Resilience research with South African youth: caveats and ethical complexities
Theron, Linda C.
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Studies of resilience, or the process of adjusting well to major challenges commonly associated with negative outcomes, have proliferated in recent years. Despite the popularity of this research focus, there are suggestions (anecdotal and published) that the study of resilience needs to be interrogated. In this article, I respond to these suggestions by offering a synthesis of the international critiques (published from 2000 to 2012) levelled at youth resilience studies. International critiques are rooted in a post-structuralist, transactional-ecological understanding of resilience processes, which differs from earlier person-focused conceptualisations, and which explains positive adaptation as a dynamic collaboration between youth and their social ecologies. Essentially, these critiques highlight five pitfalls that have the potential to undermine ethical and meaningful resilience research. To avoid these pitfalls resilience researchers need to: consider the role of social ecologies when youth do not resile; pay attention to the hidden costs of resilience; measure resilience accurately and comprehensively; engage in evidence-based research practice; and account for how culture and context nuance resilience processes. Using this synthesis, I then appraise studies of South African youth resilience (1990–2011) to illustrate how local studies have only partially acknowledged the caveats and ethical complexities inherent in investigations into processes of positive adjustment. I argue that unidimensional and non-systemic studies of resilience do, indeed, need questioning, but that mindful, participatory studies of resilience, grounded in post-structuralist conceptualisations of hardiness, should be welcomed. In conclusion, I suggest possible future directions for resilience research among South African youth that draw on a synthesis of best practices that have been demonstrated empirically.