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CURE. Cultures of Resilience

KNIR Research Alliance

About the project

The Cultures of Resilience (CuRe) Alliance is an emerging transdisciplinary research and training initiative jointly launched in 2022 by the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome (KNIR) and the Sustainable Cooperation (SCOOP) program, a Dutch inter-university consortium uniting scientists from the social and behavioral sciences and the humanities. SCOOP is a research and training center funded by the Dutch government’s Gravitation scheme and dedicated to the transdisciplinary study of sustainable cooperation as a key feature of resilient societies. It is a joint initiative by the University of Groningen and Utrecht, and also involves researchers from the VU Amsterdam, the Erasmus University Rotterdam, and Radboud University Nijmegen.

Resilient societies are able to maintain high levels of care, work and inclusion and are ecologically sustainable, despite the challenges posed by changing circumstances. SCOOP’s core hypothesis is that a key component in the potential of societies to achieve this resilience is their ability to sustain cooperation at the meso-level of societies, that is, within and between organizations, communities, and families or households.

But cooperation is difficult to sustain over time. Cooperation in one area (e.g., in organizations) can undermine it in another (e.g., the family). There can be undesirable consequences, for instance for individuals not involved, and the conditions on which cooperation was established can change. SCOOP identifies three major threats to sustainable cooperation. First, much of the discussion about resilience is related to the question how (social) systems cope with system wide “external” threats, be they sudden and unexpected shocks, or slow onset adversities. The COVID pandemic of 2020-2021 is an example for a system wide shock. Second, there are threats caused by “spillover” effects from one societal domain on another domain. Examples for a spillover effect are mass layoffs affecting the livelihoods and social structure of a major part of the households in a local community. Finally, there are threats that have their roots in self-defeating feedback loops or “vicious cycles” within a specific social system. For example, decision making processes in cooperatives may start out as egalitarian and participatory, but where cumulating information asymmetries result in decision making powers gradually becoming concentrated in the hands of a small coalition.

The CuRe Alliance applies the transdisciplinary SCOOP approach to the question how to improve the resilience of Sustainability Transition Initiatives. These are coordinated multi-stakeholder activities facilitating transformations to more sustainable forms of organizing processes of production, distribution, and consumption. There is no shortage of such Sustainability Transition Initiatives. Any policy domain – be it food, energy, work, care, urban development, cultural heritage or any other – counts thousands of them. But many find their progress disappointing. A frequent reason for their failure or ineffectiveness in the middle or long run are cooperation failures inside or between stakeholder organizations and with external parties. To avert such breakdowns, fostering a culture of collaborative resilience is essential. This is an institutional environment that strengthens the ability of participating parties to continue fruitful cooperation despite unforeseen internal and external disruptions. The CuRe Alliance has unique expertise to diagnose potential threats to collaborative resilience and provide evidence-based insights on how to strengthen it. Its transdisciplinary and policy domain transcending knowledge base is a unique asset in this regard.

The CuRe Alliance aims to connect scholars and students working on problems of resilience and cooperation to local, national and international organizations as well as policymakers and practitioners. Whereas the challenges addressed by the CuRe Alliance are global in scope, CuRe uses Italy and in particular the Roman Metropolitan Area (RMA) as one of its living labs. Among European countries, the RMA hosts one of the most diverse environments of local, national and international organizations and initiatives – be they public, semi-public, non-governmental or private – geared towards fostering sustainability transitions. Building on and enriching this unique local organizational ecosystem, the CuRe Alliance provides a cross-policy domain networking platform by, among others, organizing scientific workshops, public debates and training events, including student internships, and by actively engaging with and disseminating insights to a broader public.

The CuRe Research Alliance was officially launched in July 2022 with the three-day Symposium Cultures of Resilience – Transdisciplinary Inquiries in Rome, co-funded by SCOOP and the KNIR. The symposium was attended by renown Italian and Dutch scholars from the fields of sociology, psychology, history, demographics, economics, cognitive sciences, policy studies and philosophy.

In addition to reaching out to interested organizational stakeholders in the region, planned future activities of the CuRe Alliance include the continuation of the CuRe Symposia, including stakeholder workshops, as well as training activities for (R)MA and PhD-students (masterclass, summer school, internships).


About Dr. Wittek

Dr. Rafael Wittek (PhD 1999) is Full Professor of Sociology and Chair of the Department of Sociology, University of Groningen. He is also the Scientific Director of the SCOOP-program. He held teaching appointments at Cornell University (U.S.A.), the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zürich (Switzerland), the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg (Germany), and the Università della Svizzera Italiana (Lugano, Switzerland). His research interests are in the fields of cooperation science, economic and organizational sociology and social network research. His most recent book project was co-editing, together with Emmanuel Lazega and Tom Snijders, the volume Social Networks and Social Resilience, to appear in the Edward Elgar Research Agenda Series in November 2022.