16 October 2012

Resilience: Utopia or New Tyranny? New Working Paper

We development studies types seem to like dramatic short titles followed by long statements. 

We also seem to like the phrase "New Tyranny". The phrase comes up in Google--not for new dictatorships--but for 2 papers in development studies. 

The first listed is 2001's "Participation: The New Tyranny? " by Bill Cooke and Uma Kothari (2001, edited volume). 

The second is a new paper by my IDS colleagues, led by Chris Béné. The paper is titled:  "Reslience: New Utopia or New Tyranny?"  

Chris and the team have the following messages for policymakers and practitioners working on resilience:

"1. Resilience thinking can help better incorporate the social-ecological linkages between the vulnerable groups and ecological services on which they depend, thus contributing to a more adequate targeting of (future) vulnerable groups.

2. By emphasizing the importance of scale and boundaries, resilience also offers some value for social protection in relation to ‘spatial’ processes, such as rural-urban, or trans-boundary, migration.

3. Being a term that is used (loosely) in a large number of disciplines, resilience can be a very powerful integrating concept that brings different communities of practice together.

4. Although it is appealing, one should not rely on the term too heavily. It is not a panacea and certainly not the new catch all for development. Instead, it needs to be considered more carefully, especially with the recognition of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ resilience.

5. On the basis of this, practitioners need to step back, consider the objectives of their interventions and then consider how resilience may support or actually hinder these objectives.

6. In particular, a resilience-based systems approach might end up leading us towards abandoning interest in the poor(est) for the sake of system level resilience.

7. The politics of resilience (who are the winners who are the losers of ‘resilience discussion"

These are great points, and it is wise to counsel against uncritical bandwaggoning (see this earlier post on development fads and fashions).

I particularly liked the sections of the paper where they describe how "resilience" has been coopted to promote some other agenda (such as climate resilience growth--which is protect business as normal growth from the ravages of climate change). 

So is it utopia or tyranny?  It is definitely not utopia and it is tyranny only if we let it be.  Used wisely and knowingly resilience can be a powerful integrating concept. 


Lawrence Haddad said...

In an earlier version of this post I had noted that there was no question mark in the book by Cooke and Kothari--of course the Participation Team at IDS put me straight on that--the ubiquitous question mark does make its appearance in at the end of the title ...

Mary Percival said...

I think that the root problem is the regimes and dictatorships that sprout after a fallen regime. The new government becomes what they have been fighting against as they have become enamored with corruption.