Two years into my doctoral research on disaster resilience, I am still struggling to come to terms and understand and comprehend in its entirety what resilience actually is and isn’t.
Synonymously used, or sometimes alternatively with disaster risk reduction, adaptation, coping capacity or adaptive capacity, recovery or sustainability, resilience seems to be a determining factor in many international policy discourse, humanitarian action and development discourse. Where are we headed to with a new vocabulary, or is it really something new? Often repackaging old ways of working and addressing problems with new terms and connotations provides a new perspective and challenges the old paradigms and processes, while falling short of any major transformations.
Will resilience thinking also hit a wall soon and become rehashed and reused in a new term? When used in operationalising, or policy action, or in academic circles there are agreeable nuances to the word, and many such disagreed notions of resilience. For example, by resilience do we mean returning to the previous state after a shock, or leading to a transformation? For some, resilience would mean ensuring some level of functioning if there is any shock or distress, while others draw parallels with fluctuations and redundancy.
Well then how will we ever reach an agreement on what resilience is and how it shapes our understanding and work? That is the million dollar question isn’t it then? When you translate it in simpler ways to share a mutual agreed and shared understanding of goals, objectives and aspirations with the common man who does not read academic texts and heavy-jargon newspaper articles but faces the outcomes of adhoc development and unnatural risks of naturally occurring disasters. We should learn from them, what resilience would actually mean to them? Now that will be a fruitful exercise, relevant to our work or not.