Resilience and responsibility: governing uncertainty in a complex world

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Abstract

‘Resilience’ has risen to prominence across a range of academic disciplines and political discourses. Situating resilience theories in historical context the paper argues that the resilience discourse of complex adaptive systems, for all its utility as a means for conceptualising and managing change, is allied with contemporary governmental discourses that responsibilise risk away from the state and on to individuals and institutions. Further, in arguing that resilience theories originate in two distinct epistemological communities (natural and social science) in its mobilisation as a ‘boundary object’ resilience naturalises an ontology of ‘the system’. Resilience approaches increasingly structure, not only academic, but also government policy discourses, with each influencing the development of the other. It is argued that by mobilising ‘the system’ as the metaconcept for capturing socio-natural and socio-economic relations resilience theories naturalise and reify two abstractions: firstly, the system itself – enrolling citizens into practices that give it meaning and presence; secondly, the naturalisation of shocks to the system, locating them in a post-political space where the only certainty is uncertainty. With reference to an emerging governmentality through resilience, this paper argues for a critical interrogation of plural resilience theories and wonders at their emancipatory possibilities.

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