Against Resilience

Scott Gabriel Knowles

Department of History, Drexel University, USA

José Torero

School of Civil Engineering, University of Queensland, Australia

“Resilience” has swept the conceptual field in the disaster risk reduction world. The startling success of the “resilience” concept reveals a new consensus over the need to attain universal, comparable measures of strength in the face of disaster. Unfortunately, those measures too frequently conform more to the logic of systems diagrams and command-and-control than to the lived histories and political realities of socio-technical vulnerability.

This paper traces the recent history of resilience—not as an inert condition achieved after a period of planning—but as a deeply politicized verb. In the verb tense—to make resilient we see the action of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the policies of governments including both the United States and Singapore. These actions are not primarily involved with taking inventories of weak seawalls or poor emergency management protocols. Resilience as it is playing out today is instead a political contest over varying methods of assessing risk—a battle among experts over imposing data management solutions vs. engineering solutions vs. public health and education interventions.

As researchers in all disciplines struggle to do the life-saving work of disaster risk reduction it is crucial that we develop a resilience concept that illuminates the past (how did we get to be so un-resilient?), speaks plainly about the present (disaster preparedness is a political process), and strives for a future that is sustainable, creative, adaptive, and equitable.

1. Stephen Healy
2. Ashley Carse