Resilience and its Discontents

This research paper will contribute in a modest way to the work of debating and defining resilience.

This research paper will contribute in a modest way to the work of debating and defining resilience. It takes the risk thesis of Beck (esp. 2009) and his many interlocutors as the setting for consideration of resilience and its allied constructs, such as vulnerability.

Cities and human settlements cannot be plucked – ideologically or materially – from the larger human and ecological systems that establish their possibilities and which are saturated, as never before in human history, with risk and perturbation. This necessitates opposition to notions of resilience that posit the containment of endangerment through spatially targeted policy or action. This political ontology resounds with what geographer’s once termed ‘spatial fetishism’ – the granting to space of determining causal powers.

The paper’s main contribution is to essay this view and to point other regressive possibilities that arise from the ever widening institutional and scholarly ‘take up’ of the resilience ideal. The principal dangers are the lures of naturalism, and the asocial urban imaginaries that might emerge from renewal of these scientific failings. There is the overarching threat that ‘resilient urbanism’ aligns all too easily with destructive power structures, such as militarism and the darker prospect of post-democratic capitalism.

The paper is in two main parts. The first sketches the recent emergence of a human urban age from the risk perspective. The second considers the problems and possibilities that accompany the widening adoption of the resilience construct.

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Brendan Gleeson

MSSI’s Research Paper series is aimed at showcasing new and exciting sustainability knowledge. The papers are referenced and are subject to an internal academic review process. The Institute hopes this scholarship will stimulate thought and discussion within the University of Melbourne and in the broader community.

  • Research Paper