surge in relatively recent years. This indicates that resil-
ience is becoming a robust research field.
The number of cited resilience publications reached a peak in 2010; however they seem
to constantly fluctuate around a strong upwards trend and 2011 may just be one of these
fluctuations, rather than a significant drop. Between 1973 and 1999, there was a stable
increase in resilience publications, but this was followed by a very strong increase between
1999 and 2005 and an even further sharp increase since 2005. The study by Janssen et al.
(2006, p. 10) already provided reliable evidence that the area of resilience has experienced
‘a major and still continuing increase in the number of published papers’’ (Janssen et al.
2006, p. 10). It is also encouraging to see the increasing trends in the uptake of these
research findings as expressed in citations. The dramatic increase since 1999 in the number
of cited publications has partly benefitted from the establishment of the outstanding global
Resilience Alliance network with its academic journal Ecology and Society (Janssen et al.
2006) as well as from the increased interest in global environmental changes during 1990s.
Activities on the global political arena since 2005, such as the release of the Millennium
Ecosystem Assessment Reports in 2005, the Stern Review in 2006, the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s 4th Assessment Report in 2007, as well as the
continuing regular international climate change meetings and negotiations, all stimulated
researcher interest in resilience.
Figure 2breaks down the Google Scholar data to provide a more detailed overview of
the specific areas of interest of resilience research as it relates to ecological (Eco-R),
Number of publications
Total research Google
Scopus Web of Science
Fig. 1 Annual numbers of cited research publications in Web of Science and resilience publications in
Scopus, Google Scholar and Web of Science, 1973–2011
Scientometrics (2013) 96:911–927 915
economic (Econ-R) and social systems (Soci-R) as well as to an integrated sustainability
(Sust-R) approach. This original categorisation was done arbitrarily based on the research
topics of the papers. Although we are not aware of any other similar classification, almost
all resilience publications explicitly state their area of interest which varies vastly from
conceptualisation to more narrowly oriented ecological, economic or social analysis. For
instance, studies which are focused on conceptual development, such as ‘‘Resilience,
adaptability and transformability in social-ecological systems’’ (Walker et al. 2004) and on
ecological systems such as ‘‘Regime shifts and ecosystem services in Swedish coastal soft
bottom habitats: when resilience is undesirable’’ (Troell et al. 2005) were classified as Eco-
R; studies which stated economic perspectives, such as ‘‘Resilience in the dynamics of
economy-environment systems’’ (Perrings 1998), or which concentrate on economic
resilience, such as ‘‘Economic resilience to natural and man-made disasters: multidisci-
plinary origins and contextual dimensions’’ (Rose 2007) were categorised as Econ-R;
research which mainly discusses resilience from social perspectives, such as ‘‘Social and
ecological resilience: are they related?’’ (Adger 2000), was categorised as Soci-R; while
those studies which discuss resilience in terms of sustainability, such as ‘‘Resilience and
sustainable development: building adaptive capacity in a world of transformations’’ (Folke
et al. 2002), or in the context of integrated social, economic and ecological systems, such
as ‘‘Incorporating resilience in the assessment of inclusive wealth: an example from South
East Australia’’ (Walker et al. 2010) were classified as Sust-R.
The total number of 919 cited publications includes journal articles (661 or 71.9 %),
books (63 or 6.9 %), conference papers (61 or 6.6 %), working papers (54 or 5.9 %), book
chapters (41 or 4.5 %), reports (23 or 2.5 %), theses (9 or 1.0 %), and short comments (7 or
0.8 %).
The number of studies embracing resilience thinking in relation to ecological, economic
and social resilience as well as in the context of integrated sustainability has been steadily
growing since its emergence with a clear further increase since 1995. The majority of cited
publications focus on ecological systems while social resilience has also grown signifi-
cantly and resilience in relation to economic systems is still in the explorative stage. This
situation largely differs from the area of sustainability research where economics (mainly
through ecological economics) has been largely overrepresented (Quental and Lourenc¸o
2012). The number of cited publications that explore an integrated sustainability approach
has also grown but it is still a very low share of all resilience output. With human induced
Number of publications
Sust-R Soci-R Econ-R Eco-R
Fig. 2 Resilience research in different contexts Note Sust-R—resilience thinking in the context of
sustainability, Scoi-R—resilience thinking for social systems, Econ-R—resilience thinking for economic
systems, Eco-R—resilience thinking for ecological systems
916 Scientometrics (2013) 96:911–927
climate change and other environmental problems, it is important to have the right per-
spective on any resilience research but we are yet to see more prominence of the integrated
sustainability resilience research.
Resilience thinking for economic systems is a very important case and there needs to be
a strong warning that such research can only be beneficial if it is based on interdisci-
plinarity. As the main external factor affecting the health of the planet’s ecosystems,
acceleration of human activities across the globe makes it difficult to continue to separate
any ecological, social and economic impacts and ‘‘try to explain them independently, even
for analytical purposes’’ (Folke et al. 2010, n.p.). Another warning is that while in isola-
tion, socially and ecologically resilient systems have a very high probability to also be
sustainable, a solely economically resilient system can be extremely detrimental to sus-
tainability. In other words, we can learn how to efficiently and effectively destroy the
environmental and social foundations of human life. Assessing and evaluating sustain-
ability in the context of complex systems in a transforming world requires a shift in
thinking and perspective (Ludwig et al. 2001) and resilience thinking seems to have started
to deliver some changes but there is still a long way ahead.
Journal output and cited paper statistics
This part answers questions, such as: which journal is the most popular in the realm of
resilience research, which articles are highly cited on the topic of resilience thinking, who
has produced those articles and where have they been published. Hence the analysis here
examines only the 661 cited journal articles according to Google Scholar. They have been
published in 269 academic journals and Table 1lists the top 10 journals in which they have
appeared. The top journal with 85 cited papers in the area of resilience thinking is Ecology
and Society (which replaced Conservation Ecology in 2004). This journal published by the
Resilience Alliance is relatively new but has proven a strong outlet for resilience research.
With a very significant drop in the number of articles cited, this is followed by Global
Environmental Change (16 articles) and Ecosystems (15 articles).
We further looked at the actual number of Google Scholar citations that each cited
resilience article has attracted. Table 2presents the top 10 journal articles with the most
citations and their authors, citation times, year of publishing, title of the journals and the
context of the papers. It is not surprising that the top cited article is the original paper by
Holling (1973) which for the first time introduced resilience thinking to ecological systems.
The most prominent contributor in the area is Folke who comes from Sweden and is the
author or co-author of the six of the top 10 cited journal articles. Similarly, Holling
(Canada), Carpenter (USA) and Walker (Australia) have also achieved excellent recog-
nition with their names appearing as authors or co-authors of five of the top 10 papers. This
indicates that resilience thinking has produced a list of very noticeable and influential
researchers and thinkers who have contributed to the shaping of ideas and research
directions in this field. Furthermore, seven of the top ten cited articles are in the area of
ecological systems with a strong interest in theory development. The economic context is
represented with one article and so are the social and integrated sustainability approaches.
Overall, it appears that since its inception the focus on the ecology continues to dominate
resilience research. This has enabled it to produce a strong body of environmental findings
but this knowledge still needs to be integrated with the socio-economic aspects of human
presence on Earth.
Scientometrics (2013) 96:911–927 917
Table 1 Top 10 journals with the largest number of articles (1973–2011)
Rank Journal Year of first publication No. of articles
1 Ecology and society (formerly conservation ecology) 2000 85
2 Global environmental change 1990 16
3 Ecosystems 1998 15
4 Ambio 1972 13
5 Ecological economics 1989 12
Ecology 1920
6 Environmental education research 1995 11
Water resources research 1965
7 Environment and development economics 1996 10
Natural hazards 1988
8 Environmental hazards 2007 9
9 Climatic change 1977 8
Coral reefs 1984
Ecological applications 1991
10 American naturalist 1972 7
Ecological modelling 1978
Ecological monographs 1972
Ecology letters 1998
Human ecology 1972
Table 2 Top 10 articles with most citations (1973–2011)
Rank Title Years Author (s) No. of
Journal Context
1 Resilience and
stability of
ecological systems
1973 Holling, C. S. 4,216 Annual review
of ecology and
2 Catastrophic shifts in
2001 Scheffer, M., Carpenter,
S., Foley, J.A., Folke,
C. and Walker,B.
2,348 Nature T-E
3 Economic growth,
carrying capacity,
and the
1995 Arrow, K., Bolin, B.,
Costanza, R., Dasgupta,
P., Folke, C., Holling,
C. S., Jansson, B.,
Levin, S., Maler, K.,
Perrings, C. and
Pimentel, D.
1,538 Science ECO
4 Climate change,
human impacts,
and the resilience
of coral reefs
2003 Hughes, T. P., Baird, A.
H., Bellwood, D. R.,
Card, M., Connolly, S.
R., Folke, C., Grosberg,
R., Hoegh-Guldberg,
O., Jackson, J., Kleypas,
J., Lough, J. M.,
Marshall, P., Nystrom,
M., Palumbi, S. R.,
Pandolfi, J. M., Rosen,
B. and Roughgarden, J.
1,437 Science T-E
918 Scientometrics (2013) 96:911–927
Spatial distribution
In this part, we explore the geographical distribution of the 919 cited Google Scholar
publications on the topic of resilience to analyse how much output has been generated in
different countries, and which areas throughout the world have been used as case studies.
Country performance in resilience research is represented through a mapping approach
where the authors’ affiliations in the publications were used as the criterion to locate the
place of their origin. Publications were counted more than once if they had authors from
more than one country. For instance, a paper with authors from USA and UK is counted
twice—once for each country irrespective as to how many authors are form USA and UK
as the main interest is to highlight the geographic spread of resilience thinking throughout
the world (see Fig. 3). The most productive country in this respect is USA with 389 cited
publications followed by Australia, UK, Sweden and Canada with 162, 135, 95 and 91
publications, respectively. Very few and even no authors come from Central Asia, the
Middle East, North and Middle-West Africa. The spatial geographic distribution indicates
the dominance of western researchers. Despite the evidence of China’s growing
Table 2 continued
Rank Title Years Author (s) No. of
Journal Context
5 Resilience,
adaptability and
transformability in
2004 Walker, B., Holling, C.
S., Carpenter, S. and
Kinzig, A.
975 Ecology and
6 Resilience and
building adaptive
capacity in a world
of transformations
2002 Folke, C., Carpenter, S.,
Elmqvist, T.,
Gunderson, L., Holling,
C. S. and Walker, B.
940 Ambio I–S
7 Regime shifts,
resilience, and
biodiversity in
2004 Folke, C., Carpenter, S.,
Walker, B., Scheffer,
M., Elmqvist, T.,
Gunderson, L. and
Holling, C. S.
902 Annual review
of ecology
evolution and
8 Resilience: the
emergence of a
perspective for
systems analyses
2006 Folke, C. 888 Global
9 Social and ecological
resilience: are they
2000 Adger, W. N. 856 Progress in
10 From Metaphor to
Resilience of What
to What?
2001 Carpenter, S., Walker, B.,
Anderies, J. M. and
Abel, N.
834 Ecosystems T-E
Note T-E, ECO, SOC and I-S represent respectively that the research was conducted in the context of
ecological systems or focused on theoretical studies, economic systems, social systems, and integrated
ecological, social and economic systems or sustainability in terms of resilience
Scientometrics (2013) 96:911–927 919
contribution to the global scholarly knowledge (Veugelers 2010), resilience thinking is yet
to make its mark in influencing Chinese researchers as far as their publications in English
are concerned.
Figure 4shows the areas which have been used as case studies in the cited publications
on resilience thinking throughout the world. There are about 646 case studies within the
919 Google Scholar cited publications, which include 164 in North America (25.4 %), 141
in Europe (21.8 %), 104 in Oceania (16.1 %), 89 in Africa (13.8 %), 57 in South Asia
Fig. 3 Distribution of publications by country
Fig. 4 Distribution of case areas covered in resilience publications
920 Scientometrics (2013) 96:911–927
(8.8 %), 38 in South America (5.9 %), 18 in Middle America (2.8 %), 15 in East Asia
(2.3 %), 11 in West Asia (1.7 %), 5 in the Arctic (0.8 %) and 4 in Middle Asia (0.6 %).
This is a more balanced geographic spread but large areas of Central and West Africa, the
Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe continue to be underrepresented. In terms of
specific countries, the largest number of case studies, namely 123, have been carried out in
USA, followed by Australia—85, Canada—40 and UK—26. It is interesting to note that
Japan—one of the largest countries on earth in terms of population and the size of its
economy, has not yet generated any case study for resilience research.
The spatial analysis demonstrates that USA, Australia, UK and Sweden are the schol-
arly leading countries in the realm of resilience research in social-ecological systems. The
USA is both the most productive country and with the largest number of case areas,
followed by Australia. However, not many studies have been undertaken in other large
countries such as Russia, China or India. As resilience thinking seems to be an important, if
not the main approach in adapting to climate change and human disturbances issues with
the objective of sustainability in a highly uncertain future (Walker et al. 2004; Adger et al.
2005; Folke 2006), more research is urgently needed. In particular, China and India which
are currently experiencing high economic growth and already have large populations, are
being ecologically threatened with serious environmental issues and resilience thinking
may prove a useful way to re-examine such development. It may well be the case that
Chinese researchers have resilience related publications in Chinese or other than English
languages, which this research does not capture. Nevertheless, in order to respond to the
urgent need for practically-oriented scholarly research, it is important to be able to easily
communicate results, findings and exchange scientific ideas as well as understand the
experiences of other countries. For the time being, English publications remain the main
medium to achieve this.
Intensity of resilience research
This part examines the intensity of resilience research as represented by the share of
resilience researchers within total researchers by country. This is indicative of the popu-
larity of resilience thinking in the research arena of the various countries. Furthermore, the
dominant resilience context is presented through the percentage of resilience researchers
working respectively on ecological, economic, social and integrated systems (see Table 3).
The two African countries of Lesotho and Ghana appear to be at the top of the list
according to resilience research intensity, however they both have relatively small numbers
Table 3 Numbers and shares of researchers with cited resilience publications (1973–2011)
Country No. of researchers
in resilience
Share in total
researchers (%)
Percentage of resilience researchers
in different contexts (%)
USA 605 0.43 63.31 4.79 16.69 15.37
Australia 246 2.57 58.94 6.10 23.58 11.38
UK 218 0.93 57.80 6.42 22.48 13.30
Canada 99 0.65 57.58 2.02 25.25 15.15
Sweden 88 1.78 45.45 15.91 15.91 22.73
Netherlands 62 1.12 53.23 11.29 22.58 12.90
Scientometrics (2013) 96:911–927 921
Table 3 continued
Country No. of researchers
in resilience
Share in total
researchers (%)
Percentage of resilience researchers
in different contexts (%)
France 58 0.25 79.31 5.17 12.07 3.45
Germany 53 0.16 54.72 9.43 16.98 18.87
Spain 33 0.24 66.67 0 15.15 18.18
China 29 0.02 68.97 10.34 20.69 0
Switzerland 29 1.13 62.07 6.90 17.24 13.79
New Zealand 29 1.33 55.17 3.45 37.93 3.45
Italy 21 0.20 38.10 19.05 23.81 19.05
South Africa 21 1.07 38.10 4.76 42.86 14.29
Norway 18 0.68 50.00 27.78 16.67 5.56
Japan 17 0.03 35.29 0 47.06 17.65
India 16 0.10 31.25 18.75 31.25 18.75
Denmark 15 0.42 60.00 6.67 20.00 13.33
Israel 14 N/a 91.00 0 0 9.00
Austria 13 0.36 15.38 23.08 23.08 38.46
Brazil 12 0.09 83.33 8.33 8.33 0
Columbia 11 1.48 0 0 0 100.00
Sudan 11 N/a 9.00 0 54.56 36.36
Mexico 10 0.23 60.00 0 10.00 30.00
Finland 10 0.24 70.00 10.00 0 20.00
Portugal 9 0.20 44.44 22.22 33.33 0
Greece 8 0.36 75.00 0 12.50 12.50
Solomon Islands 7 N/a 100.00 0 0 0
Malaysia 6 0.58 100.00 0 0 0
Argentina 6 0.14 50.00 0 33.33 16.67
Hungary 6 0.28 0 16.67 83.33 0
Kenya 6 2.65 66.67 0 16.67 0
Poland 5 0.08 80.00 0 20.00 0
Chile 4 0.66 25.00 0 75.00 0
Singapore 4 0.13 75.00 0 25.00 0
Zimbabwe 4 N/a 50.00 0 50.00 0
Philippines 3 0.41 66.67 0 33.33 0
Indonesia 3 0.14 66.67 0 33.33 0
Nigeria 3 0.49 33.33 66.67 0 0
Russia 3 0.01 33.33 0 33.33 33.33
Romania 3 0.15 100.00 0 0 0
Ghana 3 7.23 0 0 0 100
Syria 3 N/a 100.00 0 0 0
Nepal 2 1.24 0 0 50.00 50.00
Senegal 2 0.42 100.00 0 0 0
Panama 2 4.88 100 0 0 0
Belgium 2 0.05 50.00 0 0 50.00
922 Scientometrics (2013) 96:911–927
of researchers and the respective 1 and 3 cited resilience publications have drastically
increased the share of researchers in this area to respectively 21.6 per thousand and 7.2 per
thousand. Among the remaining countries, resilience research is most popular in Australia
and Sweden with about 2.6 and 1.8 per thousand researchers with cited publications in this
area. The majority of researchers in most countries focus on resilience thinking in eco-
logical systems and theoretical analysis. Among the countries with more than 10 cited
resilience researchers, social resilience is dominant in South Africa and Japan, there is no
country where economic resilience has attracted the highest interest and the integrated
systems or sustainability approach is prevalent only in Columbia (where 100 % of the
studies fall in this category) and Austria.
Table 3 continued
Country No. of researchers
in resilience
Share in total
researchers (%)
Percentage of resilience researchers
in different contexts (%)
Egypt 2 0.06 50.00 0 50.00 0
South Korea 2 0.01 100.00 0 0 0
Iceland 2 0.74 100.00 0 0 0
Cuba 2 0.41 100.00 0 0 0
Slovenia 2 0.26 100.00 0 0 0
Slovakia 2 0.13 0 0 0 100.00
Pakistan 1 0.04 0 0 100.00 0
Mozambique 1 2.67 0 0 100.00 0
Peru 1 0.19 100.00 0 0 0
Sri Lanka 1 0.20 100.00 0 0 0
Bolivia 1 0.70 0 0 100.00 0
Venezuela 1 0.19 0 0 0 100.00
Costa Rica 1 0.64 100.00 0 0 0
Vietnam 1 0.10 0 0 0 100.00
Thailand 1 0.05 0 0 0 100.00
Lesotho 1 21.65 0 0 0 100.00
Ethiopia 1 0.27 0 100.00 0 0
Mali 1 1.71 100.00 0 0 0
Bangladesh 1 N/a 100.00 0 0 0
Belize 1 N/a 100.00 0 0 0
Bhutan 1 N/a 100.00 0 0 0
Fiji 1 N/a 100.00 0 0 0
Guam 1 N/a 100.00 0 0 0
Notes 1. The source of data for research numbers is UNESCO’s database (
2. T-E, ECO, SOC and I-S represent respectively that the research was conducted in the context of
ecological systems or mainly on theoretical studies, economic systems, social systems and integrated
ecological, social and economic systems or sustainability in terms of resilience
3. N/a—information not available
Scientometrics (2013) 96:911–927 923
Overall, the geographic distribution of resilience thinking appears to indicate that
despite very small numbers, this research is highly important for two categories of
countries: (1) African (Lesotho, Mozambique, Ghana, Kenya, Mali and South Africa), a
couple of Latin American (Panama and Columbia) countries and Nepal, all of which are
aspiring to improve the living standards of their people; and (2) strong western type small
economies (Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland and New Zealand) which
have already achieved higher living standards. It is a warning sign to see that resilience
research communicated in English is yet to increase its importance for the world’s largest
and emerging economies, such as US, Japan, Germany, France, China, India, Brazil and
Research organisations
This final part looks at which research institutes or universities are leaders among the top
15 most productive resilience research countries (see Table 4). The research organisation
with the largest number of author affiliations in the cited resilience papers is considered to
Table 4 Leading institutes in top 15 most productive countries (1973–2011)
Rank Country Publications
Most productive institute
Name Number Percentage
1 USA 389 University of California 40 10.3
2 Australia 162 Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial
Research Organisation (CSIRO)
52 32.1
3 UK 135 University of East Anglia 19 14.1
4 Sweden 95 Stockholm University 56 58.9
5 Canada 91 University of Manitoba 17 18.7
6 Germany 36 University of Kiel 6 16.7
7 Netherlands 35 Wageningen University 13 37.1
8 France 25 Laboratoire Ecologie 3 12.0
9 South
21 University of Cape Town 6 28.6
10 New
17 University of Otago 6 35.3
11 Switzerland 16 Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental
Science and Technology
5 31.3
12 Spain 15 Autonomous University of Barcelona 4 26.7
13 Norway
13 University of Oslo 7 53.8
University of Natural Resources and
Applied Life Sciences
5 38.5
14 Italy 12 University of Lecce 4 33.3
15 India 11 Indian Institute of Technology, Institute for
Social and Economic Change
7 63.6
Notes Because of multiple authorship the number of publications is higher than the total number of Google
Scholar cited publications (919). Publications are counted more than once if their authors affiliate with more
than one country (see main text for further explanation)
924 Scientometrics (2013) 96:911–927
be the leading institution for the respective country. Figure 5shows the respective national
shares that the leading resilience research institution holds.
The USA is overall the most productive country in resilience research, but its top
institution—University of California, is responsible for 10 % of the total research output in
this area. This indicates that there is not a lot of concentration and resilience thinking has
penetrated a larger number of American research organisations. The situation is very
similar for the other larger developed economies, namely UK, Germany and France as well
as for Canada where the shares of the respective leading organisations are below 20 %. By
comparison, the situation in India, Sweden and Norway is very different—the leading
Institute for Social and Economic Change, Stockholm University and University of Oslo
are respectively responsible for 64, 59 and 54 % of total national resilience output. In the
remaining countries, the leading research organisations account for around a third of all
cited resilience publications.
This paper examined the trends of resilience research using a bibliometric approach based
on 919 cited English publications from 1973 to 2011 identified through Google Scholar.
The analysis of resilience thinking shows that this area experienced a dramatic increase
since it was introduced for ecological systems in 1973. This increasing trend substantially
speeded up since 1999 with the establishment of the global Resilience Alliance network,
which also publishes Ecology and Society—the top and most influential journal in this area,
responsible for the largest number of cited resilience papers. Although the bulk of the
research in resilience is conducted for ecological systems, there is an increasing interest in
socio-economic systems and even more importantly, in integrated socio-ecological systems
which facilitates sustainability research. How to incorporate resilience thinking to respond
University of California (USA)
CSIRO (Australia)
University of East Anglia (UK)
Stockholm University
University of Manitoba
University of Kiel (Germany)
Wageningen University
Lab Ecologie (France)
University of Cape Town
(South Africa)
University of Otago (New
Federal Institute for
Environmental Science and
Technology (Switzerlan)
Autonomous University of
Barcelona (Spain)
University of Oslo (Norway)
University of Natural
Resources and Applied Life
Sciences (Austria)
University of Lecce (Italy)
Institute for Social and
Economic Chande (India)
percentage of leading research organisation in total country's publications
Fig. 5 Percentage of the leading resilience research organisation for the top 15 countries
Scientometrics (2013) 96:911–927 925
to sustainability challenges in the constantly changing world highly influenced by human
activities, should be the main research direction of this area.
The paper also shows that resilience research is dominated in size by USA, Australia,
UK and Sweden. In absolute numbers, USA is the most productive country in terms of
resilience output; however, its importance is much higher for relatively smaller western
economies, such as Australia and Sweden. Similarly, the case study areas covered in the
cited publications demonstrate more attention to the parts of the world from where resil-
ience research originates with many important areas attracting very little attention. Con-
sequently, there is need for urgent practically-oriented scholarly research to concentrate on
those particular regions where environmental issues have been seriously on the rise, such
as in China.
Given the English language limitation of the study, it may be the case that there are
other resilience publications, not captured by this analysis. Nevertheless, communication in
English of environmental and sustainability concerns as well as resilience thinking remains
highly important for the development of ideas and measures of adaptation to any future
uncertain disturbances across the globe.
Acknowledgments We would like to thank Dr. Roman Trubka and Cole Hendrigan for their assistance
with GIS mapping and helpful suggestions. The second author also acknowledges the financial assistance by
the Australian Research Council. We are also thankful to the Journal’s Editor and referees for helpful and
constructive comments which improved the quality of the paper.
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