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Resilience of whom, resilience for what? Watch out for a snake oil salesman

Updated: Sep 4, 2020

© Carol Highsmith/Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons

World of matter manifests in glorious variety of forms and ways of being. We share one common habit though, regardless of if you’re a galaxy, air molecule, stock market, city, or bee community. That is, we all change our forms and ways of being.

Renewal cycle is a metaphor for the adapting to and possibly transforming to change, for the ability to always be open, so that in every moment the environment changes, so do we. It describes the change as the curve made of the different kinds of stages, each with own challenges that needs to be oversized: growth, conservation, collapse, and the renewal.

While our society is undergoing tectonic changes due the climate changes, migrations, digitalisation, increasing inequalities, and pandemic regulations, this very intuitive concept is gaining more and more attention from the public and governments, because it promises the way to strive within a change. We all want to know how to go through the renewal cycle, through the crisis and change, possibly with our sanity and basic needs intact. Thus popularity of resilience framework, especially in policy discourse, continues to grow.

When seeing the adaptive capacity of any system as ability to flow through the renewal cycle, resilience can be seen as ability to move out of collapse to the renewal phase, while still providing a certain level of utility.

Resilience thinking tends to avoid the beliefs about maintaining particular aspects of systems, and aligns with the idea that resilience of components or nested subsystems can have resilience that counters the resilience of the larger system. That is to say, the persistence of particular components is irrelevant, so long as the system continues to navigate the adaptive cycle and provides the production of desired value. Right here, in this understanding, the possible misuse of his concept is born.

This simple logical thread, like any powerful tool, when misused, can become, and is becoming, a important neoliberal rationale. We witness liberal regimes introducing the “resilience” to individuals, families, towns, businesses, states, as an ultimate goal everybody should strive towards. At the same time, it is enforcing the narrative of “economical growth”, and capitalism as the unquestioned value, towards resilience should develop towards.

For example, Sri Lankan coastal poor fishing villages were flooded by 2004 tsunami, have been relocated inland, and shortly after the disaster replaced by new hotels and resorts. Although the fishing communities lost their livelihoods, and only wealthy hotel owners benefitted, this process could be seen as resilient system, as long when we define the “system” as a whole region, and the economical growth as a value to be resilient towards.

Furthermore, resilience can be used as an agenda to accept change passively and promote insecurity by design, and thus neglect the social causes of crises. The responsibility is then placed on individuals or communities to adapt to inevitable disruptions, rather than addressing the underlying causes of these crises and responsibilities of the state. If an individual, community, or city fail, it is so because of their incompetence to be resilient enough.

In this way government washes its hands of responsibility for the nations well being - the resilience should be exclusively handled on a smaller scale, individual, nuclear family, village or a city. When the flood hits the town, it is responsibility of the community to be resilient and recover, and not of your government. When we experience economical instability or scarcity, it our personal responsibility to be resilient, to “reinvent ourselves”, be “productive”, and find new ways to sell ourselves.

Nobody really cares if we’re going to “make it”, because system can afford to shoot of the “failed” components as useless, as long as the “bigger picture”, i.e., resilience of the economical growth is very much alive and kicking, and that is all what matters.

This resilience myths are, while wasting perfectly good concept of resilience, turning into policies and laws, and those are turning into our daily routines. The more belated our waking up on choking in precarity and inequity is, the more difficult it will be to change them, because the resources to break the them are gonna be harder to engage, due the increase in state control, disinformations, and financial, cultural, and spiritual impoverishment.

Only way to prevent misuse of the resilience framework is awareness of what do we want to be resilient, and toward which values. Let’s all think together: What are the values we are striving towards in our interconnected, globalised world? How can we manifest those values in our groups and institutions?

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