2- Second Debate

IS THE CONCEPT OF RESILIENCE USEFUL IN THE FIELDS OF DISASTER RISK REDUCTION AND THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT OR IS IT JUST ANOTHER ABUSED AND MALLEABLE BUZZWORD?

Final Announcement

Winners of the “best contribution” awards:

The committee members (Daniel Aldrich, Jonathan Joseph, Lee Bosher, Gonzalo Lizarralde, and Mahmood Fayazi) acknowledge the engagement of all participants and their thoughtful contributions to this debate. They determined that the winners are:
Christopher Lyon First prize – best comments
1000 CAD$,
Kristen Second prize
500 CAD$, and
Nikolas Musa Third prize
300 CAD$
Congratulations to these winners.
Our i-Rec-Oeuvre durable online debates will now move to another issue of great importance: the role of land in vulnerability and resilience. The next debate about this subject will be posted online in the next few months. We invite you all to participate on it!

Results

The moderator’s opening remarks:

The Canadian Disaster Resilience and Sustainable Reconstruction Research Alliance (Œuvre Durable for its acronym in French) and i-Rec (Information and Research for Reconstruction) are organizing an on-line debate (and competition) that explores the following question:
Is the concept of resilience useful in the fields of disaster risk reduction and the built environment or is it just another abused and malleable buzzword?
The theory of resilience recognizes the inherent capacities of social systems to withstand, recover after, and adapt to adverse impacts. It is believed that resilience frames an ethical approach to understanding the fragile relationships between the built, the natural, and the social environments. Defenders of the theory believe resilience is useful for understanding the unpredictability and complexities of our world, and for examining notions of anticipation, adaptation, and proactive transformation in response to stressors. They claim that, contrary to the theory of vulnerability (often seen as its rival theory in the scientific world), resilience emphasizes a constructive approach rather than just identifying problems and their causes. More importantly, they also see resilience as a vehicle for displaying the strengths and capacities of social systems and for systematically examining the long-term effects of multiple variables.
On the other hand, opponents of resilience raise serious doubts about its usefulness and relevance. They claim that the concept is overused, thereby facilitating broad (and sometimes contradictory) meanings and interpretations. They note also that the concept has been hijacked by neoliberal policy- and decision-makers to justify the shifts of responsibilities from the state towards the private sector and communities. They also argue that the increase of resilience among some people often means the increase of vulnerabilities for others. Finally, critics also contend that the diversity of definitions makes resilience a fashionable buzzword with insufficient moral value.
In this debate, we invite two internationally known experts in the field of disaster risk reduction to defend two opposite viewpoints. Over the next ten days, our panelists will present their most persuasive arguments, but the result of our debate rests in your hands. Do not be afraid to vote immediately—you can always change your mind. Even better, once you have cast your vote, add your voice to the debate and explain your decision. We look forward to reading the comments of all those who participate.
Gonzalo Gonzalo Lizarralde is a professor at the School of Architecture of Université de Montréal. He has long experience in consulting for architecture and construction projects and has published important research in the fields of low-cost housing and project management.  Dr. Lizarralde is the director of the IF Research Group (grif) of Université de Montréal, which studies the processes related to the planning and development of construction projects. He is also the co-director of Œuvre Durable, a multi-university research team focused on vulnerabilityresilience and sustainable reconstruction. Dr. Lizarralde is the author of the book The Invisible Houses: Rethinking and designing low-cost housing in developing countries and the co-author of the book Rebuilding After Disaster: From Emergency to Sustainability. 
Daniel Aldrich-2 Daniel Aldrich, 
Professor of Political Science, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs; Northeastern University. Daniel P. Aldrich is professor and co-director of the Security and Resilience Program at Northeastern University. He has published four books, more than thirty peer-reviewed articles, and written op-eds for The New York Times, CNN, Asahi Shinbun, along with appearing on popular media outlets such as CNBC, MSNBC, NPR, and HuffPost.
J Joseph 2 Jonathan Joseph,
Professor of Politics, Department of Politics, University of Sheffield. Jonathan Joseph is developing his work on the concept of governmentality by applying it to a range of areas such as security strategy, state-building and EU politics. He is particularly interested in how governmentality works in different contexts and whether it can explain international or global forms of governance. He is also interested in the theoretical issue of how governmentality intersects with hegemony. Current work projects also involve a study of resilience in EU and international policy making, particular about security strategy, disaster relief, and humanitarian aid. He is currently involved in a network bid focused on EU disaster intervention.
The proposer’s opening remarks
Resilience serves as a useful lens for understanding what factors influence a community’s preparation for and response to disasters. Fieldwork, interviews with survivors, discussions with NGOs, and quantitative data show that diversity, flexibility, and connections drive disaster risk reduction and recovery.  Human factors related to resilience are better predictors of successful response and recovery than those most often considered by policy makers, such as strength of physical infrastructure and the amount of aid from government or international relief agencies. Vulnerable individuals around the world – in India, in Japan, and the United States, for example – have consistently looked for help in crisis not to government authorities but rather to kin, neighbors, and nearby friends. Disaster after disaster, we see that uniformed government personnel or police authorities are not first responders.  Rather, families and neighbors are almost always first on a disaster scene and their support enhances resilience.
Following the 1995 Kobe earthquake in Japan, for example, some two-thirds of those people who were pulled from the rubble and survived were rescued by neighbors, not police officers or Self Defense Force members. Following Hurricane Katrina, communities with stronger internal cohesion and better connections to city officials, such as the Mary Queen of Viet Nam (MQVN) neighborhood in New Orleans, fared best in rebuilding schools, stores, and homes. After the 3/11 compounded disasters in Tohoku, Japan survivors with more connections and friends had less anxiety and stress than those who were more isolated. The networks of people to whom we are connected – some only tenuously, such as the friend of a friend, and others more deeply, such as a family member – serve as critical resources during crisis. Strong connections provide three main types of assistance which build resilience: they provide mutual aid and informal (not formal) insurance, they facilitate collective action, and they help individuals make decisions about returning to and rebuilding damaged communities. As such, arguments about the overemphasis on individuals in the neoliberal UK resilience approaches miss the most interesting approach which looks not at individuals, but instead at community.  Community resilience – the networks and connections among people living in the same area – provides a way of helping people collectively manage risk in a world increasingly under threat from rising temperature, higher sea levels, and more extreme weather events.
I agree that parts of the resilience approach have made headway in the UK and found common cause with neoliberal philosophy centered in institutions such as DFID and the World Bank.  Governments regularly appropriate important concepts and ideas for their own uses; no doubt they would like to embrace a philosophy which would allow them to do more with less. Nonetheless, such appropriation in no way detracts from the value of the resilience approach in the field of disaster risk reduction or humanitarian aid. (And whether the neoliberal approach itself holds value, increases quality of life, and moves the bottom billion out of poverty and disease is a separate debate.)
The opposition’s opening remarks
The idea of resilience has enjoyed a huge degree of success in spreading through different spheres of policy making. Whether it is successful in making a difference in these areas is a matter for debate.  Of course the idea of resilience is bound to capture something of the efforts to withstand, recover or adapt to adverse impacts. And like such associated ideas as sustainability, well-being and good governance, it is something we cannot possibly be against. The point is whether there is anything special about the term itself that makes a qualitative difference to the way that we understand the complex problems that we now face and our efforts to deal with them? Is resilience a difference maker? Has it become indispensable to our understanding and behaviour?
In addressing this we might outline three options. The first would be to conclude that resilience is no more than a fashionable buzzword that has little substantial value in its own right. This can be shown by looking at the confusion surrounding the term’s deployment. We find this in policy statements and strategy documents where different views emerge, none of which are elaborated in any significant or coherent way. To overcome these inherent flaws, we now see a proliferation of different types or aspects of resilience to compensate for the lack of a substantial core.
At the other extreme is the argument that resilience represents a whole new way of seeing the world. It brings with it a fundamentally different understanding of how we operate in a world characterised by complexity, uncertainty and unpredictability.
I instead suggest that while it may be more than a buzzword, resilience has little substance of its own, and derives meaning from the wider discourse and practices within which it is located. It is a term, not a concept or a theory. Its explanatory power is dependent on its discursive environment. This does mean that the idea can be captured by dominant ways of understanding the world, and implies that it is particularly vulnerable to a neoliberal interpretation and deployment. As part of this broader discourse, resilience finds itself bound up with the modification of contemporary forms and techniques of governance that shift the burden of responsibility away from states and legal frameworks and on to individuals and communities.
Understood as a means of framing particular problems, resilience does have distinctiveness. It adopts a fatalistic approach to systemic crises and shocks, makes a virtue of adaptation, emphasises the messy relationship between the social and the individual, and recalibrates our understanding of the human and its capacities.
These represent a shift away from a classical liberal framework of protection and intervention turning instead to the subjective capacity for learning and self-awareness as part of a strategy of adaptation. Given the high costs of intervention, such an approach also makes good sense in an age of austerity. The resilience approach is realist and pragmatic in both a political sense, and in an economic one. Certainly resilience might have more potential than this. But to make it useful in the sense discussed here requires a concerted political struggle.
The proposer’s rebuttal remarks
In my opening remarks I argued that resilience – the capacity of community members to work collectively to cope with, adapt to, and transform after shocks such as disasters – is more than a buzzword.  Instead, it underscores the power of social connections in helping people overcome adversity in industrialized and developing nations alike. Of course governments – whether in the UK or elsewhere – would like to reduce their involvement and claim that communities should bear financial and administrative responsibility during crisis.  However, neither neoliberal arguments nor government’s desire to shirk reduces the importance of bottom up, neighborhood and community-based resilience.
Some observers who agree that resilience is important may just shrug their shoulders and argue, “Some communities are resilient, others aren’t – so what?” But fortunately a great deal of research has shown that communities can deepen their own reservoirs of social capital and improve their resilience to crises and disasters.  There are several community based programs that have shown tremendous influence on connecting local residents and neighbors and increasing trust and reciprocity.
The first program shown to have impact is known as community currency or time banking. Because so many of us feel time is limited, our involvement in volunteer work has been steadily dropping over the past decades.  Community currency provides an incentive for residents to leave their homes and get involved in projects ranging from trash pick up to tutoring local school children. In return for volunteering, residents receive “currency” or hours in a time bank which can be exchanged only at local mom and pop stores, farmers markets, or for bartered services. One hour of cleaning up a river may lead to 5 Toronto dollars or one hour of a community member painting my fence. Studies have shown that time banking and community currency markedly increase trust and involvement and also local business-to-business interactions in a virtuous cycle.
Next, communities hoping to increase resilience must take urban planning and public space design seriously. Too few of our towns and cities have sufficient space for recreation, social interaction, and leisure. Architects such as those working with the Tohoku based program iBasho have come to understand that our social interactions are strongly determined by our surroundings – so we must design better public housing, streets, parks, and piazzas to help residents interact and move away from the isolation that can come with car-driven planning.
Finally, a number of towns and cities, including Wellington, Tokyo, and San Francisco have set aside funds to help encourage the creation of neighbor to neighbor connections. These include the NeighborFest event where residents gather to shmooze and listen to music, matsuri (festivals) where Tokyoites dance and enjoy snacks, and sports days when local kids can burn off steam in a safe environment. Through face to face interaction community residents can build ties that will help them should challenges arise.
Local, regional, and national governments that recognize the power of people in mitigating and responding to crisis can assist local communities in implementing these programs.
The opposition’s rebuttal remarks
It was helpful to introduce the distinction between two approaches to resilience – one that sees it as having intrinsic value and another that sees it as defined by conditions, context, interpretation and application. In actuality this distinction is not so clear cut and is more a matter of emphasis. However, it is a useful starting point and links to another comment which is that resilience is inseparable from social, economic and cultural factors and that we must take into account the unequal distribution of these and other capacities and capabilities.
This latter understanding points us in a more political direction and thereby problematizes the claim that resilience is all about the “human”. This is certainly a central element of resilience thinking and I mentioned in my opening remarks that resilience recalibrates our understanding of the human and its capacities. Resilience does this though its focus on reflexive awareness of our embedded social context. It develops a relational understanding of our problems that raises questions about individual autonomy by emphasizing connectedness and social embeddedness.
However, this is somewhere we have been to before. Rather than representing a radically new idea, resilience re-runs many of the issues that were raised in discussions of social capital. Where it advances on social capital is in drawing attention to specific things – awareness, learning, adaptation, recovery. To do this, certain intangible human qualities are invoked. Qualities associated with resilience and well-being sound more human because they do not conform to a model of rational-calculative behaviour of a market type. But they are consistent with neoliberalism and market-based techniques of governance insofar as they constitute us as being flexible, innovative, enterprising and risk-taking. Rather than replacing market logic, these fill its gaps and ensure its continuity.
In fact, this is entirely consistent with a neoliberal perspective that quite rightly questions classical liberal assumptions about individual autonomy and rational planning by emphasising the “messy” nature of social life, the embeddedness of economic activity in social norms and practices and the inherently “wicked” nature of complex problems.
I emphasise that resilience is not reducible to a neoliberal perspective. On the contrary, I am interested in varieties of resilience and its variegated nature. As rightly noted in the comments, the UK approach is actually very centralised and prescriptive, but it invokes (and responsibilises) the idea of “community” in a way that is quite different from, say, France and Germany. However, I do believe that the more Anglo-Saxon approach tends to dominate. Indeed, to say that a more neoliberal approach is evident in the UK and such institutions as the World Back and DFID is to recognise that an Anglo-Saxon approach to resilience has come to dominate in policy areas like development and disaster risk reduction. It is noticeable that in this field, policy makers from the EU or Germany’s BMZ draw heavily on DFID’s arguments. Somewhat vague notions like the turn to the “human” do not explain this process of political appropriation. Hence the need to develop a strong political argument to challenge the dominant neoliberal view and render alternatives more meaningful.
The proposer’s closing remarks
Resilience, like other powerful concepts, can be made too vague to be useful or robbed of impact by governments and corporations looking to externalize costs. The idea of resilience is in vogue among academics and policymakers, but it would be a mistake for contrarians to prevent the idea from having pride of place in our toolkit of strategies to prepare for and adapt to hazards. Resilience recognizes the capacity for mitigation and transformation present in communities around the world. Decision makers who take resilience seriously may envision a “bargain” by emphasizing how spending on social infrastructure costs less than traditional, large scale investment projects, but this misses the point. Policy makers should invest in community resilience because it is highly effective, not because it removes financial or moral responsibility. It would also be a mistake for policymakers to think that resilience allows them to get something for nothing. Even if it is more cost-effective than building levees and seawalls, building social networks still takes time, persistent presence in a community, and trust – none of which come cheaply.
Successful resilience building programs are bottom up and community-driven. While many argue that governments must take on more financial and administrative responsibilities to handle hazards, top down approaches, as James Scott has illustrated, cannot match the power of residents working cooperatively. Some of the best practices in the resilience field have come from organizations like the Wellington Regional Emergency Management Office in New Zealand which has become a go-to network not just for disaster issues but for community development well. The Ofunato, Japan-based iBasho program has created a space with a library, cafe, and playground to reinforce and grow social ties among survivors from the 11 March 2011 triple disaster. San Francisco’s Resilient Bayview program has used community planning to think through the likely hazards it will encounter and work together to mitigate crises such as quakes and fires. The bayou-based community of Houma, Louisiana has moved ahead of the federal government and set up a local sales tax to fund infrastructure protection from rising waters.
In all of these communities local residents, civil society groups and faith-based organizations have not only physically and socially mapped their hazards but actually implemented programs to mitigate them. These neighborhoods are resilient precisely because they are not waiting for some government agency to step in to save them; the arrival of government agents post-crisis is invariably too little, too late, as Hurricane Katrina and the Fukushima nuclear disaster showed. Rather, these communities have deliberated to create a common vision of their future premised on neighbor to neighbor contact, trust, and collective action. Local communities understand their own needs, recognize which approaches will actually work, and hold the long term commitment to stay involved. Further, communities can actively build trust and cohesion through approaches such as community currency, time banking, shared spaces and open events.
Perhaps the most exciting application for resilience is that scholars now see that building resilience through deepened social capital and cohesion can serve as a platform for both climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.  Many nations continue to pursue massive top down investments in physical infrastructure such as seawalls in Japan, levees in North America’s Gulf Coast, and dykes in the Netherlands. But the most successful ways to handle wicked problems like extreme weather events, rising seas, and the destruction of ecosystems comes from the collective action of communities and local residents working collectively.
The opposition’s closing remarks
Returning to my opening remarks I suggested that there are two opposite positions on resilience, one that sees it as merely a buzzword, another that sees it as a radical new paradigm and entirely different way of thinking and operating. I would suggest that David Chandler’s contributions tend towards this latter position, something I have debated in the suggested reading. For David, resilience is so radically new, that it disturbs all our previously held ontological and epistemological assumptions, all that we know about ourselves and our place in the world, suggesting we no longer live in a world of politics as usual, science as usual, indeed, being human as usual. I reject this view because actually implicit in David’s argument, even as stated here, is that these may only be perceptions, or represent changes in our mode of perception. Rather than the product of deep rooted changes either in the nature of modernity, society, nature, the human, or anything else, they are actually the product of changing forms of governance. David says that resilience is about self-governance and the constitution of a community. I agree with this. A political understanding of this claim is to note that self-governance actually does not happen by itself but has to be encouraged. Nor does Daniel’s focus on community provide us with resilience all by itself. Self-governance and community have to be constructed and supported through strategic intervention. This is exactly what Foucault understands as governmentality. I know that some comments express a desire to get away from such abstract discussions, but actually trying to know the things that a resilience discourse invokes – as opposed to just taking for granted the naturalness of things like community, self-governance, adaptability, human initiative – is a vital political move.
I see resilience as governmentality that is not unique, but rather is consistent with a range of recent trends in governing societies and their populations. I agree with those who say it represents a break from classical liberal approaches to governance, but I think its critique of this sort of liberalism is consistent with neoliberal concerns with shifting responsibility from states on to individuals and communities while invoking the “empowering” ideas of active citizenship and private initiative. But while this is nothing new, there is one idea, above all others, that does need to be stressed as something resilience brings to the table – adaptation. I also stress that there is nothing very positive about this fatalistic idea. Rather than embracing the possibility of changing the world to deal with risks and uncertainties, it acts as a form of (self) governance that gets us to change ourselves.
This is evident, for example, in World Bank and USAID papers on disaster risk reduction and climate change in poor countries. They argue for adaptation rather than going back to “traditional coping mechanisms”. This means changing the nature of their societies and economic activity. It places the burden of coping on the poorest while denying that their vulnerability is largely caused by inequalities in the world system.
The moderator’s closing remarks: THE ETHICS OF RESILIENCE
Our debate confirms that resilience is a malleable, abused and fuzzy concept. Yet it is still useful.
The website of this online debate was visited 1,809 times by more than 550 people from about 50 countries. A total of 252 people voted to the question raised, and more than 59 comments were written on the blog. We witnessed a major shift in participants’ positions during the last few days. As many as 80% of participants supported the pertinence of the resilience concept in the pre-debate votes. By the end, 53% of them seem to be no longer sure that the concept can be applied and mobilized without questioning its pertinence, value and meanings. Yet, as we shall see, they are hardly rejecting the concept altogether.
The concept’s deeper value seems not to be intrinsic, but the result of contextual, dynamic conditions in the implementation and interpretation of it. Even its originality and metaphorical significance seem to be questioned. Contrary to the original question proposed in the debate, the results reveal that the concept can be useful even if it has been abused, and even if it is malleable, and slippery. In fact, the systemic attributes of the resilience concept and its capacity to evoke the strengths and capacities of individuals and social groups (in, among others, complex governing/governance settings) seem to almost create consensus. Its capacity to keep you and I, and hundreds of practitioners and academics from around the globe, voting and enthusiastically writing on this blog for more than 8 days is probably another of its qualities (arguably very few concepts in disaster risk reduction can attract such an interest).
There are theoretical and practical implications of these mixed results. From the theoretical point of view, voters and bloggers seem to be giving academics a clear mandate to keep challenging, explaining, and questioning its role in the academic world, in policy- and in decision-making.
From the practical point of view, we are left with two fundamental ethical challenges: to fully understand the ethical implications of adopting resilience as a concept in disaster risk reduction, and to keep an engaged search for stronger ways of expressing the need and desire to create harmonious relations between nature, human beings and the built environment. These are major tasks. But the interest that the debate has created proves that there is a strong community willing to face them. In times of climate change and increasing impacts caused by natural and man-made hazards, this is good news for society and the environment.
I want to thank Daniel, Jonathan and all the contributors for their compelling arguments. We will announce the winners of “the best contribution” awards in the next few days. We look forward to exchanging with you in our next online debate on vulnerability, resilience and post-disaster reconstruction.
Thank you.
Gonzalo Lizarralde
Oeuvre durable and i-Rec.

More than 60 comments were submitted by participants during the debate

Lee Bosher – Loughborough University
homepages.lboro.ac.uk/~cvlb/index.htmx
l.bosher@lboro.ac.uk
158.125.75.185
This is a very interesting debate and I must profess to being a bit of a ‘fence sitter’ on whether the term is useful or not. I expect my initial answer to the question is ‘it depends on how the term (or indeed the populace) is being used or abused?’.
THE HOW? It has been noted that the UK resilience agenda has made some ground but in my view some of these advances have been largely rhetorical. Typically the ability of the UK (particularly ‘local communities’ or the local or national Government mechanisms) to proactively address, cope with and adapt to the impacts of even minor crisis events (predictable snowfall, localised floods, storms) is pretty limited, despite the introduction of the Civil Contingencies Act in 2004. In the Act ‘resilience’ is largely couched as an ability to respond (including planning to respond) in the event of some sort of emergency. The potential proactive hazard limiting/mitigating and local capacity development aspects of resilience are typically under skilled and underfunded. Thus the UK approach, whilst endorsing a shift towards increasing resilience and encouraging the implementation of resilience as a process rather than a command and control exercise, still remains highly centralised and dominated by prescriptive policies. Speaking more generally, too often present approaches to resilience rely upon implementation by those in charge while excluding those directly affected. Making resilience-related policies more flexible and allowing for the incorporation of prevention measures could provide an opportunity to develop local frameworks that respond to local needs without being constrained within what can be rather outdated institutional frameworks.
THE WHO? I would not be the first person to note that as a political construct, resilience policy leads to losers and winners (see Tom Slater’s online article ‘The resilience of neoliberal urbanism’https://www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/tom-slater/resilience-of-neoliberal-urbanism). It is important to identify these winners and losers and make sure that it is not the most vulnerable individuals or social groups who carry the burden of resilience policy. Some of my previous research suggests that at the ‘community’ level, some of the populace that could be termed the most resilient can also be the most marginalised, poorest and/or oppressed sections of society that lack access to basic needs (including sanitation, safe drinking water, land tenure, free basic education etc.). The broad range of crises that some of the most vulnerable social groups have to deal with on a daily basis can indeed give them adaptive coping mechanisms that may demonstrate some of the attributes of ‘resilience’. Thus we need to be careful about over romanticising what ‘resilience’ is and what a ‘resilient community’ might look like.
Gonzalo Lizarralde
grif.umontreal.cax
gonzalo.lizarralde@umontreal.ca
132.204.119.232
Thank you to Daniel and Jonathan for their opening remarks. I also want to thank Lee Bosher for his initial comments. As presented so far, it seems to me that two approaches are being confronted here: (a) One that finds an intrinsic value in the concept of resilience (an approach closer to Daniel’s argument), and (b) One that considers that this value is not actually intrinsic, but the result of contextual, dynamic conditions in the implementation and interpretation of resilience (an approach probably closer to Jonathan’s and Lee’s arguments). Let us see whether our audience finds an intrinsic or contextual value to the concept of resilience….
Mahmood Fayazi
gravatar.com/oddebatesx
if.research.group@gmail.com
132.204.251.254
Before posting the opening remarks by November 30, about 35 participants considered resilience as a useful concept, and only nine participants believed that resilience is an abused and malleable concept (80% Yes – 20% No). However, after the upload of opening remarks the participants’ positions have been changed slightly. Results show that argument for the usefulness of resilience is gradually losing its defenders when suspicious thought about the usefulness of resilience is receiving more votes (74% Yes – 26% No). Your active participation and thought-provoking comments can effectively change the trend. Please follow the debate and do not hesitate to share your thought with us.
Mahmood Fayazi
gravatar.com/oeuvredurabedebatex
IF.research.group@gmail.com
24.201.226.25
Surprisingly, more than 40 votes for the opposition side of the debate changes the dominant trend today. Results show that Jonathan’s remark (the opposition) has convinced participants more than the other side of the debate. Up till now, more than 54 percent (58 votes) of participants believe that the concept of resilience is mostly an abused and malleable buzzword while only 46 percent (50 votes) of participants still defend the concept of resilience. We are looking forward to observing how the remarks keep changing participants’ positions.
Please note that your participation in the debate by writing short texts and supporting one side or the other of the debate, providing examples, or challenging concepts at any one of the three steps of the debate (opening, rebuttal, and closing) can effectively change the trend and will be awarded. Please follow the debate; Daniel Aldrich and Jonathan Joseph will upload their rebuttal remarks by December 3.
GOLSA
golsa.dehghan@mail.mcgill.ca
24.201.226.25
Resilience is broadly conceived as a positive new thought to reframe challenges in ‘disaster risk reduction’ and ‘vulnerability’. The concept of resilience has been popularized and applied broadly in the field of post-disaster reconstruction which causes the emergence of wide-ranging definitions and perceptions. Different authors compare definitions and explore the uncertainty and diversity of perceptions in theory and practice. Some authors believe that this diversity of perceptions makes ‘resilience’ a fashionable buzzword, hindering attempts towards a broad-accepted conceptualization in theory and accurate understanding in practice. Prof. David Alexander on his article “Resilience and disaster risk reduction: an etymological journey” states that resilience is “[… ] A strong element of new wine in old bottles” that can hardly “change the ability to understand and tackle problems.”
Furthermore, I believe that being resilient is closely dependent on social, economic and cultural factors which are never distributed equally within and through societies. In a society, making someone or a group of families resilient means the loss of resilience or enhancement of vulnerability for others. In 2014, Weichselgartner and his colleagues emphasize the minorities’ power over the majority of societies and explain that this current flow of power produces winners and losers and ignore those who are most in need of supports after disasters. In fact, there are some authors who believe that efforts towards the enhancement of resilience is in conflict with justice and fairness.
Ilan Kelman
ilankelman.orgx
ilan_kelman@hotmail.com
128.40.44.154
Because there are so many definitions, interpretations, connotations, understandings, and viewpoints regarding ‘resilience’, it is hard to know whether or not the concept is useful when we are not necessarily speaking about the same concept! Plus, all the complicated jargon around certain views of resilience serves to further confuse http://mahb.stanford.edu/blog/keep-resilience-language-simple
Here is a series of papers adopting a critiquing approach to resilience, indicating how common views of the definition of ‘resilience’ might not necessarily make it useful for disaster risk reduction:
1. http://www.nat-hazards-earth-syst-sci.net/13/2707/2013/nhess-13-2707-2013.pdf
2. http://acme-journal.org/index.php/acme/article/view/866
3. http://phg.sagepub.com/content/39/3/249.full.pdf+html
4. http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/09653561311301970
5. http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/DPM-03-2013-0053
6. http://www.ilankelman.org/articles1/kelman2008udp.pdf
7. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13753-015-0038-5
8. http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/DPM-12-2012-0143
Certainly, in speaking plain English, both poverty internationally and North Korea’s regime have proved to be remarkably resilient.
Jérémy ROBERT
jeremy.robert@cnrs.fr
190.40.62.174
Dears Collegues,
The debate is very interesting. i’d like to share some contribution from France:
https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-00679293/document
and in Spanish too: METZGER P., ROBERT J., 2013, Elementos de reflexión sobre la resiliencia urbana: usos criticables y aportes potenciales, Territorios, Revista de estudios urbanos y regionales, N° 28, Enero-junio 2013,http://revistas.urosario.edu.co/index.php/territorios/article/view/2550
For my point of vue, it’s difficult to choose between the two options. The concept is for me criticable AND util (see the argumentation in the spanish article).
Nicola Musa
nmusa075@uottawa.ca
173.179.29.128
More than four million Syrian refugees are living in just five countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. The European population is slightly less than 750 million and has taken less than 430,000 Syrian refugee up till end of August, 2015 which is less than only what Jordan has accepted (PopulationPyramid.net, 2015). As of the 17th of November, 2015 there are 633,644 Syrian Refugees registered with UNHCR in Jordan constituting to 10% of the population (UNHCR Syrian Refugee Database).
More than 80% of refugees in Jordan are living in urban settings and more than 45% of these refugees reside in the northern region (Irbid and Mafraq provinces), constituting to 25% and 22% for both Irbid and Mafraq population respectively (UNHCR Syrian Refugee Response). This has placed a large strain on the economic, social and political situation in host communities that are suffering from the surge in housing prices, reduced and limited employment opportunities due to the competition with the skilled Syrians, scarce water resources and incapacitated municipal services. The Jordanian Government is unsure to what extent the political situation will continue to be sustainable and is worried about resilience among Syrian refugees and host community members and looking into reducing stressors on these communities.
Resilience has been defined in diverse and varied ways but they all incline adaptation against stressors, disruptions and adversity. (Norris, 2008) looks at resilience as a process that leads to adaptation, not to an outcome, and not stability. She emphasizes the likelihood of stress and crisis to induce transient periods of dysfunction until we get to the manifestation of adaptation to an altered environment. (Townshend, 2014) stresses on the need of community members’ voices to be heard, and the encouragement of public participation to build resilient communities
Over the past two decades, researchers have used a blend of quantitative and qualitative methodological research techniques to understand and measure cohesion and resilience, yet the concepts remain to be intangible and in need for further conceptualization and adaptation within the context of the trauma or disaster event that is collectively experienced. Similarly for Syrian refugees, a conceptual framework will need to be developed to measure cohesion and resilience among urban host communities where they are residing.
The Syrian refugees’ crisis has had an extraordinary social and economic effects on host communities in the surrounding countries reversing development gains, stressing on basic social services and providing a competitive advantage for the Syrians on the limited employment opportunities. Jordan and Lebanon now have the highest per capita refugees’ ratios worldwide (3RP: Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan, 2015). These traumatized communities have become permanently dysfunctional since their governments lack the necessary resources to deal with such stressors. As a result, Syrian crisis now poses a serious threat to the regional and local peace, security and safety.
In response for these serious threats UNHCR developed a regional refugee resilience plan (3RP) with the local authorities to ensure protection, humanitarian assistance and to eventually strengthen resilience of these countries. Accordingly, each country has developed its own resilience plan in line with the regional plan and expanding on its local pressing needs and necessities.
Resilience plans can help in the context on any trauma just like the Syrian refugees situation to anticipate upcoming shocks that will lead into a dysfunctional situation and prepare to prevent the status of being dysfunctional. Another example is the anticipation of terrorist attacks in the states and the type of resilient planning the government has done, it might be an overwhelming preparatory situation, yet we cannot undermine the role of prediction and anticipation to reduce the shock when/if it happens. Post-trauma ensures adaptation and functionality in the event of a shock or trauma …
Nada Toueir
nada.toueir@umontreal.ca
24.201.226.25
Resilience has become a buzzword but it is a useful concept. The question remains whether it is relevant to measure it. The concept of resilience should be looked at from a holistic perspective. By doing so, it allows us to take a step back and look at how resilience and the elements affecting it can be of use to rebuild a devastated city. For example, after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, it was mainly citizen groups and community networks that did most of the work of rebuilding and bringing back a broken community. Also, the element of culture is never taken into account. Without culture, communities would not exist, and without communities cities would be broken entities. Therefore, it is very important to look at resilience from a quantitative perspective (statistics and numbers) but also to look at it from a qualitative perspective (cultural identity and social networks). And this is why it is questionable to measure it, especially when it is qualified as a concept. A concept should remain at the conceptual level
Faten Kikano
faten.kikano@umontreal.ca
132.204.243.250
Political actors and policy makers exploit many concepts, such as sustainability, common good, ethics, etc. in order to serve their own interests. The concept of resilience has been misused in the past years for justifying decisions and actions taken by governmental and nonprofit institutions in response to post-disaster situations. Furthermore, studies have seldom shown that these policies create injustice rather than helping for ensuring an equal recovery to various social categories (Fayazi & Lizarralde, 2013). On the other hand, the concept of resilience has been overused by scholars and academics in explaining many phenomena that require different lenses and theoretical approaches.
Nevertheless, resilience is essential in understanding the mechanisms and tools used by populations to cope with situations of stress. Its variables, mainly social networking, sense of community, availability of information and awareness, preparedness and self-efficacy, are useful to analyze and evaluate war or disaster-affected populations’ level of adaptability to traumatic situations, especially in qualitative methodological approaches.
Sheshkafle
shesh.kafle@gmail.com
24.201.226.25
In my view, the concept of resilience is like a ‘vision’, a positive concept, and every one of us is striving to achieve it, but can never be achieved. However, the concept of resilience gives us a road map for our response, recovery and risk reduction efforts. Practically there are some confusions in understanding the concept among practitioners. The widely referred approach of measuring resilience i.e. 5 capital assets is completely misleading such as the poor are not always, and in most cases the, less resilient than the rich! In order to avoid this misconception, I have proposed a mathematical index to measure disaster resilient communities following a process and outcome indicators (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22576136;http://www.thebci.org/index.php/continuity-articles-it-dr-resilience
Christopher Lyon (@ChristophLyon)
twitter.com/ChristophLyonx
ChristophLyon@twitter.example.com
134.36.154.190
A very interesting discussion and I hope it’s OK to join.
Some brief comments, if I may.
Several, including the Daniel and Jonathan raise the issue of the diversity of applications of resilience and how this influences what I think is a bit of a midirected question about the relative neoliberalism and buzzwordiness of resilience. A rich systematic review of resilience would likely show a host of different adoptions and applications from a range groups. However, I think we need to start further back, which has been hinted at but not quite explored in the debate comments.
I find myself leaning toward to Chandler’s (2013, 2014) and others e.g. Welsh 2014 “Resilience and responsibility…”) argument regarding the ontological underpinnings of (social-ecological) resilience that see reality as a complex dynamic system or “a complex of multiple interacting agents that possess capacities to interact with other agents and artefacts. The system is self-organising, emergent from those interactions, and non-linear in outcomes – in other words the effects of a simple interaction in one part of the system can produce large and complex effects in other parts of it” (Welsh 2014:18).
Resilience perhaps becomes a buzzword or neoliberal camouflage when it it’s [mis]matched with a setting that doesn’t share the same ontological underpinning. For example, community social relationships are informal, complex and dyanmic suggesting a match with resilience’s ontology. However, the make-up of government tends toward linearity, predictability, and silo’d institutions. Likewise does the liberal or welfare state social contract that positions government (and the private sector) with the responsibility as a goods and services provider for a choicemaking public. The ontology behind this kind of thinking is dualistic; in the same way it separates humans and nature, it also separates the public and institutions of government, business, and assigns roles to each. Resilience (like sustainability) is then introduced as a concept when these groups find that reality is problematic (often as a result of their own practices and constitution) but only applied to each group to make it resilient (to reality), thus reinforcing dualistic notions of reality. Yet, if its ontological root is taken into consideration, resilience poses the quite severe question of whether the discourses, practices, and interactions within and between these various silo’d groups are congruent with a complex reality or whether they passively or actively and maladaptively resist it.
Reality as complexity, as Jonathan notes, presents a tremendous challenge to existing worldviews in that it positions individuals, communities, and institutions as active “constituents” in reality, not just as entities that consitute it (Chandler 2014). In practice, this means blurring lines between the governed and government, between the disaster and the human and environmental causes of it, recognising that events do not happen in vacuums. And that if the connections are traced far enough, we are all participants in these events in one way or another and that separations are what Schmidt (2013) might call “artifice”. At this point, pace Jonathan, I’m not sure it ultimately matters whether governments neoliberalise resilience as they remain acting as systems actors within their own ideological frameworks and there are always consequences to the choices they make, i.e. Is the practice of resilience in case X actually resilient? It’s also a learning process for them, as we see here with the Scottish Government, which has now created a National Centre for Resilience as it wrestles with the concept at the same time it uses it as a policy philosophy…
Christopher Lyon (@ChristophLyon)
twitter.com/ChristophLyonx
ChristophLyon@twitter.example.com
134.36.154.190
In reply to Nada Toueir.
Nada, it’s not much, but for some discussion of culture and resilience see:
Lyon, C. and Parkins, J. R. (2013), Toward a social theory of resilience: Social Systems, cultural Systems, and collective action in transitioning forest-based communities. Rural Sociology, 78: 528–549. doi: 10.1111/ruso.12018
John Plodinec
resilientus.orgx
john.plodinec@resilientus.org
98.94.23.29
Resilience most definitely is a useful concept in the field of disaster risk reduction and the built environment. Its development has had and is having a profound impact on how we deal with many of the hazards we face. For example, in the US the concept has brought new attention to adaptation as a disaster risk reduction strategy as opposed to trying to build up resistance (i.e., hardening). The concept is leading to a realization that while assets are important (e.g., power plants, bridges, buildings) what the members of a community really care about are the services that these assets are associated with (e.g., electricity, convenient access to places we want/need to go, shelter). That, in turn, brings in the individual, social and economic interdependencies endemic to complex modern societies thus – in a sense – re-humanizing our inhuman (and often inhumane!) built environment. As a useful recent example, see the recently published “Community Resilience Planning Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems,” published by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology. As this document exemplifies, the resilience concept is quietly altering disaster risk reduction of infrastructure systems by restoring the balance between structures and societal concerns.
As an observation, both the proposer and the opposition seem to have missed that the question as phrased asks about the usefulness to DRR and the built environment.
Gonzalo Lizarralde
grif.umontreal.cax
gonzalo.lizarralde@umontreal.ca
132.204.251.254
Thank you all for these new – very interesting – comments.
Most of the arguments presented in the last two days focus on the multiple meanings and representations of resilience. Some bloggers seem to find this variety as a rather negative characteristic of the concept. It seems to me that in their view, this multiplicity of meanings and concepts hinders the possibility of creating common objectives and aligning a shared agenda (see for instance the post by Prof. Kelman). On the other hand, some other bloggers seem to find an intrinsic value in this multiplicity of meanings and approaches. They would probably insist that this variety helps to adapt the concept to heterogeneous contextual conditions, making the concept even more pertinent (see for instance the comments by Nicola Musa).
Is a concept MORE or LESS useful when it does not create a shared, common meaning?
Christopher Lyon (@ChristophLyon)
twitter.com/ChristophLyonx
ChristophLyon@twitter.example.com
134.36.154.190
In reply to Gonzalo Lizarralde.
Should the meaning of resilience be context dependent?
Gonzalo Lizarralde
grif.umontreal.cax
gonzalo.lizarralde@umontreal.ca
132.204.251.254
Great question Christopher. Let us suppose it should. Does this increases or decreases its value in our fields of work and research?
How useful is it to call something “blue” if this word means different things to different people? Alternatively, isn’t it useful to have a chamaeleon concept that describes the different shades of “blue”?
Christopher Lyon (@ChristophLyon)
twitter.com/ChristophLyonx
ChristophLyon@twitter.example.com
134.36.154.190
In reply to Gonzalo Lizarralde.
At a glance, I’d suggest the increase in value to have shades of blue, or perhaps to stretch the metaphor a little further, a spectrum of colours that share the common feature of being colour. For example, the built environment might be resilient (to disasters) if it is well designed, built, and situated for a given social and geophysical context. Society is a different colour and requires things like cohesion, participation, knowledge exchange suited its political, social, economic, and physical context.
Ilan Kelman (Twitter @IlanKelman)
ilankelman.orgx
ilan_kelman@hotmail.com
193.60.231.29
In reply to Christopher Lyon (@ChristophLyon).
Is the dress blue, gold, both, or neither? At what point does blue become aqua, azure, beryl, cerulean, cobalt, cyan, indigo, navy, royal, sapphire, teal, turquoise, ultramarine, a combination, or something else? People will always debate, dispute, edit, refute, modify, and challenge definitions, shades, categories, and umbrella groups. Same with resilience. Or is it resiliency, resilienceness, or everything at once?
Even the metaphor of colour breaks down because not everyone can differentiate all colours. If we define colour quantitatively in terms of wavelengths, then ambiguity emerges in terms of precision and quantum mechanics.
Consequently, for me, context absolutely matters. Definitions, perceptions, views, and perspectives are indeed context dependent.
Which means that I agree: Pick a word; give it a definition; indicate the contexts, concepts, strengths, and limitations; and move on to do the work rather than endless parsing. (This approach does not preclude papers on definitions, vocabulary, connotations, and interpretations which I also write). Not everyone agrees with us regarding contextuality. Some are adamant about their definition and interpretation of resilience, considering no other.
It also leads to a further question: Why use ‘resilience’ rather than another word or phrase? How do languages and cultures beyond English respond, given that neither the word ‘resilience’ nor the concepts as we are discussing exist in all languages and cultures?
None of which actually answers the question of this debate.
Christopher Lyon (@ChristophLyon)
twitter.com/ChristophLyonx
ChristophLyon@twitter.example.com
134.36.154.190
Ilan, I think it’s getting close to answers in the sense that how resilience is understood is key to whether it’s useful in the contexts mentioned. Perhaps resilience lends toward pluralistic interpretations, which I suppose echo complexity. But we also saddled with institutional cultures and politics that don’t do well with ambiguity inherent complexity and pluralistic ideas.
Some of the work I’m involved with suggests differences between the official discourse of resilience (including the tendency toward common definitions) by a government in DRR, planning and infrastructure development and what happens in practice when it operationalises the concept at the local level.
Faten Kikano
faten.kikano@umontreal.ca
132.204.243.250
HOW CAN CITIES BECOME MORE RESILIENT? (UNHABITAT, 2015)
An increasingly common methodology used by local governments and the international community to build resilience are the UNISDR’s “Ten Essentials.” UN-Habitat’s City Resilience Profiling Programme introduced the following “essentials” in order to further upgrade this framework by making it more rigorous, objective, and fit to conduct quantitative assessment and profiling of city resilience.
Essential 1: Put in place organization and coordination to understand and reduce disaster risk, based on the participation of citizen groups and civil society. Build local alliances. Ensure that all departments understand their role in disaster risk reduction and preparedness.
Essential 2: Assign a budget for disaster risk reduction and provide incentives for homeowners, low-income families, communities, businesses, and public sector to invest in reducing the risks they face.
Essential 3: Maintain up-to-date data on hazards and vulnerabilities, prepare risk assessments, and use these as the basis for urban development plans and decisions. Ensure that this information and the plans for your city’s resilience are readily available to the public and fully discussed with them.
Essential 4: Invest in and maintain critical infrastructure that reduces risk, such as flood drainage, adjusted where needed to cope with climate change.
Essential 5: Assess the safety of all schools and health facilities and upgrade these as necessary.
Essential 6: Apply and enforce realistic risk compliant building regulations and land use planning principles. Identify safe land for low-income citizens and upgrade informal settlements, wherever feasible.
Essential 7: Ensure education programmes and training on disaster risk reduction are in place in schools and local communities.
Essential 8: Protect ecosystems and natural buffers to mitigate floods, storm surges, and other hazards to which your city may be vulnerable. Adapt to climate change by building on good risk reduction practices.
Essential 9: Install early warning systems and emergency management capacities in your city, and hold regular public preparedness drills.
Essential 10: After any disaster, ensure that the needs of the survivors are placed at the centre of reconstruction, while supporting them and their community organizations to design and help implement responses, including rebuilding homes and livelihoods.
unhabitat.org/urban-themes/resilience/
Georgia
Cardosix
geo.c@hotmail.it
132.204.251.254
Resilience is certainly a concept and not only a term, as it gives room to representations and theoretic models. Whether it is a theory is less evident. A theory explains a phenomena shedding light on the relationships among the variables. What makes a theory useful is that knowing how the variables interrelate allows working on such relationships to eventually change their course in a desired way. In our case, community resilience aims at explaining why and how some communities can function effectively after a disaster helping us to understand what official planning and design actions can be taken in order to enhance community resilience. If resilience is mainly based on social capital and strong connections as Aldrich states, maybe a theory of resilience has poor implication on the development of new policies and planning; it is in fact demonstrated that social capital is very strong in context were the presence of the state and official planning are poor or absent. In this case Resilience is more a metaphor than a theory. As Norris explains, the scientific value of resilience as a framework to build resilient communities is in the fact that it can guides us towards new hypothesis on, and understanding of, the relationships between the variables over time; in her theory variables are adaptive capacities, stressors and wellness (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18157631). However, in the resilience literature there exist myriad variables and this brings confusion. Yet, adaptation remains the most important concept. My main question remains: what does the resilience lens add to the adaptation theory that magnifies our comprehension of complex systems in conditions of uncertainty and unpredictability?
Gonzalo Lizarralde
grif.umontreal.cax
gonzalo.lizarralde@umontreal.ca
132.204.119.232
It seems to me that we are increasingly confronted with an ethical issue here. The issue seems not to be what are the values and virtues that are evoked by the resilience concept (most collaborators seem to believe that they are context-specific). The issue seems to be instead HOW we use the concept to modify the relationships between society, nature and the built environment. This “how” is an ethical issue in the way the use of fire can be: fire can be used for the noble purpose of cooking a good meal in an oven or for the perverse purpose of destroying a house. But this does not fully answer our initial question: given the risks associated with “playing with fire” (please stretch the metaphor here) is fire itself useful?
Danny Yonto
geoearth.uncc.edu/people/graduate-students/daniel…x
dyonto@uncc.edu
152.15.112.22
When trying to determine what definition of resilience I would describe to a class or even tell someone on the street, I always came back to the Resilience Alliance. For this organization, resilience is: “The ability to absorb disturbances, to be changed and then to re-organize and still have the same identity (retain the same basic structure and ways of functioning). It includes the ability to learn from the disturbance” (Resilience Alliance, 2015). The reason I choose this definition is because it reflects what resilience thinking tries to answer:
1. How much can a system absorb before it transforms into something different?
2. What strategies build resilience in socio-ecological systems?
For me, the purpose of a system is its ability to adapt and react to disturbances and persist over time. If your system can persist, then you are resilient. If your system cannot persist, then you are not resilient. The best strategies are not written down, but come from people working together in order to learn from the disturbance and be better prepared for the next shock.
Another benefit of resilience is one way to link multiple scales of community leaders under one idea. Right now, silos is a catch phrase in state and local governments that means people only work on their projects and do not collaborate with others. If this concept of building resilience can infuse its way into local governments, this may be one way to break down the silos and have people working together, especially in the area of disaster management. The more we can get people to buy into the concept of trying to break down silos and help communities, maybe the idea of a resilience dividend can be expected. As Rodin (2014) explains, a resilience dividend allows people to build and grow relationships, initiatives, and opportunities that were not there previously. Thereby, through this new social capital, we can follow that basic human instinct to survive by finding new and creative ways to prepare and solve problems before they start.
If this is the case, then maybe the term resilience or resilience dividend is not a gimmick. By using this concept to bring people together and improve our community, maybe this is a term that people can rally around and relate to. It’s easy to understand, it’s easy to show how it can work, and it’s easy to show how those who do not use this concept suffer.
Rodin, J. (2014) The resilience dividend: Being strong in a world where things go wrong. Philadelphia: Public Affairs. http://www.amazon.com/The-Resilience-Dividend-Strong-Things/dp/1610394704
Resilience Alliance, (2015). Key concepts. Retrieved fromhttp://www.resalliance.org/index.php/key_concepts
GOLSA
golsa.dehghan@mail.mcgill.ca
24.201.226.25
I do also believe that debate around the usefulness of resilience is a context-dependent discussion. For instance, the concept of resilience always emphasizes returning to ‘normality.’ In hazard management field, indeed, the notion of resilience often means the preservation of what exists and recovering things destroyed; that is a focus on returning to normality. However, in 2010, Pendall and his colleagues (http://cjres.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2009/12/08/cjres.rsp028.short ) refer to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina as an example in which the affected communities did not find the pre-event situation as the acceptable and desirable normality to which they wanted to return. He believes that those who, after the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, intentionally resisted returning to pre-event areas where were associated with poverty, vulnerability, and lack of sustainability can be considered resilient too. Although this kind of arguments provokes suspicion to the usefulness of resilience, they are mostly context-dependent arguments.
Ilan Kelman (Twitter @IlanKelman)
ilankelman.orgx
ilan_kelman@hotmail.com
109.153.136.94
In reply to Danny Yonto.
Yet not everyone agrees with the Resilience Alliance’s definition or its use of jargon. See the links which I provided above which critique their work and point out some difficulties with the definition. Additionally, there are multiple ways of ‘resilience thinking’ and, given the debates in the literature and here, there is not so much evidence that ‘It’s easy to understand’.
In particular, maintaining sexism, racism, North Korea’s regime, and poverty most definitely retains ‘the same identity (retain the same basic structure and ways of functioning)’. I agree that those are incredibly resilient. I do not agree that this resilience provides benefits we should seek or support. Personally, I would prefer to shatter their resilience, overturn their identity, change their basic structure, and do so much better.
The vocabulary of ‘disturbance’ comes from ecology. How much is society really like ecosystems? The word ‘shock’ has long been abandoned in many fields which speak on resilience. Again the literature cited above addresses these points in more detail.
The science shows clearly that it is time to move beyond the Resilience Alliance’s narrow view.
Ilan Kelman (Twitter @IlanKelman)
ilankelman.orgx
ilan_kelman@hotmail.com
109.153.136.94
In reply to GOLSA.
Excellent points and well-said. This earlier paperhttp://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/0272-4332.206080/abstract also points out that post-disaster return to ‘normality’ means a return to the vulnerability which caused the disaster in the first place. If resilience is indeed a return to ‘normal’, then why would we want it, when ‘normal’ means underdevelopment, vulnerability, poverty, and disasters waiting to happen? Exactly as noted above for Hurricane Katrina.
That is the reason behind ‘Build Back Better’ and its critiqueshttp://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-5973.2008.00529.x/abstractleading to ‘Build Forward Better’ and ‘Bounce Forward’http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13549839.2011.583049?journalCode=cloe20
We summarise many of these points in the paper athttp://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13753-015-0038-5 adopting exactly the contexuality argument delineated so elegantly in the comment to which I am replying.
Mahmood Fayazi
IF.research.group@gmail.com
24.201.226.25
In reply to Ilan Kelman (Twitter @IlanKelman).
Following Ilan’s comment, I would like to refer to “Resilience: A risk management approach” (http://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/7552.pdf) in which Mitchell and his colleague state that one of the less discussed criticisms of resilience lies on the translation of the term as resistance against change, rather than continuity through change. They call this the ‘dark side of resilience’, referring to resilient systems as less responsive to change and positive transformation. It highlights undesirable characteristics of the systems – such as poverty, inequality, and en-entitlement – that are almost unchangeable. According to Weichselgartner et al. (2014, p. 5), the disaster management interventions foster the social-ills and do less to change these undesirable characteristics when emphasize short-term returning back to normality.
Nicolas G
nicgauvin@gmail.com
209.171.43.251
In reply to Ilan Kelman (Twitter @IlanKelman).
Absolutely interesting debate! Just to jump on this latest two comments (Golsa & Ilan); in my understanding, the bouncing back to ‘normal’ (or previously exposed state) is where we get it wrong for the Resilience definition. Golsa’s example is exposing this weakness in the common understanding of resilience. For the opening and rebuttal remarks, we noticed the verbs “to adapt” and “to transform” in the overall agreed definition for resilience, which invoke the idea of change. Bouncing back to ‘normal’, as to invoke the prior-to-disaster state, is – in my opinion – not a change, but a reinstated vulnerability. (I will come to this with example in another comment.)
Christopher Lyon (@ChristophLyon)
twitter.com/ChristophLyonx
ChristophLyon@twitter.example.com
134.36.154.190
I think we run into the limits of the very language we have to talk about resilience. Without perhaps intending to, we’re returning to abstract critiques of the standard ‘bounce-back’ definiton, and its maybe more useful ‘bounce-forward’ counterpart. Not to say that these critiques are invalid, but only that they may not be valid in every circumstance. A community or system that is able to restructure for the short term until crisis has passed before bouncing is not necessarily vulnerable, especially if its bounce-back is part of a planned and expected reponse to an event.
Instead, could it be that resilience when it recognises it is context dependency and complexity, meaning its definition and application is and must be inherently malleable, rooted in rigorous questions about the who, what and how of each circumstance in which it is applied? The challenge I think inherent in these kinds of discussion relates to the getting away from the reductionist thinking (i.e. bullet point, one size fits all definitions, metrics and practices) that seems to desired by policymakers and practioners whether or not they’re pursuing a neoliberal agenda.
Gonzalo Lizarralde
grif.umontreal.cax
gonzalo.lizarralde@umontreal.ca
132.204.119.232
The latest contributions on the blog come back to the virtues and values that are honored by (in) a resilience approach. Resilience is a metaphor that captures (explicitly or implicitly) the image of coming back to normality. If coming back to normality is dangerous or inappropriate, one could argue, what is the pertinence of using the metaphor in the first place? Opponents of the concept of resilience often argue that there is no point in using a metaphor when the metaphor itself betrays the very meanings that it is suppose to convey. Defenders, on the other hand, argue that metaphors are useful precisely because of their capacity to simplify complex messages.
Let us remember, however, that other metaphors have been previously abandoned for their lack of precision to convey an idea: architects, for instance, now seldom refer to “inhabitable machines” to refer to housing, despite that this metaphor was largely popular in the modernist period.
Kristen
kam71@cam.ac.uk
81.107.32.151
What is presented to us is not a clear debate but different perspectives on the use of the term ‘resilience’ that are not directly opposed (hence, one could quite easily support both views).
Briefly going back to the original proposals: Daniel has developed a framework (shaped by the concept of resilience) to understand the recovery of communities after a disaster. He suggests that resilience serves as a useful lens for understanding what factors influence a community’s preparation for and response to disasters. This does not dismiss contextual or dynamic conditions that Jonathan suggests are important. Jonathan focussed on “whether there is anything special about the term itself that makes a qualitative difference”. He criticizes that the use of resilience is not a radically new way of thinking, yet accepts that it has some value in framing problems.
Differences in interpretation of what resilience means serve to question our assumptions and perspectives, I consider this a good thing. It certainly provokes thoughtful conversation about pertinent issues.
Offhand or misappropriated use of the term resilience does not overshadow its usefulness in shaping critical thought when it is applied in a more robust way.
Christopher – resilience absolutely lends to pluralistic interpretations. The critical point is that one needs to be clear how resilience is considered in a specific context and what value it brings to informing a decision-making process. I explored that here: doi:10.1016/S2212-5671(14)00989-7 and the development of the framework presented in that paper has been ongoing.
Ilan Kelman (Twitter @IlanKelman)
ilankelman.orgx
ilan_kelman@hotmail.com
109.153.136.94
How much is memorialisationhttp://theforeigner.no/pages/columns/remembering-atrocity about resilience or lack thereof? Even in the context of the built environment, leaving a disaster-damaged building as a memorial or deciding to replace it–e.g. Oslo, Hiroshima, Christchurch, New York City–makes statements about multiple interpretations of resilience.
Ilan Kelman (Twitter @IlanKelman)
ilankelman.orgx
ilan_kelman@hotmail.com
109.153.136.94
As this online platform limits the number of replies, I respond here to Mahmood’s comment above that ‘Mitchell and his colleague state that one of the less discussed criticisms of resilience lies on the translation of the term as resistance against change, rather than continuity through change’. The document cited is highly biased towards English. Languages which do not have the word ‘resilience’–or even the cultural concept–somehow need to translate it. Depending on the context (contextuality again!) perhaps either ‘resistance against change’ or ‘continuity through change’–or both or neither–might be a suitable translation.
Consequently, in English, if we mean ‘resistance against change’, then why not just say that rather than ‘resilience’? If we mean ‘continuity through change’, then why not just say that rather than ‘resilience’?
Then, we could have online debates about the concepts of ‘resistance’, ‘continuity’, and ‘change’.
Gonzalo Lizarralde
grif.umontreal.cax
gonzalo.lizarralde@umontreal.ca
206.248.172.26
Kristen, like other contributors here, seem not to find a significant problem with the multiple interpretations of resilience. In the article she refers to, she argues that “Adopting the concept of resilience in a range of contexts inherently requires some flexibility in meaning”. This flexibility might be unavoidable and even desirable. Yet, it clouds the fact that the concept might gave us the wrong perception of creating consensus among objectives and expectations. When we say that we want Buenos Aires to be a “resilient city” how do we know that we are talking about the same thing or that we aim for the same objectives? On the other hand, setting the objective of making BA ‘resilient’ might unleash a variety of interventions, initiatives, plans and objectives that might – together – produce added value. Anyone has ideas about the usefulness and effectiveness of the concept in the “100 Resilient Cities” program?
David Chandler
davidchandler.orgx
d.chandler@wmin.ac.uk
90.199.147.96
Hi all, interesting discussion. Let me contribute my tuppence worth. It seems to me that resilience is a fast growing and fast moving field of debate and discussion of how we govern, of what it means to govern well – so Jonathan’s attention to govern-mentalities is very apposite. Defining resilience or even arguing about its use or what type of governmentality it might be seems like putting the cart before the horse and potentially limiting, often becoming a vehicle for normative advocacy of policy concerns and perspectives, or repeating existing political or philosophical positions, telling us little about the concept of resilience itself. However, looking empirically at case studies or different countries or issue areas does not necessarily help either – except for feeding the notion that resilience is context dependent – again this tells us little about resilience per se.
Its therefore interesting that a discussion of what it means to govern well should be so difficult to pin down or to clarify, even through a specialist forum such as this one. One of the reasons, I suggest, is that resilience seems to be antithetical to governing in its traditional forms. It seems to continually raise issues about the problems, separations, reductions and linear assumptions involved in the separation of governing from the object of governance. This scepticism of knowledge and power claims essential to governing in traditional ways is often linked to understandings of complexity, inter-relationality, feedback loops, unintended consequences, surprises, ‘tipping points’ etc. A resilient community perhaps is one that is self governing – not in the sense of modern liberal views of political autonomy – but in the sense of being self-managing, self-adaptating, self-coping and self-aware. Resilience as self-governance is thereby the construction of a community that, as Gonzalo notes, is essentially aware of its self and its relations to its environment and governs itself through this.
Self governing (in a resilience sense) can be problematised as a neoliberal project of interpellating responsible subjects or celebrated as empowering and enabling communities. Projects intended to inculcate resilience as a set of attributes or capacities can be done badly or well. However, the problem appears to be at a different level, on the assumptions that politics – governing well – can only be discussed on the terms of political pragmatism: governing on the basis of what exists and being able to see, respond and adapt to changes or issues in their emergence. I.e. that politics is about the management of change rather than about initiating change. So far we are debating the meaning of subject- or society-centred forms of governing as resilience but the question of governing for what is never raised or problematised. The purpose or aims of governing are assumed to be given by the problems we face in a changing environment that requires self-adaptation and distributed forms of knowledge and empowerment.
Alan Lew
tourismcommunities.com/taiwan-project.htmlx
alanalew@gmail.com
71.223.53.171
The focus of this debate was supposed to be on Resilience in Disaster Risk Reduction and in the Built Environment. I thought Daniel Aldrich followed that in his opening comments, whereas Jonathan Joseph wandered from that focus into the realm of multiple interpretations for multiple disciplinary applications, thus throwing things into a somewhat confused state. Faten Kikano’s citing of the UNHabitiat resilience essentials is, I think, an accurate refocusing of the debate on the question that was originally posed.
From my own perspective, I am not very interested in disaster management, and if not for the wide ranging comments, I might not have said anything. Hopefully this comment is not too off-topic. I am interested in resilience as a community planning concept for addressing the mundane and persistent evolutionary change that is more common than disasters for most communities. For that, I especially appreciate the work of the Stockholm Resilience Centre (http://www.stockholmresilience.org/). I struggle with what seems to be a big divide between fast change disaster resilience and slow change social and ecological resilience, with authors from the two perspective using the same words, but defining them such that they end up talking past each other.
In line with Ilan Kelman’s suggestion to keep it simple, my recent work contrasts sustainability with resilience. Sustainability is defined as policies and practices that promote the conservation or restoration of resources (human and natural) in the face of deteriorating change, while resilience policies and practices are those that promote adaptation and innovation to address undesirable changing circumstances. A recent blog post (soon to be paper) discussing the utility of this approach can be found here:
http://www.tgjournal.com/tourism-place-blog/similarities-and-differences-between-community-resilience-and-sustainability
We suggest that sustainability practices conserve (or restore) resources that the community does not want to see decline, while resilience practices foster innovation in areas where the community seeks change. Each approach is distinct in its assumption, methods and outcomes. Somewhat related to this debate, our field work in rural Taiwan is indicating that communities that have experienced natural disasters, and have thus been more exposed to government resilience programs, are more dynamic and forward looking than those who have employed government sustainability initiative alone in their development. Thus an understanding of resilience in relation to other policy approaches (sustainability in this example), can clarify available options in community development. I am not sure how well this would scale to large urban metropolitan areas and other, more complex, social contexts. But for this case study, it seems to be working well.
Ilan Kelman (Twitter @IlanKelman)
ilankelman.orgx
ilan_kelman@hotmail.com
109.153.136.94
A powerful and poignant reaction to this debate. Indeed, ‘for what purpose?’
Resilience for what/whom, to what/whom, of what/whom? Who sets the agenda, who acts or is forced to act on the agenda, who reaps the rewards, who pays the costs?
‘Resilience’ has been moulded to be a powerful discourse. How much of resilience and lack thereof is about power? How much does resilience mask power relations?
Christopher Lyon (@ChristophLyon)
twitter.com/ChristophLyonx
ChristophLyon@twitter.example.com
89.241.213.113
In reply to Ilan Kelman (Twitter @IlanKelman).
A further question: What happens to power relationships when resilience is adopted as discourse and practices? Communities becoming aware of their contexts and capacities can affect and transform power relationships. Resilience is a powerful discourse, and it may not so much mask as highlight power relations, particularly where they hamper resilience building (whichever way resilience is understood).
David Chandler
davidchandler.orgx
d.chandler@wmin.ac.uk
90.199.147.96
I’d like to question the questions of Ilan and Christopher and the broader framing here. I’m not sure that starting from ‘Who’s agenda?’, ‘Who gains?’ etc is particularly useful as a starting point. Especially as ‘resilience’ seems to be so omnipresent and so diffuse, more of a sensibility than a political project. Perhaps we could think outside the box a little more? Debating whether resilience masks, reveals, maintains or challenges power relations tends to assume that power is something to be struggled over in a zero-sum way, and that discourses can be wielded as weapons in this struggle. In fact, this is how the debate here is set up: is resilience ‘useful’ or ‘dangerous’ in some way with regard to some normative view of progress.
This framing, and the assumptions behind the discussion, may be limiting if resilience is a way of articulating the limits of these understandings of power – governing well is then possibly less about the use of power in traditional subject/ object or culture/ nature forms of instrumental cause-and-effect framings but more about the self-generating forms of order which need to be understood and enabled. This may seem a little like neoliberalism but does not appear to be primarily about the self-ordering of markets or the introduction of market rationalities but rather a more general approach to the self-ordering of processes and problems (assemblages both human and non-human).
This would make resilience-thinking an approach to problems that bears little relation to up/down Left/Right hierarchical modernist conceptions of politics and power. Governing well then becomes a matter of seeing the bigger picture, the interconnections, the processes which elude narrow instrumental (or market contractual/profit) approaches – governance becomes an iterative, reflexive process, one which does not think in terms of discrete means/ends/goals but rather in enabling what exists – focusing on ‘what is being done’ rather than ‘what is to be done’. The being of the ‘being done’ is both an awareness of community needs, capacities and networked possibilities but also a sensitivity to embedded relations in and with markets, environments and ideational discourses. This is often seen in terms of a ‘relational’ rather than a ‘rationalist’ ontology. In a relational ontology, governance is always recursive or reflexive, a process that starts in the middle -i.e. governing what already presents itself as a consequence of previous actions and interactions (there is no empty passive world waiting for the human actor to direct it or inscribe its purposes upon it).
Possibly the ‘dangers’ of resilience-thinkng lie in this naturalisation of a relational ontology: a view that humans as actors or subjects can not act on the world but only with it and in accordance with assumed organic processes and limits. If this is the case, then fundamental questions are raised with regard to the goals and aims of politics and the political process itself. Debating resilience as if the fundamental questions raised were merely part of the discourse of politics ‘as usual’ – some potential tool of Left or Right or other implicit normative binary – perhaps misses why resilience seems so difficult to grasp in these terms. What if resilience is not a tool to be used and manipulated by elites or radical activists? What if discourses of resilience reflect rather an exhaustion of modernist framings of politics and of the subject? What if new forms of governing well need to be established precisely because of this hollowing out of the representational struggle of Left and Right? What if the desire to be governed by the world rather than to govern it can not be grasped in terms of narrow instrumental contestations and who gains and who loses? Maybe the stakes are in fact much higher?
Christopher Lyon (@ChristophLyon)
twitter.com/ChristophLyonx
ChristophLyon@twitter.example.com
89.241.213.113
In reply to David Chandler.
David, your comment gets at what I was starting to conceptually broach with my response to Ilan. I’ve found it difficult to communicate in my own life just how radical the implications of resilience are if the ontological dimension is considered, even to some active users of the concept. A practical example from one of my case studies of a grassroots community resilience initiative gets at this. Participants from the group identify resistance from the “old left” in the community who advocate for a traditional liberal or welfare state social contract. The resilience group itself is very system and emergence oriented and ‘gets’ that part it, but they’re challenged in directly selling it to a population ideologically rooted in normative binary politics and social contract. Yet this group, by seeing itself as a relational systems actor means they’ve found one or two creative and indirect ways to achieve some limited success in producing resilience-type thinking and practices.
Nicolas
nicgauvin@gmail.com
24.37.180.170
I appreciate that this fascinating debate takes different aspect into considerations, from macro policies to more centralized human approach. Yet, I feel the content a bit disconnected to ground practice(*) ; what should I-you-they-we do right now to “do no harm” anymore? Not long ago, we were using word such as ‘Poverty’, ‘low income’ to define a series of actions to reduce or eliminate these trends. (Whether it was properly made or not is a separate debate by itself). Vulnerability concept came later in time with a more dynamic approach in respond to the static aspect of incomes. But, again, energy were put to address needs (of vulnerable people) in silos (thanks to Danny for his great explanation); to a lack of water – a new well, to a health center too far – a mobile clinic, etc. Thus, responding to capital assets in silo. Components of vulnerability (sensitivity, exposure) were addressed without contextualizing enough their inter-connectivity and dependence. Now come Resilience…‎
This is only my humble empirical experience, but while I was conducting interviews in Port-au-Prince on the question of vulnerability, comments underlined that we (planners, field workers) were not enough evaluating the change, the adaptation, the transformation lead by communities. This is where, as nicely said by Nada Toueir, resilience came with a more holistic perspective and brought a paradigm shift to our lens (at least to me). Is it being too often used as a buzzword ? Absolutely. Is it context dependent ? Indeed. Dangerous ? This is where the different shades of blues are needed – Returning to ‘normality’ is definitely a danger. Ignoring the conflict it could have with the concepts of justice and fairness (thanks Golsa for pointing that) : also an obstacle. Whether we should completely agree or not on a definition could also be a danger. Too often, we might stick to a definition and missing the big elephant in the room. Resilience is a useful concept to me, now, to design tools keeping in mind a wider picture. But it would be naive to make this concept static in time.
(*) a really recent contribution by ‎Christopher is made more in this spirit.
Logan Cochrane
logancochrane.comx
logan.cochrane@live.com
162.156.3.218
Dr. Aldrich argues that “resilience” is a useful concept and largely focusing upon the importance of social networks and social capital (and presents some of many potential metrics that could measure resilience). One of the contributions of “resilience,” even if this aspect has been absorbed in other frameworks, is the emphasis upon systems (Resilience Alliance, 2007; Walker and Salt, 2006). In this regard, “resilience” helped to reshape and broaden the discussion. As pointed out by Dr. Joseph, the unique contribution of “resilience,” due to a general shift, may have lost its qualitative specialness, and may no longer be necessary. A lack of necessity, however, does not negate meaningfulness or usefulness.
“Resilience” is an abused, malleable buzzword. However, the diverse definitions of resilience do not make it meaningless, nor useless. Indeed, more meaningful, in a problematic way. The abused and malleable nature of the concept limits its usefulness, requiring each rendering of the term to be defined, its metrics specified, and then contextualized in the broader literature wherein the term is diversely used. Even if some uses and users problematize the concept, that in and of itself ought not result in our disposal of it (the next term we find more appropriate would be swiftly appropriated). The popularization of the term, as a buzzword, similarly does not negate its potential worth.
At the same time, some “fuzzwords” (Cornwall, 2010) can mean just about anything. This is similarly the case for “empowerment,” “participation,” and “sustainability.” However, despite the fact that there is no widely accepted definition (or metrics), these fuzzy buzzwords are widely used. A Google Scholar search of the term (Dec. 4, 2015) results in over 1.25 million matching articles that use “resilience” in some shape or form. Web of Science finds over 34,000 academic articles, with its use steadily increasing year by year (by ten year periods): 3 articles in 1974, 9 articles in 1984, 162 articles in 1994, 803 articles in 2004 and 4,862 articles in 2014.
The challenge for researchers who recognize the abused and malleable nature of “resilience” is how to navigate the literature so that the term remains useful. Part of the challenge of defining “resilience” in a way that is agreeable to the majority is that is that it is based upon other debated concepts, such as adaptive capacity, which Ludi, Tesfaye and Levine (2011:7) suggest is “not possible to directly measure.” One of the other ways in which resilience is understood is in relation to “vulnerability,” which is varied in its use and practice (DFID, 2003; Moser, 1998; Scaramozzino, 2006; World Bank, 2005). These challenges do not begin to address the uses of “resilience” in the context of restoration, renewal, and re-organization (Folke, 2006; Landres et al, 1999), or ideological debates about the value of genetic (Harris et al, 2006) and cultural diversity (Turner et al, 2003).
I believe that “resilience,” like “empowerment” and other fuzzy buzzwords, will continue to have different types and components. What we must demand is greater specificity when the term is used. How are researchers defining the concept, within which context, and what are the metrics employed to measure it? These will vary widely. Specificity will enhance our collective ability to benefit from, and criticize, the uses and abuses of “resilience” in the literature. As editors, peer reviewers, supervisors, lecturers and authors, we have the ability to push the field in this direction – to arrive at a point where the use of “resilience” would be unacceptable unless contextualized, defined and specified, metrics detailed, and linkages to “resilience” directly made. I believe this is the bridge that allows us to cross the divide and to continue to benefit from the widespread use of “resilience” while also addressing the primary challenges it faces as a concept. “Resilience” is meaningful. Its utility is challenged by diverse uses and abuses. Its usefulness depends on how the uses and abuses are navigated, challenged and reformed.
Christopher Robin Bryant
Nonex
christopher.robin.bryant@gmail.com
174.92.82.106
Hello,
I am sorry not to have been able to participate in this debate as I have been overwhelmed by a large number of texts including 2 books that I must submit in the next 2 days.
The term ‘resilience’ is like many other terms that we use, such as strategic planning, community solidarity, agriculture, food security .. and many others, in that the meaning associated with so many terms we use in academic life and practice outside universities have different meanings depending upon the context and the cultural values we are dealing with.
In dealing with community resilience, we immediately have to define what we are talking about, especially when it comes to professional practice. It is related (in relation to catastrophes, especially recurrent ones, as well as more gradual changes in stressors (natural, socio-economic, political) to vulnerability reduction and the building of community solidarity, understanding the dynamics of interaction between actors locally and between local actors and others at other levels (including upper levels of government). Depending upon how we perceive community resilience, we can also talk about ways of constructing it, including planning, including infrastructure development, in some cases simply relocating, and in the best of circumstances, planning the building of resilience through incorporating this into a holistic strategic planning process. Also in relation to the notion and practice of strategic planning of development we note how radically this has changed over the last 30 years or so, and we still have to cope with different forms of strategic development planning that really developed in the late 1960s and 1970s, where in the last 25 years it has also given rise to approaches that are essentially very different to the earlier approaches. The best form of strategic planning for development can be linked to the process of developing the plan for and by the community (and its citizens); it is not about only the implication of elected officials or professional experts … we have seen so many projects initiated without them being placed into a more holistic reflection process that it is no surprise that so many initiatives or projects end up being a disaster themselves. And yet, when an unexpected catastrophe occurs, something has to be done straightaway, which is difficult if no prior experience has occurred of such disasters.
I could go on for a long time, with examples, but the main point I’m trying to make is that resilience, especially community resilience, can be planned under certain circumstances leading to reduction in vulnerability and the building of community solidarity.
We just need to be clearer about what we’re referring to in any particular set of circumstances …
Chris Bryant
Ilan Kelman (Twitter @IlanKelman)
ilankelman.orgx
ilan_kelman@hotmail.com
109.153.136.94
In reply to Logan Cochrane.
I am curious about the statement that ‘One of the contributions of “resilience,” even if this aspect has been absorbed in other frameworks, is the emphasis upon systems’. The oldest citation above is 1998. Yet systems theory was published and applied long before the 1990s.
Pre-1980 papers which apply systems theory in the context of dealing with disasters include:
1. http://sfaajournals.net/doi/abs/10.17730/humo.16.2.mm3564k42442207u
2. http://www.massemergencies.org/v4n1/Perry_v4n1.pdf
3. http://www.healio.com/psychiatry/journals/psycann/1973-12-3-12/%7B0a0159aa-29b9-464b-8dae-49012481eba6%7D/crisis-theory-a-formulation
4. http://www.massemergencies.org/v1n4/Gillespie_v1n4.pdf
Holling’s work on resilience was in the 1970s. In that era, it was applied to only ecology, not to the topics under discussion here. For the topics under discussion here, systems theory was explored long before resilience became part of the vocabulary.
So what new aspects did resilience bring compared to what was published before?
Logan Cochrane
logancochrane.comx
logan.cochrane@live.com
162.156.3.218
Appreciate the comment Ilan. In addition to the citations you added, we could look to the deeper history of systems theory in the early 1900s with work by the biologist Von Bertalanffy (1925; 1975). As you have pointed out, throughout the 20th century, the systems approach was applied in a wide range of areas of inquiry, and has been used as an approach to understand how systems work, and therefore engage with systems in a way that recognizes its interrelated components (e.g. Meadows et al., 1974; Meadows, 2008). In the DDR (and the broader humanitarian and development studies) literature, this tended to enter the discourse via complexity theories, but until recently has had less of an influence than resilience. I could be corrected on this point, but it appears that with regard to the DDR literature “resilience” contributed to the broadening of the perspective (even if systems theory existed in beforehand).
You have correctly pointed out some uses of systems theory in DDR contexts, with one dating back to 1957. It appears that there was a fruitful line of thought being developed in the Mass Emergencies journal, but it may have been limited due to its discontinuation. Where I was heading is not an argument about which concept / theory was used first, but which has contributed more to the literature and impacted thought / approaches / practice. In the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, “resilience” appears in 166 articles with “systems theory” appearing far fewer times (in 4 articles). Again, this is not an argument about first instance, but of impact in the literature (note: that journal was founded in 2012). For the Journal of Development Studies (arguably one of the most influential journals for the broader humanitarian and development studies literature, starting in 1964) “resilience” was used in the 1960s, and became more common in the 1970s (appearing in a total of 134 articles in the journal), whereas “systems theory” has contributed much less to this particular literature (a total of 18 mentions in the journal, with 9 being in book reviews). I believe the contribution is not to “new knowledge” in general, but to the DDR field in particular.
Note: I am less familiar with the “build environment” literature, and this may not be the case for it.
Logan Cochrane
logancochrane.comx
logan.cochrane@live.com
162.156.3.218
In reply to Ilan Kelman (Twitter @IlanKelman).
Appreciate the comment Ilan. It appears that my response was lost when your repeated response was removed. I hope the more detailed original comment will re-appear, in sum it was regarding impact, rather than first instance. Not about “new knowledge” per se, but of influence on the DDR literature.
In a nutshell: My point is not one about the first use of the term, but about the concept that has had the greatest impact on the literature / approaches / practice. In the Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction (founded in 2012), for example, systems theory appears in only 4 articles, whereas “resilience” appears in 166 articles. In the broader humanitarian and development studies literature, this is also the case – in the Journal of Development Studies (arguably one of the most influential journals in the field, starting out in 1964), there are 134 articles referring to “resilience” with far fewer drawing upon systems theory (18 articles, 9 of which were book reviews).
Christopher Lyon (@ChristophLyon)
twitter.com/ChristophLyonx
ChristophLyon@twitter.example.com
89.241.213.113
OK, to wade into to swamp a little: communities, disasters, institutions, vulnerablity, management, risk, culture, social, ecological etc are part of the present set of variables that consitute the vernacular human society at the present point in time and space. They relate to what we call “resilience” which is increasingly a catch-all term to that describes all that which is to allow humanity (or pockets thereof) to survive and thrive through greater and lesser challenges to our well-being and sometimes very existence. I think this and the conversations that follow from them while important are aslo very shallow. Even terms like “ontology” seem to me to fail to capture the conceptual depth of what resilience brings to the table. Stepping back to the systems root of resilience, we are talking about interactions, the relationships between things over time. Taken to its logical ends, these interactions began at the origin of the universe, or spacetime when energy and particles interacted and transform their relationships, continuing now so that we eventually have stars and planets and supernovae and life and whatever these things are to become as they interact with each other on into the future.
For example, Max Tegmark makes the case that the consciousness that is producing my words and the means and mode of their production is a state of matter (http://arxiv.org/abs/1401.1219) that is produced by interactions from the subatomic scale on upward. All of which is to say that when we talk about “resilience”in the context of systems, empowerment, awareness and an ontology that sees humans as components of larger system, instead of binaries and dualism, we are at a deeper level, speaking of a reorientation of our relationship to space and time. Communities, institutions, individuals, being are being challenged to rethink how they interpret their orientations to disasters and built structures in response to temporal events. Part of this, apparent in the bounce-back/forward conversation, is an orientation to time itself. Is the reproduction of the past something to be attempted or discarded in the wake of an event? What is in the past, and why is it important to the future of the people concerned? Measuring resilience? Measuring what, I keep asking myself? At the deeper conceptual level, are we are measuring our relative orientation to the prevailing temporal orientation (past, present, future?)? Our relatlonship to a set of categories, or physical objects and structures we hold valuable because they in turn reflect a certain set of ideas about how things are or ought to be, which are really manifestations of ideas, many of which are deeply historically rooted and unchallenged and which produce the discourse of management, response, disaster, and so forth that we adopt to talk about events. For me, drawing on some of David Chandler and others (DOI:10.1080/21693293.2013.837241) have written, there is something very compelling in the ontological premise behind “resilience” that unavoidably challenges how we conceive and relate to our very existence. I wonder what happens to conversations like this one about present day practical applications of resilience (ie. DDR and built environment) if we instead begin at this existential-ontological point.
Kristen
kam71@cam.ac.uk
81.107.32.151
In reply to Logan Cochrane.
I agree. If the application and context of these fuzzy terms is clearly defined then it provides a basis on which to engage in meaningful conversation. An extra point to add is that while it is helpful to contextualise, define and specify, it may be helpful to step back and recognise what perspectives that might cut off.
Hanna Ruszczyk (twitter @Hruszczyk)
h.a.ruszczyk@durham.ac.uk
87.115.9.43
I have found some of David Chandler’s comments (Dec 4th and 5th) to resonate with my empirical work in a rapidly urbanising city in Nepal. “Self governing forms of order which need to be understood and enabled”. These forms are often informal and not seen by the government until they serve a purpose of the government. Also, exploring “new forms of governing” and how resilience is situated in this conversation is exciting to explore further.
Regarding the topic of the debate, I think resilience is both useful and a buzzword.
Christopher Robin Bryant
Nonex
christopher.robin.bryant@gmail.com
174.92.82.106
Asolutely, I couldn’t agree with you more. In many of the large scale international meetings of state leaders (e.g. COP21), one often gets the impression (more than an impression) that many of the “leaders” do not really know what is really happening in their own countries where we frequently find initiatives that are very engaging and successful.
Christopher Lyon (@ChristophLyon)
twitter.com/ChristophLyonx
ChristophLyon@twitter.example.com
134.36.154.190
In reply to Christopher Robin Bryant.
I think it would be worthwhile to collect empirical descriptions of “new forms of governing” at any level or context that capture emergent “self-governing forms of order”. There seems to be a few of us on this thread (myself included) with potential examples…
Gonzalo Lizarralde
grif.umontreal.cax
gonzalo.lizarralde@umontreal.ca
132.204.119.232
Some recent contributions here seem to be interested in the governing/governance aspects of resilience, whereas others focus on its systemic attributes. This seems to reflect the usefulness of a malleable concept. Malleability, abuse and usefulness seem not necessarily to be tied to each other – as I originally assumed in the presentation of the debate. Interesting.
David Chandler
davidchandler.orgx
d.chandler@wmin.ac.uk
90.199.147.96
To follow up then, on the direction we seem to be moving in: of resilience as a discussion of how to govern with an awareness of systemic interactions, complexity, and the more humbling awareness of unintended consequences. As Christopher Lyon and others note, this indicates an ontological shift in the understanding of governance and the problems to be governed. The depth of this shift seems still to be in the process of being reflected upon, in this forum and more broadly. However, the fact that resilience seems to capture this broad set of reflections does not necessarily make it a malleable concept – ontologies are not malleable.
Malleability in this sense, reflects a confusion over the logic and sense-making capacities of resilience – how resilience enables what didn’t make sense to make sense. Alan Lew (Dec 5th) captures this nicely with the resilience vs sustainability framing and Nicolas G (Dec 4th) re resilience as bouncing forward not bouncing back. There is something overdetermined and non-malleable in the logic of resilience – in discussions of governance and systems approaches. This non-malleability is not grasped by looking at the etymology of the concept or the diversity of its uses. Resilience can never go back to ‘bouncing back’ as if the systems in place were not part of the problem under discussion, resilience can never be a ‘sustainable approach’ assuming that the future can be managed, directed and extrapolated from linear understandings of the past. In the same way, disasters can never again be seen as ‘natural’ or as ‘accidents’. A relational ontology cannot make these cuts and binaries between subject/ object or problem/ solution.
Any concept can be used and abused but this approach to resilience is not really helpful – if only resilience could be so easily explained as a reflection of conscious political/ discursive struggle over an empty signifier, given content by neoliberalism or radical community activism. The rise of relationalist/systems/complexity approaches over rationalist/individualist/linear understandings of governance is the precondition for the rise of resilience-thinking. The work (whether good or bad from a normative perspective) has already been done, the battle already fought (or not fought in this case). No matter how much the organisers of the debate may wish to focus on pragmatic policy solutions (the measure of the ‘use’ and ‘abuse’ of the concept) rather than ontological questions, the normative measure of the concepts use/abuse cannot but be one of how to govern relationally – how to enable the forms of self-ordering which are held to be immanent in the world and its problems, understood in terms of self-adapting complex systems. Examples abound of how communities can govern themselves through risk awareness and real time responsively – neither preventing ‘disaster’ nor waiting to react/ respond afterwards but through seeing disasters as processes in their emergence and adapting/ responding in ways that mean that there is no separation between governing disaster and governing per se. For a relational approach, a disaster is merely a relation we were not aware of and didn’t govern reflexively; disasters are merely lessons in the need to shift from rationalist to relational modes of thinking and governing. There is no malleability here.
Alan Bush
alanbush@utexas.edu
24.182.94.126
I’ll come out an state a position to begin my comment: Resilience has played a catalytic role in the social construction of meaning for a community of researcher-practitioners. It has helped us to re-arrange our existing networks of meaning. Because of that, it has both an instrumental and intrinsic value within the landscape of our work, and has and will continue to play a critical role in discourse around complex socio-technical and socio-ecological systems. I’ll give three brief examples of its value from various angles, that in some ways is a summary and re-statement of comments may earlier.
Ontological: As a goal for the performance of systems, resilience as a concept has asked engineers to widen the scope of relevant elements to their work. Post resilience conversation, it is difficult for engineers to frame built systems outside of some framing as socio-technical systems. I’d point to the researching coming out of the ASU sustainable engineering research group as an example.
Normative: For the disaster community, it has served as a meta-concept, that forces integration and contestation amongst many existing concepts. I think this is in part due to resilience initial lack of normative framing (resilience for whom?) Regardless of how directly utilizable resilience is as a concept (at present), it has generated a reconfiguration of our networks of meaning that has clarified the nature of power within complex systems.
Methodological: for social science researchers, the study of resilience has prompted an embrace of complexity. Combine this with the complexity involved in the meaningful scope of study for resilience, and you have the widespread embrace of a new kind of challenge: the study of behavior of complex systems which requires a bread and depth of observation that strains our existing research methodologies. This has driven the hybridization and methodological innovation that we see within much resilience research.
Kristen
kam71@cam.ac.uk
131.111.5.145
Alan, great comment. I’d like to add to this and build on the comments from Ilan and Chris (Dec 5th) on resilience “for what purpose” and the role of power in relationships. I believe some more specific examples will help us reflect on the arguments here and the implications for the management of the built environment.
It’s perhaps worth highlighting that I’m an engineer researching post-disaster recovery, adopting social science methods in my approach.
I have a case study where the local government planned to build more ‘resilient’ wastewater infrastructure for earthquake-damaged communities. The government considered the repair of wastewater infrastructure to be a technical, engineering problem and it did not consult the community about its proposed solution. There was also a perceived need to expedite the construction of this infrastructure (where consultation tends to slow down the process) to help facilitate community recovery back to a form of ‘normal’ life.
Some members of the community felt the government’s proposal was being imposed on them. Community opposition to the proposal ultimately led to a court case and the government ended up reviewing its decision. In some areas the government has now decided to repair the existing infrastructure rather than replacing it with different –‘more resilient’– technology.
For brevity I’ve missed out a lot of detail here. I just wanted to make the point that there is an interesting relational dynamic in this case with respect to the decision-making process for recovery how we consider resilience when rebuilding infrastructure after disaster.
Christopher Robin Bryant
Nonex
christopher.robin.bryant@gmail.com
174.92.82.106
In reply to Christopher Lyon (@ChristophLyon).
Yes, Christopher
I agree with you completely. There are in fact many examples but our central governments frequently don’t know about them (although we’re hearing more about such examples on the news lately) and sometimes when they find out (especially if it relates to one of their own programs say of community development, they seem to be looking for ways of thwarting such processes.
Chris Bryant
PS What we need is perhaps to create a conceptual framework which would identify the range of different approaches and their key dimensions and then ask other colleagues to contribute both to the framework and other examples.
Christopher Robin Bryant
Nonex
christopher.robin.bryant@gmail.com
174.92.82.106
In reply to Gonzalo Lizarralde.
Yes, Gonzalo, but on the other hand the two dimensions can be convergent over time.
Chris
Francesca Falchieri
francesca.falchieri@gmail.com
79.43.39.242
With regard to the term “resilience” I would distinguish between the common and the scientific usage.
For example after the last earthquake occurred in Italy (Emilia Romagna region, 2012), the mass media and aften also the political debates have been reducing the meaning of the word to one or two concepts, depending on the context and on the situation: sometimes as synonym of efficiency, sometimes of resistance etc. In this sense the word has become an empty recipient to be filled with different contents depending on the case. A quite confusing buzzword.
In science, expecially in DRR, its definitions include more concepts, but not always the same.
In my opinion it is an useful word but it may be clarified once decided what meanings (=concepts) it could include, depending on what aspects of the reaction to a disaster scientists would investigate through that word. Considering the multiplicity of definitions already developed, some aspects might be specified, for example whether the concept adopts a conservative approach in restoring the situation before the disaster or considers also an improvement of the previous living conditions. In that way a common pattern of concepts might be defined, a sort of general conceptual scheme through which developing the analysis of the different communities. The list of aspects useful to measure resilience could be another phase, that comes later. In any case every community would have its specific characteristics depending on the context, but placed in a framework like this it might not invalidate the concept of resilience.
Christopher Lyon (@ChristophLyon)
twitter.com/ChristophLyonx
c.lyon@dundee.ac.uk
134.36.154.190
In reply to Francesca Falchieri.
Francesca, a challenge, and I think it comes through in this thread, the language we return to and what it implies. Measuring resilience at your later stage might be related to how well a given example integrates (or “situates” perhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2015.11.020) with reality relative to the situated wellbeing of anyone affected by whatever (mix of social, technical, or philosophical, etc) means are utilised at given points in time. Measurement in pursuit of fixed goals or aims in a fluid, dynamic reality becomes a case of trying to hit a moving and morphing target. As such, agreeing upon a set of meanings or concepts is entirely contingent on context, and perhaps likely immune to universal sort of conceptual identification and measurement that appeals to policymakers and probably most people used to thinking about life in discrete, linear terms. On the other hand, to empower and facilitate is create the circumstances by which people can identify their situatedness, or as David Chandler puts it above, “seeing disasters [me: or any other event/occassion] as processes in their emergence and adapting/ responding in ways that mean there is no separation between governing disaster and governing per se”.