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Resilience and Human Security - an uneasy relationship

Corinne Bara
ETH Zürich, Switzerland
Corinne Bara
ETH Zürich, Switzerland
Open Panel

Abstract

The enthusiastic adoption of the resilience concept in the area of homeland security is an interesting case of a biological theory applied to a political science problem. Resilience is very much en vogue among security policymakers. The resilience concept was imported to security studies from ecology (most famously Holling’s work on the stability of ecosystems) and from engineering. The concept’s popularity among security experts is closely linked to the emergence of the so-called “risk society”: Facing a variety of different risks - from natural hazards to the failure of critical infrastructures and terrorist attacks – policymakers have recognized that not all disasters can be averted, and security never fully achieved. As a consequence, the focus has shifted from averting the threats to mitigating the consequences should a disaster occur. In this context, the concept of resilience offered an apt metaphor of how communities resist damage and recover quickly from adverse events. This paper argues that from a human security perspective, the adoption of the resilience concept to community security needs critical scrutiny. Human security puts the security of the individual before the security of the state, whereas resilience is a characteristic of a system rather than its parts. This raises a number of questions centering on the role and value of the individual in such a system, the relationship between the individual and the community, and distributional justice within the system. The paper addresses these questions and concludes with an assessment of whether and how resilience and human security are compatible.