Political Action, Resilience and Solidarity
An inter-disciplinary, inter-institutional workshop
Nicholas Michelsen, King’s College London
Wanda Vrasti, University of Humboldt
In association with:
• Centre of Integrated Research in Risk and Resilience, King’s College London.
• Research Centre in International Relations, Department of War Studies, King’s
• College London.
• Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance, The Open University
• Centre for the Study of Democracy, Westminster University.
Location: King’s College London.
Thursday the 18th and Friday the 19th of September 2014
The concept of resilience first appeared as a means to articulate how complex ecosystems
are able to meet the challenges of radically shifting environmental conditions whilst
retaining their key functionalities. Thinking in terms of resilience is deemed to offer an
advance on previous approaches to risk-management in that it is concerned with fostering
the adaptive capacities that are innate to any system. Inasmuch as resilience allows a
system, community or agent’s inherent openness to the unexpected to become a source of
beneficiary adaptation, it has garnered attention in a wide number of fields, from socio-
ecological systems to psychology, disaster risk management, urban and national
infrastructure design, post-conflict development and public health planning. Across these
fields, the concept of resilience increasingly frames the possibility of spaces for policy action,
offering a heuristic device under which the defining problems of our era of supposedly
unalloyed uncertainty and insecurity can be addressed.
Contemporary debates around resilience have centred on the political content of the
concept. Whereas in socio-ecological literatures, the concept has retained a broadly positive
connotation, as a means to conceptualise sustainable resource management, in its wider
usage, resilience is subject to critique as informing a conservative, indeed pacifying
rationality of governance (“resilience from above”). Resilience seems to bypass any
suggestion that extant (social, economic, political and ecological) circumstances might be
subjected to a wider or structural critique.
In this context, resilience is often contrasted with explicitly political concepts like solidarity.
Whereas resilience seems to suggest adaptation and immunisation in the face of complex
unalterable forces, solidarity offers a means to challenge and alter extant conditions. By
contrast with resilience, however, the concept of solidarity suffers from significant under-
theorisation in contemporary literatures. What does it mean to “act in solidarity” with
something or someone, and how is this related to the performance of political subjectivity
or citizenship? What does it mean for activists in Tahrir Square to stand in solidarity with
government employees in Madison? We suspect that the concept must be more than just
an affective unification of a group of otherwise disparate actors. Indeed, rather than being
diametrically opposed concepts, solidarity seems a precondition for community resilience
(“resilience from below”). In this sense, perhaps it is at the intersection of solidarity and
resilience that effective political action can occur.
Equally important is the intersection between resilience and democratic citizenship.
Resilience often refers to policies that aim at making citizens able to cope with sudden
changes in their life through, among other methods, taking therapeutic measures; informing
them what to do in times of disaster; and supporting critical infrastructure so important
activities can continue. Yet, this understanding of resilience eschews the idea that coping
with depletion of rights requires new rights claims. Rights to housing, care, political
participation, and so on, are mostly ignored. Resilience policies become in their effects
‘managerial’. They tell citizens what to do and they avoid the fundamental democratic
questions about what social, economic and political rights and lives citizens demand. At this
intersection between rights claims and resilience, resilience from below — what people do in
response to crises and precarity – attains democratic political rather than managerial
This collaborative inter-institutional and interdisciplinary workshop is concerned to examine
and problematize the distinct genealogies and interaction of the concepts of Resilience,
Solidarity, and democratic citizenship with particular focus on the problem of political action
or agency. It aims to explore the ways in which community resilience may be associated or
contrasted with the mechanisms underpinning social and political solidarity and with new
rights claims. A number of related concepts, such as identity, acts of citizenship and political
agency, are clearly of relevance in this context. As such, we invite paper abstracts of no
more than 300 words that speak to the workshop theme in the broadest sense. Possible
areas for discussion include:
Conflict and post-conflict reconstruction
Please send paper abstracts by June 20th to email@example.com