Royal Holloway hosted a workshop on resilience recently involving some 20 academics and PhD students from across the faculties of the College. Under the auspices of the Security and Sustainability research theme, a series of presentations addressed the sites of resilience, the measurement of resilience, agents of resilience, and object of resilience.
In the first session, Jennifer Cole (Computer Science/Geography and RUSI) and Celine Tschirhart and Jay Mistry (Geography) spoke about the challenges confronting resilience as both idea and practice. Jennifer emphasised the challenges posed when we come to thinking about how resilience might be ‘costed’ and the kinds of trade-offs that might be required in the aftermath of disaster. Although their case studies varied (UK/Japan and Guyana respectively), each presentation interrogated what resilience might mean for particular places and communities. In the case of Guyana, and working with indigenous communities, the research findings suggested that the idea of ‘system viability’ made more sense for understanding how particular groups prepare for current and future disruptions and even emergencies such as flooding.
The second session addressed the ‘resilient individual’ and ‘resilient community’. Abdul Shahid and Amany Elbanna (School of Management) presented some interim research on how social media data might be used to explore and investigate how communities recently affected by disaster such as the Philippines communicate and express their feelings about the disaster and its aftermath. What became clear, however, is that some communities were better able to use social media than others and this raises important issues about inequalities of access and possible implications for post-disaster management. Stephanie Morrice (Geography) explored how communities affected by flooding (Brisbane) and earthquakes (Christchurch) coped with such disasters and how it matters that disaster planners and community leaders are aware of the emotional politics surrounding disaster. It was suggested that displays of resilience might be related to the strengths of communities prior and indeed in the aftermath of emergencies. Community-led events were considered critical to long term recovery.
The third session addressed infrastructures. Stephen Wolthusen (Information Security Group) focussed on how one might model vulnerabilities to critical infrastructures such as power networks and other essential services that communities and indeed countries depend upon. His presentation highlighted the importance of incomplete information about such as infrastructures and how in the absence of certainty it was possible to model a range of scenarios, which might then encourage further investment in infrastructural resilience. Rachel Doern (School of Management) tackled small business resilience in a post-riot context, with a particular focus on the 2011 London riots. Her interviews with shop keepers affected by the rioting highlighted the role of a number of factors such as patchy insurance coverage, the varying emotional impact of the riots on the owners of the businesses and the role of recovery and support of the community.
The final session involved Ravinder Barn (Criminology) and Gerhard Leubner (School of Biological Sciences). Ravinder outlined a project she is involved with colleagues at the University of Middlesex, which is considering how mobile phone applications might help young offenders develop greater resilience. In one concrete example, it was shown that a major challenge is making sure that the youth in question do not accidentally offend again (e.g. by entering areas where they are prohibited). So would it be both possible and desirable to design applications for the phone that provided reminders to them if they approach such areas? The final presentation by Gerhard addressed a rather different topic and that was seed resilience and focussed on how food security might be enhanced by improving the resilience of seeds in the face of climatic instability. It was a timely reminder as well, that biological scientists have different understandings of resilience, and this was demonstrated by ongoing research into the trajectories of seed development and evolution.
Finally, Professor Mark Neocleous of Brunel University gave an excellent lecture, which critiqued both the conceptual architecture associated with resilience, and detailed some of the ways in which resilience was being enrolled into contemporary urban security projects. It was a timely reminder that resilience remains deeply contested and yet immensely powerful because of its ambiguities of meaning.