Cross-Scale Systemic Resilience: Implications for Organization Studies

Amanda Williams, G Whiteman, Steve Kennedy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)
19 Downloads (Pure)


In this article, we posit that a cross-scale perspective is valuable for studies of organizational resilience. Existing research in our field primarily focuses on the resilience of organizations, that is, the factors that enhance or detract from an organization’s viability in the face of threat. While this organization level focus makes important contributions to theory, organizational resilience is also intrinsically dependent upon the resilience of broader social-ecological systems in which the firm is embedded. Moreover, long-term organizational resilience cannot be well managed without an understanding of the feedback effects across nested systems. For instance, a narrow focus on optimizing organizational resilience from one firm’s perspective may come at the expense of social-ecological functioning and ultimately undermine managers’ efforts at long-term organizational survival. We suggest that insights from natural science may help organizational scholars to examine cross-scale resilience and conceptualize organizational actions within and across temporal and spatial dynamics. We develop propositions taking a complex adaptive systems perspective to identify issues related to focal scale, slow variables and feedback, and diversity and redundancy. We illustrate our theoretical argument using an example of Unilever and palm oil production in Borneo.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-124
Number of pages30
JournalBusiness and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank the special issue editor Sandra Waddock and the two anonymous reviewers for their guidance and dedication. They also appreciate the feedback and support from their colleagues, especially Emilio Marti, Joep Cornelissen, and Kate Horton. The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by the EU Marie Sk?odowska-Curie Training Network funding scheme: Innovation for Sustainability (I4S) Grant Agreement n? 316604.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2019.


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