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James Cascio:

"Resilience means the capacity of an entity--such as a person, an 
institution, or a system--to withstand sudden, unexpected shocks, 
and (ideally) to be capable of recovering quickly afterwards. 
Resilience implies both strength and flexibility; a resilient 
structure would bend, but would be hard to break." (

See also: Resilience Theory


Alex Evans and David Steven:

"In formal terms, resilience is defined as the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganise while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity and feedbacks. (Walker et al, 2004)

Perhaps the best practical definition we have come across is the one offered by the Harvard Business Review. It states that resilience results from being able to face up to reality, improvise in the face of unfamiliar challenges, and at the same time find a source of ‘meaning’ in the challenges that encourages long-term thinking while affirming a sustaining sense of purpose (Coutu, 2002).

Both definitions emphasise the need to change while maintaining a coherent identity. Systems that are brittle, that try to remain static at all costs, are precisely the ones that are most vulnerable to collapse. On the other hand, systems that are flexible, adaptable, that deal with crisis through renewal are the ones that will tend to survive. This is, in other words, a classic collective action problem. The central determinant of a system’s resilience is the ability to act collectively, coherently, and with the right balance between short and long-term interests.

In a high resilience system, risk – and response to that risk – is distributed throughout the system. Individuals and their groups see their interests as compatible with the collective. They have a common understanding of the challenges a society faces and take decisions accordingly, but this understanding is not a straitjacket. Different actors play to the strengths and will often compete fiercely. But there is a balance between initiative and co-ordination, and broad buy-in to overarching institutional frameworks.

In a low resilience system, on the other hand, risks are felt disproportionately by some groups and responses are inadequate, over-centralised, or both. Longer-term interests are heavily discounted, individuals pursue narrow self-interest; and conflict between groups intensifies. As a result, key institutions are increasingly seen as failing to ‘deliver’." (


Daniel Christian Wahl:

"There are three aspects and two types of resilience.

Type 1 resilience is based on:

i) persistence in the face of disruption and

ii) adaptation in response to disruption to recover the old status quo.

Type 2 resilience is based on:

iii) a (r)evolutionary or transformative response."


Resilience vs Robustness

Conrad Stanley:

"Fail-safe Robustness vs. Safe-Fail Resilience:

"Resilience also needs to be differentiated from robustness. Resilience comes from the Latin resilire “to jump back” while robustness derives from robustus meaning “hard and firm”. Hence a robust marble would rather disintegrate than move, whereas a resilient marble can move up the side of the bowl and roll back, or roll into an entirely new bowl if required.

Robustness is a “fail-safe” approach preoccupied with maintaining the reliable operation of all system parts."



James Cascio:

  • "Resilient flexibility means avoiding situations where components of a 
system are "too big to fail"--that is, where the failure of a single 
part can bring the whole thing crashing down. The alternative comes 
from the combination of diversity (lots of different parts), 
collaboration (able to work together), and decentralization (organized 
from the bottom-up). The result is a system that can more effectively 
respond to rapid changes in conditions, and including the unexpected 
loss of components.

  • The recognition that failure happens is the other intrinsic part of a 
resilience approach. Mistakes, malice, pure coincidence--there's no 
way to rule out all possible ways in which a given system can stumble. 
The goal, therefore, should be to make failures easy to spot through 
widespread adoption of transparency through a "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow" embrace of 
openness, and to give the system enough redundancy and slack that it's 
possible to absorb the failures that get through. If you know that you 
can't rule out failure, you need to be able to "fail gracefully," in 
the language of design.


8 Principles

"1. Diversity: Not relying on a single kind of solution means not suffering from a single point of failure.

2. Redundancy: Backup, backup, backup. Never leave yourself with just one path of escape or rescue.

3. Decentralization: Centralized systems look strong, but when they fail, they fail catastrophically.

4. Collaboration: We're all in this together. Take advantage of collaborative technologies, especially those offering shared communication and information.

5. Transparency: Don't hide your system - transparency makes it easier to figure out where a problem may lie. Share your plans and preparations, and listen when people point out flaws.

6. Fail gracefully: Failure happens, so make sure that a failure state won't make things worse than they are already.

7. Flexibility: Be ready to change your plans when they're not working the way you expected; don't count on things remaining stable.

8. Foresight: You can't predict the future, but you can hear its footsteps approaching. Think and prepare" (

Conditions for a Resilient World

Brian Walker:

"We are a long way from understanding how to create a resilient world. Nevertheless, it is possible to offer some visions for what a resilient world might look like.

  • A resilient world would promote biological, landscape, social and economic diversity. Diversity is a major source of future options and of a system's capacity to respond to change.
  • A resilient world would embrace and work with natural ecological cycles. A forest that is never allowed to burn loses its fire-resistant species and becomes very vulnerable to fire.
  • A resilient world consists of modular components. When over-connected, shocks are rapidly transmitted through the system - as a forest connected by logging roads can allow a wild fire to spread wider than it would otherwise.
  • A resilient world possesses tight feedbacks. Feedbacks allow us to detect thresholds before we cross them. Globalization is leading to delayed feedbacks that were once tighter. For example, people of the developed world receive weak feedback signals about the consequences of their consumption.
  • A resilient world promotes trust, well developed social networks and leadership. Individually, these attributes contribute to what is generally termed "social capital," but they need to act in concert to effect adaptability - the capacity to respond to change and disturbance.
  • A resilient world places an emphasis on learning, experimentation, locally developed rules, and embracing change. When rigid connections and behaviors are broken, new opportunities open up and new resources are made available for growth.
  • A resilient world has institutions that include "redundancy" in their governance structures and a mix of common and private property with overlapping access rights. Redundancy in institutions increases the diversity of responses and the flexibility of a system. Because access and property rights lie at the heart of many resource-use tragedies, overlapping rights and a mix of common and private property rights can enhance the resilience of linked social-ecological systems.
  • A resilient world would consider all nature's un-priced services – such as carbon storage, water filtration and so on - in development proposals and assessments. These services are often the ones that change in a regime shift – and are often only recognized and appreciated when they are lost."


Key Concepts of Resilience Thinking

From the Resilience Primer at Shareable [1]:

"Definition: resilience is the ability of an interdependent social and ecological system to absorb disturbances and maintain the same structure and function.

Other context:

  • A resilient system copes well with shock
  • As a system's resilience declines, the size of the shock from which it can recover gets smaller
  • Resilience shifts management focus from growth and efficiency to adaptability
  • An overemphasis on growth and efficiency of a system leads to a dangerous rigidity and fragility
  • A resilience focus is increasingly important as the magnitude of the shocks in the world get bigger and more unpredictable
  • Learning, flexibility, and self-organization are important to the ability to recover and thrive
  • The aim of resilience management is to keep a system in a regime so it continues to deliver the desired ecosystem services and is not easily pushed into an undesirable regime from which it can't recover


  • Nonlinearity, alternate regimes and thresholds. SESs include nonlinear dynamics. A system can shift dramatically into an undesirable regime from a small change if a threshold is crossed. Attention to thresholds is critical.
  • Adaptive cycles. SESs tend to move through four recurring phases: growth and conservation (resources committed, stable, slow change, predictable), release and reorganization (resources freed up, chaos, fast change, opportunity). This is the cycle of life.
  • Panarchy - multiple scales and cross-scale effects. SESs function at multiple scales of space, time and social organization. You must understand the cross-scale interactions to manage effectively at a specific scale. One key to this is to realize that each scale can be in a different phase of the adaptive cycle.
  • Transformability. If a SES is pushed into an undesirable regime and can't be returned to it's former state, one option is to transform it into a new system with new variables, new livelihoods, and different scales of organization.
  • General vs. specified resilience. Specified resilience is resilience of a specific part of a system to a specific shock. Focus on resilience of one part the system can come at the expense of other parts of the system. Balance between the two forms of resilience is important."


The resilience conceptual framework of Nicholas Gotts

"Characteristics of the resilience conceptual framework include:

1. multiple metastable regimes.

Rather than a single equilibrium point, such systems generally have multiple metastable regimes. Within each regime, change may occur, but the set of dynamically important variables and interactions remains fixed.

2. the importance of episodic change.

Systems with multiple metastable regimes may switch rapidly between them as critical thresholds are passed. Furthermore, hysteresis is common.

3. Resilience.

Holling and Gunderson (2002:28) define ecosystem resilience as “ ... the magnitude of disturbance that can be absorbed before the system changes its structure by changing the variables and processes that control behavior.” Resilience in this sense is central to the resilience conceptual framework.

4. multiple distinctive scales with cross-scale interactions.

Holling et al. (2002c:72) argue that ecological and social-ecological systems form a multilevel hierarchical structure, but that the different levels are of distinct kinds, i.e., the structure is not scale-free.

The resilience conceptual framework underlies a broad body of work, including a considerable number of detailed studies of regional socialecological systems (see any issue of Ecology and Society, and most of the chapters in Gunderson and Holling 2002 and Berkes et al. 2003). This body of work has now reached a state in which systematic comparisons can be made, particularly with regard to thresholds and regime shifts (Walker and Meyers 2004, Groffman et al. 2006). A significant subset of recent work within the resilience conceptual framework explores or makes use of the adaptive cycle metaphor to varying degrees, and this paper focuses primarily on these, but also draws on the broader resilience literature." (

Six principles of organizational resilience

Peter and Trudy Johnson-Lenz:

"More recently, Ceridian Corporation collected best thinking and strategies to publish an executive briefing on organizational resilience. They highlighted the paradox that successful, resilient organizations are those that are able to respond to two conflicting imperatives:

  • managing for performance and growth, which requires consistency, efficiency, eliminating waste, and maximizing short-term results
  • managing for adaptation, which requires foresight, innovation, experimentation, and improvisation, with an eye on long-term benefits

Most organizations pay great attention to the first imperative but little to the second. Start-ups often excel at improvisation and innovation but founder on the shoals of consistent performance and efficiency. About half of all new companies fail during their first five years.

Each mode requires a different skill set and organizational design. Moving nimbly between them is a tricky dynamic balancing act. Disruptions can come from anywhere – from within, from competitors, infrastructure or supply chain crises, or from human or natural disasters. The financial crisis has riveted current attention, but it’s just one of many disruptions organizations must cope with daily. Planning for disruption means shifting from “just-in-time” production and efficiency to “just-in-case” resilience.

We draw from these two studies, and others, to develop what we call the six habits of highly resilient organizations.

1. Resilient organizations actively attend to their environments.

Monitoring internal and external indicators of change is a means of identifying disruptions in advance. Resilient organizations seek out potentially disturbing information and test it against current assumptions and mental models. They work to detect the unexpected so they can respond quickly enough to exploit opportunity or prevent irreversible damage. In short, they anticipate to be prepared.

“[T]he two questions that keep coming up in almost every speech, panel, and hallway conversation,” reports Arianna Huffington from this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, “are ‘what went wrong?’ and ‘how did we miss the signals?’ The consensus conclusions: 1) Too much faith in the free market. 2) Too much faith in economic models. 3) Too little transparency. 4) No moral compass.”

2. Resilient organizations prepare themselves and their employees for disruptions.

Attentive preparations build a team that imagines possibilities and displays inventiveness in solving problems. Managers know how and when to allow employees to manage themselves for focused productivity as well as adaptive innovation. Resilient organizations cross-train employees in multiple skills and functions. They know that when people are under pressure, they tend to revert to their most habitual ways of responding.

After the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Morgan Stanley, the largest employer at the WTC, realized it was operating in a highly symbolic building and began emergency preparedness with detailed plans and drills. On September 11, 2001 it had three recovery sites at the ready where employees could congregate and continue business. They began evacuating about 2700 employees one minute after the first plane hit, and their offices across 22 floors were almost empty when the second plane hit. They lost only six people. According to their 2001 Annual Report, investments in redundant computing and communication technology made after the 1993 WTC bombing also played a significant role in this successful recovery.

3. Resilient organizations build in flexibility.

Even while executing for lean and mean performance, resilient organizations build in cushions against disruptions. The most obvious approach is the development of redundant systems – backup capacity, larger inventories, higher staffing levels, financial reserves, and the like. But those are costly and not always efficient. Flexibility is a better approach.

Engaging suppliers and their networks in devising makeshift solutions to temporary disruptions is a flexibility strategy. So are policies that encourage flexibility in when and where work is done. Employees who are used to telework and virtual workspaces adapt more quickly and are more productive following a crisis. In addition, research shows that flexible work practices contribute to greater employee resilience, productivity, and commitment, and to lower levels of stress.

In 1997, a fire at an Aisin factory in Japan destroyed most of the precision machine tools used to manufacture the P-valve used in rear brakes to prevent skidding. Toyota got 99% of its P-valves from Aisin. As a just-in-time manufacturer, Toyota had only a couple of days’ valves in its plants. While the fire was still burning, Toyota and Aisin immediately collaborated to make emergency requests of their networks of suppliers. Aisin helped other suppliers improvise different production techniques, providing them with detailed plans and technical support. Two days after the fire, the first valves came off the production line, and a week later, Toyota’s production line was back to normal. Two months later, Aisin resumed production at pre-fire levels.

4. Resilient organizations strengthen and extend their communications networks – internally and externally.

A robust and redundant communications infrastructure holds up in a crisis. Social networks among employees at resilient organizations are rich, varied, and visible. People who have trust relationships and personal support systems at work and with friends and family are much more able to cope with stress and change.

Good connections and communications also apply to external relationships with suppliers and customers. A key is to recognize what’s important to meet organizational goals and to listen to those with needed expertise and ideas wherever they are in the value web.

Resilient organizations use networked communications to distribute decision-making. As much as possible, they push decisions down to where they can be made most effectively and thus quickly. This in turn requires good access to information at all levels of the organization.

After Hurricane Andrew devastated Florida in 1992, the state reassessed its preparedness and greatly expanded its planning to include stakeholders from every level of government, as well as organizations in the private sector, non-profits, and faith-based groups. These organizations came together to cooperate and collaborate, addressing the complex problems that none of them could solve by themselves. This Florida “megacommunity” was prepared for Hurricane Katrina, unlike localities on the Gulf Coast. In fact, within hours of Katrina’s landfall, more than 3700 of Florida’s first responders were deployed to affected areas.

5. Resilient organizations encourage innovation and experimentation.

In times of great uncertainty and unpredictability, the success and failure of small-scale experiments can help map a path to the future. Resilient organizations engage in market research, product development, and ongoing operations and service improvements. They invest in small experiments and product trials that carry low costs of failure.

UPS tells its drivers to do whatever it takes to deliver packages on time. They encourage improvisation to solve all the small things that can go wrong every day. At the same time, they have clear rules and regulations, such as always putting their keys in the same place, closing truck doors the same way, making only right turns 90% of the time to save time and fuel, and so on. Those routines, combined with creative improvisation, allowed UPS to deliver packages the day after Hurricane Andrew struck, even to people temporarily living in their cars.

Resilient organizations foster a culture of continuous innovation and ingenuity to solve problems and adapt to challenges. A side benefit is that employees who believe they can influence events that affect their work and lives are more likely to be engaged, committed, and act in positive ways associated with resilience. Some organizations also have internal idea markets to surface new ideas and innovations. Others use “crowdsourcing” to engage people externally in solving a given problem. Eli Lilly's Innocentive Open Innovation Marketplace is perhaps the best example.

6. Resilient organizations cultivate a culture with clearly shared purpose and values.

When an organization’s sense of purpose is shared by its employees, suppliers and customers, those networks can provide flexibility to help it through a disruption. Engaged employees will seek out opportunities to try new approaches, find creative solutions, and achieve great results.

A University of Michigan study of major airlines in the aftermath of September 11 found that those whose market value rebounded shared two characteristics: (1) they maintained their commitments to employees, and (2) they had adequate financial reserves. Others went bankrupt or out of business. Instead of layoffs or canceling severance packages and employee benefits, the resilient ones did everything they could to preserve employee relationships and loyalty. Financial reserves and a strong sense of purpose and organizational values made that possible." (

Social Production of Resilience

In P2P Politics:

“Small-scale innovations are modeling true, sustainable resource management and grounded social cohesion, in fields like governance, agriculture, service provision, science, research and development, education, finance and currency. Many of these place-based efforts are documented and replicated worldwide through the use of the Internet, enriching the knowledge commons from which they draw.

But while such prefigurative approaches are key components for the construction of sensible alternatives, they typically develop within the constraints of existing systems. Whether through the enclosures brought on by neoliberalism or the increasingly authoritarian and exclusionary politics of the further right, the expected “normality” (job security, pensions, unemployment supports, fair working hours and conditions) that citizens have experienced or aspire to will likely continue to erode.

As an effect, the space assumed available for the operations of those productive communities described above will inevitably compress. This is why the Commons movement must engage in the political field, not only to protect the best qualities of the welfare state model, but to transcend it with a radically reimagined politics that facilitates social value creation and community-organized practices. (“Political” here refers not only to political representation but also to the actionable rights of those affected by political decisions, i.e., the citizenry.) This breaks down the false dichotomy between those wanting to build alternatives, and those working to enable change through hacking existing political channels. Both prefigurative and institutional lines of action are necessary to build a balanced polity.”


Pat Conaty:

“There is a strong class divide problem. Not easy at all to overcome this but we ignore the state and trade unions at our collective peril. But on the other hand, the different solutions are complementary and need to be seen more clearly so.”

Thomas Allan:

In adult social care, local authorities continue to show a mix of sympathy and/or interest in community-led initiatives, whether through a real belief in their value or due to the cost cutting imperative. However, there is a distinction needed between community-led initiatives (whether mutual aid, peer support, etc.) and the ‘formal’ state funded social care sector (i.e., care and support for those assessed as eligible – nursing care, home care, supporting living, residential care, etc). That might sound obvious, but over recent years many local authorities have used and promoted the availability of the former to justify cuts to the latter.

A typical viewpoint encountered in adult social care and community-based approaches is that with sufficient preventative community-based support there would be less need for ‘social services’, which I feel has a certain amount of truth to it of course. But that on its own shows less of an awareness of P2P Politics and the Partner State changes needed and the ways in which community-based approaches are used as a substitute for state-funded provision and responsibility and to slash budgets. Or, as has been put elsewhere, community narratives are becoming ‘a new locus for accumulation’.

Despite the effectiveness of Transition Town networks, resilience thinking and the push to create local, circular, resilient economies, we need to get to key structural drivers of inequality and unsustainability (such as the marginalization of the care economy). Inequality of Resilience is a conceptual bridge across this divide and false dichotomy between prefigurative models and institutional lines of action, and towards the Partner State/Partner State approach.

What is needed now is a holistic framing of human need, where care and social interdependency are reconnected through organisational form to broader public structures of human rights and social responsibility.

Inequality of Resilience

Martha Fineman:

“Importantly, the primary emphasis of vulnerability theory is not our human vulnerability, although the theory begins there. When vulnerability is understood as a universal constant, the task then becomes to explore the strategies by which we can mitigate this vulnerability. Therefore, human beings are not rendered more or less vulnerable because they have certain characteristics or are at various stages in their lives, but do experience the world with differing levels of resilience. The inequality of resilience is at the heart of vulnerability theory because it turns our attention to society and social institutions. No one is born resilient. Rather, resilience is produced within and through institutions and relationships that confer privilege and power. Those institutions and relationships, whether deemed public or private, are at least partially defined and reinforced by law.” This insight about the social production of resilience allows us to argue for a more responsive state. The state is responsive when it recognizes the universality and constancy of vulnerability, as well as the need to provide mechanisms for building resilience. It is responsive when it acts to monitor and reorient institutions and relationships when they do not function in a just manner. At a minimum, the role of law in structuring societal relationships and institutions means that the state should bear responsibility to ensure that they are justly structured and fairly functioning. An appreciation of the role of social institutions and relationships in producing resilience is central to vulnerability theory’s project of building an ethical framework for confronting neoliberalism, with its emphasis on individual autonomy and personal responsibility."



Smart Grid

"Resilient flexibility means avoiding situations where components of a 
system are "too big to fail"--that is, where the failure of a single 
part can bring the whole thing crashing down. The alternative comes 
from the combination of diversity (lots of different parts), 
collaboration (able to work together), and decentralization (organized 
from the bottom-up). The result is a system that can more effectively 
respond to rapid changes in conditions, and including the unexpected 
loss of components.

A good comparison of the two models can be seen in the contrast 
between the current electricity grid (centralized, with limited diversity) 
and the "smart grid" model being debated (decentralized and highly 
diverse). Today's power grid is brittle, and the combination of a few 
local failures can make large sections collapse; a smart grid has a 
wide variety of inputs, from wind farms to home solar to biofuel 
generators, and its network is designed to handle the churn of local 
power sources turning on and shutting off.
" (


By Kevin Carson: Historical Models of Resilient Community

"The prototypical resilient community, in the mother of all “Times of Troubles,” was the Roman villa as it emerged in the late Empire and early Dark Ages. In Republican times, villas had been estates on which the country homes of the Senatorial class were located, often self-sufficient in many particulars and resembling villages in their own right. During the stresses of the “long collapse” in the fifth century, and in the Dark Ages following the fall of the Western Empire, the villas became stockaded fortresses, often with villages of peasants attached.

Since the rise of industrial capitalism, recurring economic depression and unemployment, and economic uncertainty associated with labor strife, have been the catalysts behind the creation of local exchange systems and the direct organization of production for barter.

A good example is the Owenites' use of the social economy as a base for independence from wage labor. According to E. P. Thompson, "[n]ot only did the benefit societies on occasion extend their activities to the building of social clubs or alms-houses; there are also a number of instances of pre- Owenite trade unions when on strike, employing their own members and marketing the product."

G.D. H. Cole describes the same phenomenon:

As the Trade Unions grew after 1825, Owenism began to appeal to them, and especially to the skilled handicraftsmen.... Groups of workers belonging to a particular craft began to set up Co-operative Societies of a different type—societies of producers which offered their products for sale through the Co-operative Stores. Individual Craftsmen, who were Socialists, or who saw a way of escape from the exactions of the middlemen, also brought their products to the stores to sell."

...[This pattern of organization was characterized by] societies of producers, aiming at co-operative production of goods and looking to the Stores to provide them with a market. These naturally arose first in trades requiring comparatively little capital or plant. They appealed especially to craftsmen whose independence was being threatened by the rise of factory production or sub-contracting through capitalist middlemen.

The most significant feature of the years we are discussing was the rapid rise of this... type of Cooperative Society and the direct entry of the Trades Unions into Co-operative production. Most of these Societies were based directly upon or at least very closely connected with the Unions of their trades, ...which took up production as a part of their Union activity—especially for giving employment to their members who were out of work or involved in trade disputes....

The aims and overall vision of such organization were well expressed in the rules of the Ripponden Co-operative Society, formed in 1832 in a weaving village in the Pennines:

The plan of co-operation which we are recommending to the public is not a visionary one but is acted upon in various parts of the Kingdom; we all live by the produce of the land, and exchange labour for labour, which is the object aimed at by all Co-operative societies. We labourers do all the work and produce all the comforts of life;—why then should we not labour for ourselves and strive to improve our conditions.

Cooperative producers' need for an outlet led to Labour Exchanges, where workmen and cooperatives could directly exchange their product so as "to dispense altogether with either capitalist employers or capitalist merchants." Exchange was based on labor time. "Owen's Labour Notes for a time not only passed current among members of the movement, but were widely accepted by private shopkeepers in payment for goods."

The principle of labor-based exchange was employed on a large-scale. In 1830 the London Society opened an Exchange Bazaar for exchange of products between cooperative societies and individuals.19 The Co-operative Congress, held at Liverpool in 1832, included a long list of trades among its participants (the B's alone had eleven). The National Equitable Labour Exchange, organized in 1832-33 in Birmingham and London, was a venue for the direct exchange of products between craftsmen, using Labour Notes as a medium of exchange.

The Knights of Labor, in the 1880s, undertook a large-scale effort at organizing worker cooperatives. Their fate is an illustration of the central role of capital outlay requirements in determining the feasibility of self-employment and cooperative employment.

The first major wave of worker cooperatives in the U.S., according to John Curl, was under the auspices of the National Trades' Union in the 1830s. Like the Owenite trade union cooperatives in Britain, they were mostly undertaken in craft employments for which the basic tools of the trade were relatively inexpensive. From the beginning, worker cooperatives were a frequent resort of striking workers. In 1768 twenty striking journeyman tailors in New York, the first striking wage-workers in American history, set up their own cooperative shop. Journeyman carpenters striking for a ten-hour day in Philadelphia, in 1761, formed a cooperative (with the ten-hour day they sought) and undercut their former employers' price by 25%; they disbanded the cooperative when they went back to work. The same was done by shoemakers in Baltimore, 1794, and Philadelphia, 1806. This was a common pattern in early American labor history, and the organization of cooperatives moved from being purely a strike tactic to providing an alternative to wage labor. It was feasible because most forms of production were done by groups of artisan laborers using hand tools.

By the 1840s, the rise of factory production with expensive machinery had largely put an end to this possibility. As the prerequisites of production became increasingly unafforable, the majority of the population was relegated to wage labor with machinery owned by someone else.

Most attempts at worker-organized manufacturing, after the rise of the factory system, failed on account of the capital outlays required. For example, when manufacturers refused to sell farm machinery to the Grangers at wholesale prices, the Nebraska Grange undertook its own design and manufacturing of machinery. (How's that for a parallel to modern P2P ideas?) Its first attempt, a wheat head reaper, sold at half the price of comparable models and drove down prices on farm machinery in Nebraska. The National Grange planned a complete line of farm machinery, but most Grange manufacturing enterprises failed to raise the large sums of capital needed.

The Knights of Labor cooperatives were on shaky ground in the best of times. Many of them were founded during strikes, started with “little capital and obsolescent machinery,” and lacked the capital to invest in modern machinery. Subjected to economic warfare by organized capital, the network of cooperatives disintegrated during the post-Haymarket repression.

The worker cooperatives organized in the era of artisan labor paralleled, in many ways, the forms of work organization that are arising today. Networked organization, crowdsourced credit and the implosion of capital outlays required for physical production, taken together, are recreating the same conditions that made artisan cooperatives feasible in the days before the factory system. In the artisan manufactories that prevailed into the early 19th century, most of the physical capital required for production was owned by the work force; artisan laborers could walk out and essentially take the firm with them in all but name. Likewise, today, the collapse of capital outlay requirements for production in the cultural and information fields (software, desktop publishing, music, etc.) has created a situation in which human capital is the source of most book value for many firms; consequently, workers are able to walk out with their human capital and form “breakaway firms,” leaving their former employers as little more than hollow shells. And the rise of cheap garage manufacturing machinery (a Fab Lab with homebrew CNC tools costing maybe two months' wages for a semi-skilled worker) is, in its essence, a return to the days when low physical capital costs made worker cooperatives a viable alternative to wage labor.

In the Great Depression, the same principles used by the Owenites and Knights of Labor were applied in the Homestead Unit project in the Dayton area, an experiment with household and community production in which Borsodi played a prominent organizing role. Despite some early success, it was eventually killed off by Harold Ickes, a technocratic liberal who wanted to run the homestead project along the same centralist lines as the Tennessee Valley Authority. The Homestead Units were built on cheap land in the countryside surrounding Dayton, with a combination of threeacre family homesteads and some division of labor on other community projects. The family homestead included garden, poultry and other livestock, and a small orchard and berry patch. The community provided woodlot and pasture, in addition.

A Unit Committee vice president in the project described the economic security resulting from subsistence production:

There are few cities where the independence of a certain sort of citizen has not been brought into relief by the general difficulties of the depression. In the environs of all cities there is the soil-loving suburbanite. In some cases these are small farmers, market gardeners and poultry raisers who try to make their entire living from their little acres. More often and more successful there is a combination of rural and city industry. Some member of the family, while the others grow their crops, will have a job in town. A little money, where wages are joined to the produce of the soil, will go a long way....

When the depression came most of these members of these suburban families who held jobs in town were cut in wages and hours. In many cases they entirely lost their jobs. What, then, did they do?.... The soil and the industries of their home provided them... work and a living, however scant. Except for the comparatively few dollars required for taxes and a few other items they were able, under their own sail, to ride out the storm. The sailing was rough, perhaps; but not to be compared with that in the wreck-strewn town....

Farming as an exclusive business, a full means of livelihood, has collapsed.... Laboring as an exclusive means of livelihood has also collapsed. The city laborer, wholly dependent on a job, is of all men most precariously placed. Who, then, is for the moment safe and secure? The nearest to it is this home and acresowning family in between, which combines the two.

An interesting experiment in restoring the "circuit of labor" through barter exchange was Depression-era organizations like the Unemployed Cooperative Relief Organization and Unemployed Exchange Association:

...The real economy was still there—paralyzed but still there. Farmers were still producing, more than they could sell. Fruit rotted on trees, vegetables in the fields. In January 1933, dairymen poured more than 12,000 gallons of milk into the Los Angeles City sewers every day. The factories were there too. Machinery was idle. Old trucks were in side lots, needing only a little repair. All that capacity on the one hand, legions of idle men and women on the other. It was the financial casino that had failed, not the workers and machines. On street corners and around bare kitchen tables, people started to put two and two together. More precisely, they thought about new ways of putting two and two together....

In the spring of 1932, in Compton, California, an unemployed World War I veteran walked out to the farms that still ringed Los Angeles. He offered his labor in return for a sack of vegetables, and that evening he returned with more than his family needed. The next day a neighbor went out with him to the fields. Within two months 500 families were members of the Unemployed Cooperative Relief Organization (UCRO).

That group became one of 45 units in an organization that served the needs of some 150,000 people. It operated a large warehouse, a distribution center, a gas and service station, a refrigeration facility, a sewing shop, a shoe shop, even medical services, all on cooperative principles. Members were expected to work two days a week, and benefits were allocated according to need....

The UCRO was just one organization in one city. Groups like it ultimately involved more than 1.3 million people, in more than 30 states. It happened spontaneously, without experts or blueprints. Most of the participants were blue collar workers whose formal schooling had stopped at high schools. Some groups evolved a kind of money to create more flexibility in exchange. An example was the Unemployed Exchange Association, or UXA, based in Oakland, California.... UXA began in a Hooverville... called "Pipe City," near the East Bay waterfront. Hundreds of homeless people were living there in sections of large sewer pipe that were never laid because the city ran out of money. Among them was Carl Rhodehamel, a musician and engineer.

Rhodehamel and others started going door to door in Oakland, offering to do home repairs in exchange for unwanted items. They repaired these and circulated them among themselves. Soon they established a commissary and sent scouts around the city and into the surrounding farms to see what they could scavenge or exchange labor for. Within six months they had 1,500 members, and a thriving sub-economy that included a foundry and machine shop, woodshop, garage, soap, factory, print shop, wood lot, ranches, and lumber mills. They rebuilt 18 trucks from scrap. At UXA's peak it distributed 40 tons of food a week.

It all worked on a time-credit system.... Members could use credits to buy food and other items at the commissary, medical and dental services, haircuts, and more. A council of some 45 coordinators met regularly to solve problems and discuss opportunities.

One coordinator might report that a saw needed a new motor. Another knew of a motor but the owner wanted a piano in return. A third member knew of a piano that was available. And on and on. It was an amalgam of enterprise and cooperation—the flexibility and hustle of the market, but without the encoded greed of the corporation or the stifling bureaucracy of the state.... The members called it a "reciprocal economy."....

Stewart Burgess, in a 1933 article, described a day's produce intake by the warehouse of Unit No. 1 in Compton. It included some fifteen different kinds of fruits and vegetables, from two tons of cabbage and seventy boxes of pears, all the way down to a single crate of beets—not to mention a sack of salt.

The production facilities and the waste materials it used as inputs foreshadow the ideas of Colin Ward, Kirkpatrick Sale and Karl Hess on community warehouses and workshops, discussed in the last chapter:

In this warehouse is an auto repair shop, a shoe-repair shop, a small printing shop for the necessary slips and forms, and the inevitable woodpile where cast-off railroad ties are sawed into firewood. Down the street, in another building, women are making over clothing that has been bartered in. In another they are canning vegetables and fruit—Boy Scouts of the Burbank Unit brought in empty jars by the wagon-load.

Such ventures, like the Knights of Labor cooperatives, were limited by the capital intensiveness of so many forms of production. The bulk of the labor performed within the barter networks was either in return for salvage goods in need of repair, for repairing such goods, or in return for unsold inventories of conventional businesses. When the supply of damaged machinery was exhausted by house-to-house canvassing, and local businesses disposed of their accumulated inventory, barter associations reached their limit. They could continue to function at a fairly low volume, directly undertaking for barter such low-capital forms of production as sewing, gardening on available land, etc., and trading labor for whatever percentage of output from otherwise idle capacity that conventional businesses were willing to barter for labor. But that level was quite low compared to the initial gains from absorbing excess inventory and salvageable machinery in the early days of the system. At most, once barter reached its sustainable limits, it was good as a partial mitigation of the need for wage labor.

But as production machinery becomes affordable to individuals independently of large employers, such direct production for barter will become increasingly feasible for larger and larger segments of the workforce.

The Great Depression was a renaissance of local barter currencies or “emergency currencies,” adopted around the world, which enabled thousands of communities to weather the economic calamity with “the medium of exchange necessary for their activities, to give each other work.”31 The revival of barter on the Internet coincides with a new economic downturn, as well. A Craigslist spokesman reported in March 2009 that bartering had doubled on the site over the previous year. Proposed swaps listed on the Washington area Craigslist site this week included accounting services in return for food, and a woman offering a week in her Hilton Head, S.C., vacation home for dental work for her husband.

Barter websites for exchanging goods and services without cash are proliferating around the world. With unemployment in the United States and Britain climbing, some people said bartering is the only way to make ends meet.

"I'm using barter Web sites just to see what we can do to survive," said Zedd Epstein, 25, who owned a business restoring historic houses in Iowa until May, when he was forced to close it as the economy soured. Epstein, in a telephone interview, said he has not been able to find work since, and he and his wife moved to California in search of jobs.

Epstein said he has had several bartering jobs he found on Craigslist. He drywalled a room in exchange for some tools, he poured a concrete shed floor in return for having a new starter motor installed in his car, and he helped someone set up their TV and stereo system in return for a hot meal. "Right now, this is what people are doing to get along," said Epstein, who is studying for an electrical engineering degree.

"If you need your faucet fixed and you know auto mechanics, there's definitely a plumber out there who's out of work and has something on his car that needs to be fixed," he said.

As the crisis progresses, and with it the gradually increasing underemployment and unemployment and the partial shift of value production from wage labor to the informal sector discussed in C4SS Paper No. 4, we can expect to see the growth of all sorts of income-pooling and cost-spreading mechanisms.

These include a restored emphasis on mutual aid organizations of the kind described by Pyotr Kropotkin and E. P. Thompson.

As Charles Johnson wrote:

It's likely also that networks of voluntary aid organizations would be strategically important to individual flourishing in a free society, in which there would be no expropriative welfare bureaucracy for people living with poverty or precarity to fall back on. Projects reviving the bottom-up, solidaritarian spirit of the independent unions and mutual aid societies that flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before the rise of the welfare bureaucracy, may be essential for a flourishing free society, and one of the primary means by which workers could take control of their own lives, without depending on either bosses or bureaucrats.

More fundamentally, they are likely to entail people coalescing into primary social units at the residential level (neighborhood cohousing projects, urban communes and squats, intentional communities, extended family compounds, etc.), as a way of pooling income and reducing costs. As the state's social safety nets come apart, such primary social units and extended federations between them are likely to become important mechanisms for pooling cost and risk and organizing care for the aged and sick.

Poul Anderson, in the fictional universe of his Maurai series, envisioned a post-apocalypse society in the Pacific Northwest coalescing around the old fraternal lodges, with the Northwestern Federation centered on lodges rather than geographical subdivisions as the component units represented in its legislature. The lodge emerged as the central social institution during the social disintegration following the nuclear war, much as the villa became the basic social unit of the new feudal society in the vacuum left by the fall of Rome. It was the principal and normal means for organizing benefits to the sick and unemployed, as well as the primary base for providing public services like police and fire protection." (


see: Resilience - Discussion


  1. Risks and resilience in the new global era. By Alex Evans and David Steven. Renewal Vol. 17, No.1



  • Book: Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back. Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy. Free Press/Simon and Schuster (UK by Headline Books), 2012.

URL = trailer

"Resilience" explores why some systems, people, organizations and ecosystems are able to persist, and even thrive, amid disruption. It is the culmination of a three-year journey my co-author, Ann-Marie Healy and I undertook to explore the patterns of resilience in many different contexts – from ecosystems to individuals and organizations. It was a journey that took us from the coral reefs of Palau to the back-streets of Palestine, to cutting-edge research labs.


"Adhocracies thrive on data. And by the stroke of fantastic luck, we're currently witnessing the global birth of an adhocracy of data -- a global revolution that, for the first time, empowers orgranizations with the capacity to collect and correlate widely distributed real-time information about the way many critical systems are performing. This kind of open data will play a central role in resilience strategies for years to come." (pg. 266, Resilience, Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy)

"And for organizations of all types there is a powerful lesson here: Resilience benefits accrue to organizations that prioritize the collection, presentation, and sharing of data." (pg. 269, Resilience, Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy)

"A related theme in the resilience discussion is the importance of networks, which provide a universal, abstract reference system for describing how information, resources, and behaviours flow through many complex systems. Having a common means to describe biological, economic, and ecological systems, for example, allows researchers to make comparisons between the ways these very different kinds of entities approach similar problems, such as stopping a contagion - whether an actual virus, a financial panic, an unwanted behavior, or an environmental contaminant - when it begins to spread. Having a shared frame of reference allows us to consider how successful tactics in one domain might be applied to another - as we'll see in newly emerging fields like ecological finance." (pg 19, Resilience, Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy)

"Rather the resilience frame suggests a different, complementary effort to mitigation: to redesign our institutions, embolden our communities, encourage innovation and experimentation, and support our people in ways that will help them be prepared and cope with surprises and distruptions, even as we work to fend them off." (pg 23, Resilience, Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy)


= "a fully voluntary wealth sharing network". [2]

Johan Nygren:

"My system extends the co-operative model with a form of inter-coop contract. Co-operatives can sign contracts with one another, and team up to form a kind of web of cooperatives. The idea of multi-coop communities is not new, it was part of Rochdale’s original manifesto, in which their sixth principle read “Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.”. The execution that Resilience uses is on the other hand new, and unprecedented, making use of new book-keeping technologies in the form of blockchains, and using smart-contracts to manage the organization in a decentralized and autonomous fashion.

Resilience adds yet another component: a distributed welfare system. These new incorruptible blockchain technologies make it possible to perform more complex dividend payments, and Resilience takes the patronage dividend concept of giving dividends based on how much a person has consumed, and extends it by sending the dividends to a distributed welfare system, where each person receives a share based on a set of rules. These rules have been designed to serve the network, and are similar to blockchain incentives for mining in the respect that they reward individuals who consume a lot from co-operatives that are part of the network.

I’ve called it a ‘taxation system’ (6) to hint at what it’s capable of. Resilience could replace the entire welfare infrastructure, globally. The network functions without a single central authority, it extracts value from value creators in a fully voluntary way, and it distributes this surplus in a completely decentralized fashion. The wealth that goes out to people provides an incentive for those people to focus their consumption within the network of co-operatives, which in turn provides an incentive for co-operatives to join the network and the consumer market in it, and so on in a form of self-reinforcing feedback loop that grows with each new entity that joins the network.

The share a person receives can then be partially used to fund services we usually associate with taxation, schools, healthcare, and so on. This is not an entirely new concept, similar concepts have been around throughout the history of cooperatives, with co-operatives allocating part of their dividends to common welfare services.

The difference now is that it’s the people and not the co-operatives who can choose to allocate part of their share. How this works is beyond the scope of this article, but basically, people can make mutual agreements about how to invest their shares, and this is completely optional and should be seen as an extension of the Resilience framework and not as part of the core protocol. Just keep in mind that it’s important that people keep at least part of their shares, as it’s the basic income that serves as incentive to seek out co-operatives that are part of the network." (

More Information

  1. See John Robb's proposition for Resilient Communities
  2. Paper by Kevin Carson at
  3. Resilience links:


  1. Coutu, D. L. (2003) ‘How Resilience Works’ in Harvard Business Review on Building Personal

and Organizational Resilience, Boston, Harvard Business School Press.

  1. Tainter, J. (1988) The Collapse of Complex Societies, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  2. Walker, B. et al (2004) ‘Resilience, Adaptability and Transformability in Social-ecological

Systems’ in Ecology and Society 9 (2) Art 5.

  1. Walker, B. and Salt, D. (2006) Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a

Changing World, Washington, Island Press. [3]

Resilience Alliance

  1. The Resilience Alliance (RA) is a research organization comprised of scientists and practitioners from many disciplines who collaborate to explore the dynamics of social-ecological systems.
  2. The RA weblog is Resilience Science, at
  3. The RA journal is Ecology and Society, at


  1. Elinor Ostrom on Resilient Social-Ecological Systems