Based on biological insights, Ludwig von Bertalanffy coined general systems theory (GST) and later expanded his perspective, exploring what GST could mean for other disciplines and other types of systems. We make a case for the relevance, or rather, the importance, of GST for coming to a new understanding of the resilience of social‐ecological systems and the possible forms of adaptive governance that might increase such resilience. After analyzing the conceptual structure of the resilience paradigm and of GST, we identify concepts in resilience thinking where GST provides new confirmation or modifies the perspective: complexity, evolution, self‐organization, and adaptation. We discuss post‐Bertalanffy developments in the interdisciplinary and twinned fields of systems theory and complexity studies that can provide bridging concepts between GST and resilience thinking. In conclusion, we emphasize the need for both cognitive and institutional resilience to foster adaptive governance. We highlight the management of couplings between systems and the switching between forms of understanding and forms of organization, where self‐organization and more centralized forms of steering can alternate and combine.

Van Assche, K., Verschraegen, G., Valentinov, V., & Gruezmacher, M. (2019). The social, the ecological, and the adaptive. Von Bertalanffy’s general systems theory and the adaptive governance of social‐ecological systems. Systems Research and Behavioral Science.