Tag Archives: complexity

Resilience: what becomes of politics in an era of uncertainty

By Jonathan Pugh, Newcastle University

Flood on Protocol Street, Jakarta Image. Credit: Flicker user mulya74 reproduced under CC-BY-NC-ND

Flood on Protocol Street, Jakarta Image. Credit: Flicker user mulya reproduced under 74 CC-BY-NC-ND

The word ‘resilience’ seems to capture something about life in our precarious and uncertain era. The idea that we should all learn to be more resilient and adaptable, able to rapidly adjust to crises and the complexities of modern life as they happen, says something about the mood of our times. Indeed, Time Magazine recently proclaimed ‘resilience’ to be the buzzword of the moment (Walsh, 2013). Development agencies, governments, social critics and academics increasingly focus upon how to make people and places more resilient (Department for International Development, 2013). Adger (2000:347) for example says that social resilience is “the ability of groups or communities to cope with external stresses and disturbances as a result of social, political and environmental change”. But in many unexplored ways the turn toward ‘resilience’ also tells us something quite profound. It tells us that important changes are taking place in how we understand our world and the stakes of freedom and politics.

This is what my latest paper in Area addresses. At the dawn of this millennium the idea that life was becoming too uncertain and chaotic was initially seen as a problem for many scientists, social scientists and policy makers. The predictive models of science, as with the interventions of international politics, largely seemed to have failed. Endless numbers of environmental disasters, then debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the almost global economic crisis in 2008, all gave rise to a growing mood: the world is simply too unpredictable to control. The active response from many quarters: we should instead learn to be more resilient. No longer control or transformation, but a new emphasis upon making people flexible and adjustable in today’s precarious world. A plethora of new resilience models and policy-makers have emerged. The United Nations (2004), The United Kingdom Department for International Development (2013), the International Monetary Fund (2013) and the World Bank (2013) have all refocused around resilience. As the website of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (2013) asks “What are you doing to make your city resilient?”

But resilience does not seek to control the world in the way of previous scientific and political models. Instead, resilience more obviously foregrounds how vulnerability and insecurity are inevitable parts of life. Risks, hazards and dangers are accentuated as permanent features of everyday existence; always there, always at the surface to be highlighted and engaged. Precarity bears down upon the present and resilience politics actively embraces it. Today, resilience shows how the stakes of politics and freedom have changed and in quite dramatic ways. Freedom is now less likely to be framed through political ideologies of, say, Left and Right, and more in terms of how politics seeks to address ever-intense feelings of uncertainty. Measures like disaster management, preparedness, preepmption, precaution and security, developing personal adaptation skills at work, therapeutic coping strategies and so on, all illustrate how we are now more pragmatically programmed around questions of insecurity. As I argue in detail in my Area paper, resilience shows what becomes of politics in this, our era of uncertainty.

About the author: Jonathan Pugh is Senior Academic Fellow at the Department of Geography, Newcastle University. He specialises in Caribbean and island studies, postcolonial, development studies and the nature of radical politics today. Jonathan’s webpage can be found at http://www.ncl.ac.uk/gps/staff/profile/jonathan.pugh and his email address is Jonathan.Pugh@ncl.ac.uk

 Adger W N 2000 Social and ecological resilience: are they related? Progress in Human Geography, 24: 347-364.

60-world2 International Monetary Fund 2013 Global Resilience, Sustainable Recovery are IMF Work Priorities, IMF Survey Magazine: Policy, June 6th

 Pugh J 2014 Resilience, complexity and post-liberalism. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12118

60-world2 United Nations 2004 Living with Risk: A Global Review of Disaster Reduction Initiatives, UN Publications, New York.

60-world2 United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction 2013 Making cities resilient

60-world2 Walsh B 2013 Adapt or Die: Why the environmental buzzword of 2013 will be resilience. Time: Science and Space 8 January.

60-world2 World Bank 2013 Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience


Regulating the internet: geographies of cyberspace

By Helen Pallett


Image credit: Gflores

From the threat of ‘cyber-bullying’ to misogynist abuse, to fears about the invasion of privacy and the accessibility of pornographic material, serious concerns have been expressed over recent weeks about the increasing incursion of the internet, and particularly social media, into our everyday lives. For many of us it is difficult to imagine conducting our social and professional lives without the daily use of sites like Twitter or Facebook, or other internet forums, but are they, as some commentators would have us believe, having negative impacts on our societies? And if so, what can be done with the humongous entity of ‘the internet’?

In response to high profile media coverage of several tragic suicides of teenagers who experienced bullying and abuse on social media and other sites, the British Prime Minister David Cameron called for a boycott of websites which failed to effectively deal with such abuse. Similarly, the social media platform Twitter has come under pressure to alter its reporting procedure for abuse after high profile female activists, writers and political figures were sent bomb and rape threats through the site. Following the discovery of child abuse images on the computers of individuals convicted of recent high profile child murders, David Cameron announced a plan to block pornographic content by default on all computers unless users asked to receive it and asked internet providers to make greater efforts to block images of child abuse.

So what can emerging geographical perspectives on ‘cyberspace’ and internet usage tell us about these challenges and the likely effectiveness of these initiatives? In a recent review article in Geography Compass, Sam Kinsley pointed out the tendency to slip into either naively utopian or bleakly dystopian meta-narratives when talking about the internet. Whilst the development of the internet undoubtedly has the potential to democratically connect and engage people just as much as it aid those seeking to terrorise and abuse, these narratives or imaginaries fall into a further trap: they tend to cast the internet as a monolithic entity. Often this singular entity is assigned moral characteristics and subject to demands for wholesale reforms. But what if the internet is not one entity at all? What if, as Kinsley suggests, there are actually multiple internets?

These internets both shape and are involved in shaping the actions of their users, and are mediated through multiple devices from spam filters to smart phones, to social media platforms and webcams. Mark Graham has also made a similar argument in a recent commentary in the Geographical Journal about the use of the metaphor of cyberspace as a monolithic imaginary of the multiple interactions which exist between people, codes, information and machineries. Thus there is not just one lived experience of the internet or even any given websites or platforms, but many, and there are multiple ways for internets to enable empowerment and abuse. This raises questions about any one government policy or attempt to promote reform of a particular website or platform can fully account for this diversity of experience or be sure to protect against potential ills.

A further development which Sam Kinsley draws attention to, is the increasing blurring between the states of ‘online’ and ‘offline’. Particularly following the sharp growth in smart phone usage in recent years it has become difficult to separate the times and spaces in which people are connected to the internet to when they are disconnected. Furthermore, activities such as socialising, entertainment, working and relaxing increasingly incorporate a complex of both online and offline elements which are hard to distentangle. This means that, for example, in the case of ‘cyberbullying’, whilst abuse may start online or be enabled by a particular website or internet platform, it may also impinge on the offline parts of an individual’s life through technologies like text messaging or through face to face contact. How then can such challenges be ameliorated through internet regulation alone?

As has been pointed out in some of the media coverage of the recent surge in favour for internet regulation (for example, see here), the problem is always more complex and multifaceted than we would like to believe and needs to be understood as situated within a broader set of societal developments and changes.

books_icon Samuel Kinsely, 2013, Beyond the Screen: Methods for Investigating Geographies of Life ‘Online’Geography Compass 540-555

books_icon Mark Graham, 2013, Geography/internet: ethereal alternate dimensions of cyberspace or grounded augmented realities?The Geographical Journal 179 177-182

60-world2 Boycott websites which don’t tackle abuse, says Cameron BBC News, 8 August 2013

60-world2 Twitter ‘report abuse’ button calls after rape threats BBC News, 27 July 2013

60-world2 David Cameron urges internet firms to block child abuse images BBC News, 21 July 2013

60-world2 Online pornography to be blocked by default, PM announces BBC News, 22 July 2013

60-world2 When politicians get the internet wrong, the internet can be ruthless The Guardian, 16 August 2013