There are a number of definitions for resilience, ranging from the vague, for our purposes, dictionary definitions, to the more specific, and for us more useful, systems-based definitions.

Resilience defined by the Oxford Dictionary:

  1. The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
  2. The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

Systems-based definitions of resilience:

The capacity of a system, enterprise, or a person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances.
Resilience – Why Things Bounce Back, Andrew Zolli, Ann Marie Healy

The capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic function and structure.
Resilience Thinking – Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World, Brian Walker, David Salt.

The capacity of a social-ecological system to absorb or withstand perturbations and other stressors such that the system remains within the same regime, essentially maintaining its structure and functions.
Resilience Alliance.

Two essential aspects of resilience are continuity and recovery in the face of change.

Related Terms:

Adaptive capacity – the ability to adapt to changed circumstances while fulfilling one’s core purpose.

Resilience in Different Fields:

The following are derived from the Stockholm Resilience Centre TV:

Engineering: “The amount of disturbance a material can sustain before breaking.” (Tredgold 1818)

Psychology: “The ability to bounce back from a negative emotional experiences.” (Tugade et al 2004)

Development/poverty alleviation: “Capacity of a person, household or other aggregate unit to avoid poverty in the face of various stressors and in the wake of myriad shocks.” (Barrett and Constas 2014)

Ecology: “The persistence of systems and … their ability to absorb change and disturbance.” (Holling 1973)

Social-ecological systems: “The capacity to adapt or transform in the face of change.” (Folke et al. 2016)

Resilience Thinking: “A loosely organised cluster of concepts and tools for understanding and managing change in complex social-ecological systems.” (Carpenter)