During the past few years, the concept of resilience has entered the field of peace and conflict research, and is now being used by academics as well as practitioners of peacebuilding. However, as has been the case in other social sciences earlier, the use of the concept draws more upon engineering resilience than ecological resilience, thereby failing to appreciate the broader implications of resilience thinking, including such central notions as threshold effects and adaptive cycles. This limits the usefulness of resilience both as a tool of analysis and as a guide for policy making.
The current academic debate on peacebuilding is largely focused on critique of what has become known as “the liberal peacebuilding paradigm,” which, briefly, aims at turning war-torn states into liberal democracies. Critics argue that this has led to templet-style peace implementation, more concerned with stable institutions than with viable relations or processes, and they call for more inclusive and contextualized ambitions.
Resilience is now making its way into those ambitions. So far, however, the use of the concept in the context of peacebuilding has primarily concerned the everyday lives of people affected by conflict, the argument being that it is their capacity to bounce back from challenges and setbacks that needs strengthening. In other words, it is once again taking the form of engineering resilience. While the everyday lives of people is certainly important for long-term peace, the wider implications of resilience thinking are not yet appreciated within peace and conflict studies, where they could, I believe, be very relevant and useful.
In this paper, I therefore develop resilience thinking for a peacebuilding context by discussing the notions of expecting change rather than stability, of understanding social development in terms of adaptive cycles, and of relating resilience to thresholds between alternative regimes rather than to return to a global equilibrium. With the help of empirical examples, I illustrate how various analytical tools of resilience thinking can be understood and employed in the analysis and development of peace and peacebuilding, both in the short and the long term.
Indiana, 2015. 2-15 p.
Commons Amidst Complexity and Change, the Fifteenth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, 25-29 May 2015