Reviewed by: National Association of Student Anthropologists
Of interest to: Students
Primary Theme: Resilience
Secondary Theme: The Political
Geographer Marc Welsh (2014:15) defines resilience as an “ubiquitous term deployed within a variety of epistemic communities as a means for understanding and managing ‘complex systems’ and the processes and effects of change upon them.” As policy, resilience has emerged as a response to the post-modern need to govern complexity, which highlights agency, sees failure as an opportunity for growth, and works with existing capabilities to enable improvement. Resilience-thinking has been incorporated into initiatives and policies of organizations such as USAID, the World Bank, and United Nations Development Programme. President Trump, addressing the flooding in Texas, stated that Hurricane Harvey brought out the “best in America’s character, strength, charity, and resilience.”
However, scholars have recognized that the concept of resilience has become a buzzword in both the social and natural sciences. Marc Welsh (2014) argues resilience has been uncritically stretched across disciplines, which has led to a proliferation of different uses of the term. This has lead some scholars to categorize different uses, such as psycho-social or socio-ecological (Welsh 2014), or classical or post-classical (Chandler 2014). Others, such as Brad Evans and Julian Reid (2014) have questioned the utility of the concept of resilience overall and its political implications. The authors argue that resilience-thinking enforces the status quo of liberalism in that “change means the adaptation of certain behaviors by particular populations so that the fundamental tenets of liberalism to survive in the face of rapid global change can go unquestioned” (Evans and Reid 2014:9). Another way resilience-thinking accomplishes this is through foregrounding buffer capacities, or the ability of systems to absorb perturbations before changing their structure by changing behavior instead (Evans and Reid 2014). In this way, resilience can be seen as a way of changing behavior so that the overall problematic structures of neoliberalism do not have to be changed, even if they should be. Due to the emphasis on changing behavior rather than structure, Welsh (2014) and Evans and Reid (2014) describe resilience-thinking as depoliticizing.
It is these intricacies that students must address when considering using resilience as an analytical framework in their research. What exactly does resilience entail? Who defines resilience and for whom? Who gets to be or is responsible for being resilient? What are the political implications? This roundtable presentation brings students together from multiple disciplines, such as geography and anthropology, and topics, including homelessness, animal studies, climate change policies, and eco-tourism, to discuss uses of resilience in their own research projects. Their different uses of the term are compared and contrasted, and the benefits and limitations of the term in different areas are highlighted. The audience is encouraged to share their own use of the concept and provide feedback to the student presenters.