Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Sociology (Rural and Environmental Change Option)

Department or School/College

Department of Sociology

Committee Chair

Rebecca Richards

Commitee Members

Kathy Kuipers, Wayne Freimund


rural sociology, development sociology, political ecology, zimbabwe, community resilience, social-ecological systems resilience


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Rural Sociology


The concept of resilience has been developed by scholars in the social-ecological systems resilience and community resilience/disaster literature. While initially a descriptive model, the framework of resilience has since integrated both literatures and become a prescriptive tool for sustainable development initiatives. Political ecologists critically argue that the current conceptualization of resilience is problematic given resilience scholars’ lack of engagement with situational social complexities related to power and knowledge. They also argue that mainstream resilience literature is devoid of cultural, historical and political analysis. As such, individuals and communities at the margins of power may vulnerable to the application of resilience as a development tool. To assess how marginalization and power relationships might influence the processes of resilience, I collected oral histories from people living in Mahenye, Zimbabwe. Mahenye is a marginal community located in Zimbabwe’s rugged lowveld region. The area is prone to recurrent drought and has a long history of conflict since colonial encounters. In recent decades, Mahenye’s biogeographical continuity with the Gonarezhou National Park and the community’s relationship with the Communal Areas Management Program for Indigenous Resources program has intensified conflict with more dominant social groups over conservation and development. I argue that mainstream and situational resilience approaches have several points of convergence that may contribute to the resilience literature. These convergent foundations include the utility of traditional ecological knowledge vis-a-vis adaptive capacity, the conceptualization of power relationships in shaping vulnerability and the engagement of nested systems changing across multi-temporal and multi-spatial scales. Finally, I argue that resilience may be a beneficial framework for development practices but only within a situational approach. The exercise of power and knowledge must first be situated to a specific social-ecological system before resilience can be considered a development tool.



© Copyright 2014 Scott Byington