The evolution of resilience

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The concept of resilience has roots in many disciplines, making the pursuit of a unified theory very attractive but also very difficult. Yet this has not stopped scholars and politicians from attempting to claim resilience as their flagship concept and build a canon for the 21st century around it. This tendency to reduce or totalize resilience has spawned a host of taxonomies, each seeking to offer the final word on the definitional debate. I argue that this desire to create a unified theory of resilience misapplies the concept, ignores the dynamics of its emergence and the polysemic nature of its use in theory, policy, and practice. This malleability makes resilience at once both a very attractive logic for dealing with uncertainty and a dangerous pathway towards embedding untempered algorithmic systems of coercive prediction into the governance of everyday life. In understanding the emergence of the resilience concept, one must appreciate both the positive and negative potential of this flexible and adaptive notion. I close by suggesting that resilience has gained such traction in recent years in no small part because it represents a shift in the onto-politics of our time, but that we must be careful about which type of resilience gets enacted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-32
Number of pages20
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

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  • Assemblage
  • Positive critique
  • Post-structuralism
  • Problematization
  • Resilience


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