Skip to main content Accessibility help

A Flawed Construct? Understanding and Unpicking the Concept of Resilience in the Context of Economic Hardship

  • Paul Hickman (a1)


Increasingly, the construct of resilience has been used by social scientists and (social) policy makers in relation to individual resilience to economic hardship. There are a number of issues within the literature on the subject that are unresolved including: whether it is an attribute or a process; the extent to which resilience is a positive phenomenon; the extent to which individuals living in economic hardship have agency; and whether it is finite. The article unpacks these issues, drawing on qualitative data from a longitudinal study in Northern Ireland. It found resilience to be a negative experience for study participants, although they did exhibit a number of attributes that may be described as being positive. They were often unable to exercise ‘positive’, transformative agency, because the choices available were limited and pernicious in nature. The article concludes that as an analytical tool for exploring the experiences of people living in economic hardship, the construct of resilience is not helpful.



Hide All
Athwal, B., Brill, L., Chesters, G. and Quiggin, M. (2011) Recession, Poverty and Sustainable Livelihoods in Bradford, York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Bartley, M. (2006) Capability and Resilience: Beating the Odds, London: University College London.
Batty, E. and Cole, I. (2010) Resilience and the Recession in Six Deprived Communities: Preparing for Worse to Come?, York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Batty, E., Beatty, C., Casey, R., Foden, M., McCarthy, L. and Reeve, K. (2015) Homeless People's Experiences of Welfare Conditionality and Benefit Sanctions, London: Crisis.
Beatty, C. and Fothergill, S. (2013) The Impact of Welfare Reform on Northern Ireland, Research Paper, Sheffield: NICVA/CRESR.
Béné, C., Headey, D., Haddad, L. and von Grebmer, K. (2015) ‘Is resilience a useful concept in the context of food security and nutrition programmes? Some conceptual and practical considerations’, Food Security, 8, 1, 123–38.
Boyden, J. and Cooper, E. (2007) Questioning the Power of Resilience: Are Children Up to the Task of Disrupting the Transmission of Poverty?', CPRC Working Paper 73, Oxford: Chronic Poverty Research Centre.
Burchardt, T. and Huerta, M. (2009) 'Introduction: resilience and social exclusion', Social Policy and Society, 8, 1, 5961.
Cameron, D. (2016) ‘Prime Minister's Speech on Life Chances’, Gov.UK, [accessed 23.02.2017].
Citizens Advice Northern Ireland (2011) Cold House for Everyone? Fuel Poverty in Northern Ireland, Belfast: Citizens Advice.
Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) (2014) Addressing Need, Overcoming Uncertainty: 2013/14 Annual Report, Belfast: CAB.
Cohen, R., Coxall, J., Craig, G. and Sadiq-Sangster, A. (1992) Hardship Britain: Being Poor in the 1990s, London: Child Poverty Action Group.
Crisp, R. and Powell, R. (forthcoming) ‘Youth unemployment, interdependence and power: tensions and resistance within an alternative, “co-produced” employment programme’, in Bevir, M., Matthews, P. and McKee, K. (eds.), Decentring Urban Governance: Narratives, Resistance and Contestation, London: Routledge.
Dagdeviren, H., Donoghue, M. and Promberger, M. (2016) 'Resilience, hardship and social conditions’, Journal of Social Policy, 45, 1, 120.
Davidson, R. (2008) 'More than “just coping”: the antecedents and dynamics of resilience in a qualitative longitudinal study’, Social Policy and Society, 8, 1, 115–25.
Department of the Economy (2016) Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, 26 October, Belfast: Department of the Economy.
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) (2010a) 21st Century Welfare, London: Department for Work and Pensions.
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) (2010b) Universal Credit: Welfare that Works, London: Department for Work and Pensions.
Ferrari, E. (2015) 'The Social Value of housing in straitened times: the view from England', Housing Studies, 30, 4, 514–34.
Harrison, E. (2013) ‘Bouncing back? Recession, resilience and everyday lives’, Critical Social Policy, 33, 1: 97–13.
Hickman, P. (2013) ‘“Third places” and social Interaction in deprived neighbourhoods in Great Britain’, Journal of Housing and the Built Environment, 28, 2, 221–36.
Hickman, P., Batty, E., Dayson, C., Flint, J., Foden, M., Muir, J., Ambrose, A. and Green, S. (2015) ‘Getting-By’, Coping and Resilience in Difficult Times: Final Report, Sheffield: CRESR, Sheffield Hallam University.
Hooper, C., Gorin, S., Cabral, C. and Dyson, C. (2007) Living with Hardship 24/7: The Diverse Experiences of Families in Poverty in England, London: Frank Buttle Trust/NSPCC.
Keck, M. and Sakdapolrak, P. (2013) ‘What is social resilience?’, Eredkunde, 67, 1, 519.
Krasnya, M., Lundholm, C. and Plummer, R. (2010) ‘Environmental education, resilience, and learning: reflection and moving forward’, Environmental Education Research, 16, 5–6, 665– 72.
Lister, R. (2004) Poverty, Cambridge: Polity.
MacKinnon, D. and Derrickson, K. (2013) ‘From resilience to resourcefulness’, Progress in Human Geography, 37, 2, 253–70.
Magis, K. (2010) ‘Community resilience: an indicator of social sustainability’, Society and Natural Resources, 23, 5, 401–16.
Milne, A. and Rankine, D. (2013) Reality, Resources, Resilience: Regeneration in a Recession, JRF Programme Paper, York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Mohaupt, S. (2008) ‘Resilience and social exclusion’, Social Policy and Society, 8, 1, 6371.
New Economics Foundation (NEF) (2010) Local Resilience is the Key to Well-Being, London: New Economics Foundation.
New Economics Foundation (NEF) (2012) Surviving Austerity: Local Voices and Local Actions in England's Poorest Neighbourhoods, London: New Economics Foundation.
New Policy Institute (NPI) (2014) Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion in Northern Ireland 2014, York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
nidirect (2016) Benefits are Changing for People of Working Age: Welfare Changes in Northern Ireland, [accessed 23.02.17].
Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) (2016) Northern Ireland Poverty Bulletin 2014/15, Belfast: NISRA.
Northern Ireland Assembly (2011) Research and Library Service Briefing Paper: Economic Briefing, March 2011, Belfast: Northern Ireland Assembly.
Olsson, L., Jerneck, A., Thoren, H., Person, J. and O'Byrne, D. (2015) ‘Why resilience is unappealing to social science: theoretical and empirical investigations of the scientific use of resilience’, Science Advances, 1, 4, e1400217.
Office of National Statistics (ONS) (2015) Regional Gross Disposable Household Income (GDHI): 1997 to 2013, London: Office of National Statistics.
Orr, S., Brown, G., Smith, S., May, C. and Waters, M. (2006) When Ends Don't Meet: Assets, Vulnerabilities and Livelihoods – An Analysis of Households in Thornaby-on-Tees', Oxford: Church Action on Poverty/Oxfam.
Pemberton, S., Sutton, E. and Fahmy, E. (2013), A Review of the Qualitative Evidence Relating to the Experience of Poverty and Exclusion, Working Paper No. 22, Bristol: University of Bristol.
Platts-Fowler, D. and Robinson, D. (2013) Neighbourhood Resilience in Sheffield: Getting-By in Hard Times, Sheffield: CRESR/Sheffield City Council.
Robinson, G. and Carson, D. (2015) ‘Resilient communities: transitions, pathways and resourcefulness’, The Geographical Journal, 182, 2, 114–22.
Scottish Government (2013) The Potential Impacts of Sanctions on Individuals and Households, Edinburgh: Scottish Government.
Stonehouse, D., Threlkeld, G. and Farmer, J. (2015) ‘“Housing risk” and the neoliberal discourse of responsibilisation in Victoria’, Critical Social Policy, 35, 3, 393413.
Tugade, M. and Fredrickson, B. (2004) ‘Resilient individuals use positive emotions to bounce back from negative emotional experiences’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 2, 320–33.
University of Ulster (2014) Northern Ireland Quarterly Housing Price Index for Q1 2014, Belfast: University of Ulster.
Young Foundation (2012) Adapting to Change: The Role of Community Resilience, London: Young Foundation.
Zolli, A. and Healy, A. (2012) Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, London: Headline Publishing Group.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Social Policy and Society
  • ISSN: 1474-7464
  • EISSN: 1475-3073
  • URL: /core/journals/social-policy-and-society
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed