Most commonly, the term resilience has come to mean an individual’s ability to overcome adversity and continue his or her normal development. However, the RRC uses a more ecological and culturally sensitive definition. Dr. Michael Ungar, Co-Director of the RRC, has suggested that resilience is better understood as follows:
“In the context of exposure to significant adversity, resilience is both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being, and their capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided in culturally meaningful ways.” (See also Ungar, 2008 and Ungar, 2011)
This definition shifts our understanding of resilience from an individual concept, popular with western-trained researchers and human services providers, to a more relational understanding of well-being embedded in a social-ecological framework. Understood this way, resilience requires individuals have the capacity to find resources that bolster well-being, while also emphasizing that it’s up to families, communities and governments to provide these resources in ways individuals value. In this sense, resilience is the result of both successful navigation to resources and negotiation for resources to be provided in meaningful ways.
Resilience research involving children, youth and families looks at the health-enhancing capacities, individual, family and community resources, and developmental pathways of vulnerable children and youth, who against all odds, manage not only to survive unhealthy environments, but thrive. The Resilience Research Centre supports both quantitative and qualitative research, with an emphasis on mixed methods designs that favour understanding resilience as a culturally and contextually embedded construct.
The RRC views resilience from a socio-ecological approach. Our definition of resilience reflects a more pluralistic understanding of the phenomena; where we cannot only focus on youth themselves, but have to account for the relationships that surround them; the communities in which they find themselves and the resources made available to them there. As well as the larger life worlds that effect the allocation of resources to communities, and the impact of global political economies on the wellbeing of families and communities. In this way, our understanding of resilience becomes a collective one.
Furthermore, we need to consider the interactions between the various players, and the capacity of youth and especially those that surround them, their broader communities, to negotiate for resources. In this way, our understanding of resilience shifts from a static state to one of processes and flux.
Finally, we need to understand the role of culture and context in these collective processes. Consideration of culture and context raises important questions regarding the appropriateness and relevance of resources, responses and interventions, and perhaps most importantly, in how we define health and doing well. In this way, our understanding of resilience is ultimately contextually and culturally bound.