The concept of resilience, first introduced in 1973, has become a major conceptual tool in the environmental sciences, and more recently in the study of socio-environmental systems. In archaeology, however, it has not yet found as wide a use. This paper introduces and explains the concept, emphasizes its relationship to the Complex Systems paradigm and presents an example of its application to transformations observed in the field. Its most useful application in archaeology is the study of the long term (centuries or millennia) where the dynamics are slow but persistent. In such cases, it enables a relational and dynamic description of history and the emergence of novelty.
The concept of resilience, initially used in physics, psychology and ecology, has been used in archaeology since the 1990s. Following the Canadian ecologist Crawford Holling, researchers of the European program Archaeomedes, for example, chose to use the term resilience instead of stability. Indeed, they argued that the notion of change in the dynamics of systems is more integral to resilience (Van der Leeuw, 1998 ; Van der Leeuw & Aschan-Leygonie, 2001). Thus, resilience is not only the ability of a system to maintain its structure in the face of disturbance, but it is also “a property that allows a system to absorb and utilize (or even benefit from) change.” (Holling, 1978 : 11). In archaeology, resilience places human-environmental interactions within an evolutionary framework.
This paper discusses the application of the resilience conceptual framework, proposed in ecological resilience, to the study of major route systems, described as resilient systems. Major routes in the north of France are studied at the macro-, meso-, and micro-scales. The analysis shows that a large part of the current French network originated in Antiquity. Nevertheless, no one specific road is resilient throught time. Rather, the itineraries are made of several paths and roads that may coexist, substitute one another, or are abandoned but then re-used. Three levels, corresponding to different rhythms of change, interact and account for the routes’ resilience. The itinerary represents the macro-scale: broad and slow level (up until 2,000 years), while at the micro-scale, the structure of paths and roads undergoes numerous and frequent changes (less than 25 years). On the meso-scale, the path and road patterns present non-linear temporalities and appear as a key level for routes’ resilience with possibilities of hiatuses, reuses, etc. The complex dynamic of routes can match the concepts of adaptive cycle and panarchy proposed by C. S. Holling and collaborators.
In this paper, my aim is to show how edifying it can be to adhere to the concept of resilience proffered by C. S. Holling in order to better understand the complexity in which urban environments evolve. To do so, I study here the example of the Parisian street network during the Medieval and Early Modern periods. I show to what extent this network as well as the type of shops along certain streets remained stable over the long term, while also demonstrating that changes were indeed very frequent when one considers the buildings themselves. This apparent paradox can be explained by complex interactions that resilience can help to explore. I show in the third part of this paper that identifying the system of resiliency that produces stability in the Parisian street network leads to an understanding of the socio-economic mechanisms behind the observations made at different levels.