Building Community Resilience

Course Number
5100 (Social and Behavioural Health Science)
Course Instructor(s)
Blake Poland

Course Description

Rationale & Context

The world, and North America in particular, is entering a period of unprecedented change. There is mounting evidence of the potential for (and pressure for action to avoid) runaway climate change, unprecedented species extinctions and environmental degradation, the persistence (and growth) of alarming inequities in health, and accelerated resource depletion. To this must be added the fact that we are entering the end of a historic period of cheap and abundant fossil fuels (hitting a ‘peak’ variously predicted to occur between 2005 and 2020) having made 50 years of investment in an infrastructure of globalized food and industrial production, suburban sprawl, burgeoning average house sizes, car-­‐dependence and mass consumption that drove decades of credit-­‐dependent economic growth but delivered little in terms of long-­‐term sustainability, local economic and agricultural self-­‐reliance, or even, arguably (by some accounts) quality of life. By many estimates we currently possess most of the technological know-­‐how to solve the world’s fiscal, economic, environmental, social justice and climatological crises. In other words, the problem is not technical but social. Consensus is emerging that building resilience at 3 nested levels (psychological/ personal, community, systems level) is or must be at the centre of convergent social justice and environmental social change movements. Resilience is widely understood to refer to the ability of communities, persons, or systems to withstand shocks or stress without collapse, or the ability to accept and embrace (as opposed to resist) change.

Course Objectives & Scope

This course is designed to assist students working in the area of public health, environment, social work, adult education, community development, public health and/or cognate fields (in research, practice & policy) to understand and apply concepts of resilience (from systems theory and complexity science) to building the capacity of communities to (a) successfully weather predicted disruptions/shocks associated with climate change, global pandemics, interruptions in global trade and food supply, sharp increases in the cost of energy, and environmental degradation; and (b) nurture the development of alternative spaces (economic arrangements, networks, etc) that support the emergence of life-­‐sustaining structures and practices (economic, social, etc) to replace the unsustainable industrial growth society whose accelerated unravelling we are currently witnessing on many levels.

Particular attention will be paid to the role of community-­‐level initiatives aimed at transitioning towards a lower-­‐carbon society (reduced reliance on fossil fuels, decarbonization, relocalization of production, etc) and the health and equity implications of such changes. Emphasis will also be on identifying elements of the social fabric that can hold communities through rough times, including diversity in knowledge, skills and networks; as well as interventions and grassroots social movements that build capacity and resilience at the community level.