The Term ‘Resilience’

Speaking of ‘resilience’, various disciplines have recently adopted scientific approaches from (in particular) Social Ecology and Developmental Psychology aimed at a specific class of social processes: They investigate strategies, resources and conditions that can potentially ensure the survival or preservation of individual and/or social ‘systems’ in cases of external existential threats (e.g., natural disasters or social damages). References to ‘resilience’ are more specifically framed by contrasting it with phenomena of crisis, threat, vulnerability and risk. In contrast to these concepts, resilience focuses on the potential of social and societal structures and units to persist and resist when faced with exceptional, disruptive processes of social change. 

Based on a definition compiled by the Stockholm Resilience Center, the term ‘resilience’ is referred to as the capability to develop options for social, cultural and political action. Here, the research group understands the ability of social units to adapt within a certain status quo defined critical limits as the ‘Potential of Coping‘.  By the ‘Potential of Adaptation‘ of social units, it understands changes that are within already foreseeable development paths. Once the previous critical limits are exceeded, structures are changed and new development paths are established, the research group speaks of the ‘Potential of Transformation‘. Their major concern is the investigation of how these three subareas of resilience operate together and what interdependencies are there among them. Therefore, they define resilience as a combination of dynamic coping, adaptation and transformation processes in the face of challenges that threaten the existence of a company. These processes are characterised by the flexible and creative reconfiguration of traditional elements, as well as the development of new patterns of interpretation and action.


Central Objective

The overarching goal of the research group is to develop and refine a resilience approach for the historical and social sciences. This concept should allow for analysing non-linear and multi-layered socio-historical processes characterised by a close connection of phenomena of continuity and discontinuity. The research group explores the transformation requirements for the transfer of the resilience approach, especially from the social-ecological discourse. It also identifies the resulting potentials for socio-historical research in general and for the historical disciplines that investigate the 13th-17th centuries, legal history and sociology in particular.



The concept of resilience will be compared, in view of its analytical potential, with other socio-historical conceptions of process; its sustainability and its conceptual surplus will be tested empirically. The research group will consider the historical variation in the notions concerning the times, the current threats, and the concomitant ideas concerning human agency. The group will draw on a set of project-specific methods: techniques of sequential analysis from qualitative social research; textual comparison as current in historical hermeneutics and semantics, and the analysis of historical networks. 


The Research Group during the First Funding Period

In the initial funding period (1 July 2016-30 June 2019), the question was investigated as to whether the empirical and conceptual yields of the analyses of historical constellations can be used for both historical and contemporary type and theory formation.  In the systematic interlocking of medieval research with sociological theory formation guided by the sociology of knowledge, historical-empirical typologies of resilience processes, resilience resources, resilience strategies and resilience dispositions should be developed and these concepts should in turn be made usable for research in the humanities and social sciences. In the first funding period, the Research Group was predominantly concerned with investigating the significance  of different forms of social patterns of interpretation and self-description for the course and results of resilience processes. This is made possible through a threefold analytical perspective, which took into account social upheaval situations in socio-political, socio-economic and socio-cultural terms.

In the first funding period, six projects from the fields of sociology and medieval studies, represented by the subjects Older German Philology, History of Law and Medieval History, participated in the research work:


  • Project 1 “Ashkenazi Jews in the later Middle Ages: Responses to Persecution, Discrimination, and Expulsion”
  • Project 2 „Resilience in Southern Italy under the early Anjou Regime (1266–1309)“
  • Project 3 “Theory of Resilience”
  • Project 4 “Urban Culture and Resilience: The Shrovetide Play on Nuremberg’s stages before and after the Reformation”
  • Project 5 “Reception of Law and Resilience. The Law of Credit in the Ius Commune”
  • Project 6 “A resilient City: The Republic of Venice in the 15th century”


The Research Group during the Second Funding Period

In the second funding period (1 November 2019-30 October 2022), the research group aims, in a dialogue between historical disciplines and sociology, to elaborate and further develop a resilience concept that should allow for analysing non-linear and multi-level socio-historical processes characterised by a close connection between phenomena of continuity and discontinuity. With this innovative approach, which conceives of ‘resilience’ not in essentialistic terms but as a heuristic for analysing processes, the research group ties in with the findings and results of the first funding period continues its work with regard to the concepts developed, elaborates them further and at the same time complements its theoretical and empirical basis. Research in the second funding period will focus in particular on the analysis of the connection between phenomena of continuity and discontinuity in socio-historical processes, as well as the interpretation and significance of disruptive phenomena in the context of socio-historical processes of upheaval.

The focus of the research group in the second funding period resulted in an adapted compilation of projects as well as new thematic focuses within the continued projects:


  • Project 1 “Ashkenazi Jewry in the later Middle Ages. Potentials of Regional Networks towards Coping, Adaptation, and Transformation”
  • Project 2 “Resilience in Southern Italy under the Early Angevin Rulers (1266–1309)”
  • Project 3 “Theory of Resilience”
  • Project 4 “Resilience Processes in the Face of Disruptive Phenomena. On the Societal Perception of Security Policies and Terrorist Threats”
  • Project 5 “Legal Transplants and Resilience. Lay Courts in 15th and 16th Century Germany”
  • Project 6 “Criminal justice in Western Territories of the Old Reich (15th–17th c.). Resilience Processes and the persecution of witchcraft and fornication”