Resilience: a Politics of Passivity

some resilience-boosting advice from the smug people at Action for Happiness

I read a great little article the other day in Radical Philosophy about resilience. Mark Neocleous in ‘Resisting Resilience’ articulates something that had been niggling me for a while about the concept; its inherent passivity and lack of critical grrrrrr!

Resilience is commonly defined in terms of an ability to ‘bounce back’ after a trauma or crisis and carry on as per usual. The rhetoric of resilience is that it is a big bad world out there and, since there is nothing we can do about it, we better get on with it.*

Neocleous’ article focuses on the sudden emergence of resilience-speak in the post 9/11 era. Integral to the concept of resilience is the expectation of attack. To be resilient is to be braced for an array of worst case scenarios. Neocleous argues that resilience, then, is security with imagination. Through the resilience agenda states can justify increasingly repressive security measures in the name of averting imagined attacks and crises. In Neocleous’ words, resilience is ‘nothing less than the attempted colonization of the political imagination by the state.’ But it is not just states that are keen on resilience, the IMF and the World Bank posit it as cure-all for the crisis of global capitalism.

Once you start looking out for resilience-speak you will notice a) its prevalence**, and b) that it is often directed at women. Where emotional care-taking is overwhelmingly the work of women, resilience is the capacity to deal with everybody else’s shit whilst keeping a lid on your own. It appears that the UN would agree. The theme for the UN International Disaster Reduction Day 2012 was Women and Girls: the [in]Visible force of Resilience. The promotional material read: ‘Women and Girls are the pillars of resilience – they are the first to prepare their families for a disaster and the first to put communities back together in the aftermath.’ An arduous task. How prudent of the UN to acknowledge this otherwise unrecognised, and certainly unpaid, work with an awareness-raising day!

Resilience makes the most sense in the context of environmentalism. If you have little to no control over your environment and it is becoming increasing hostile due to climate change, resilience is a brilliant thing.  Resilience involves a capability to adapt and overcome the challenges that you are faced with. And yes, if I was a seed, a passive entity, I might want to be resilient too.*** However, I can exert some control over my environment, and work to change it where I find it hostile. I will not roll up like a hedgehog, be kicked around and shuffle along!

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*I suspect that the rise of resilience has something to do with the rash of Keep Calm and Carry On paraphernalia available for purchase just about everywhere. I don’t need to tell you where you can shove that tea towel/t-shirt/mug.

**I recently applied for a job where ‘resilient’ was listed as one of the essential criteria. It was an admin role. Translation: it is essential that you will quietly put up with being put upon. Perfect!

*** How seed resilience is fostered through seed sharing and promotion of biodiversity rather than GM crop monocultures is a critical issue. See, Resilient Seed: on the seed industry, EU seed laws and the engagement for seed-sovereignty and check out Dr. Vandana Shiva and her organisation Navdanya, ‘a women centred movement for the protection of biological and cultural diversity.’

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