Resilience has been variously criticised within the academic debate in security studies for being a manifestation of neoliberal governmentality. It is said to responsibilise the individual while advocating the withdrawal of the state.Footnote 1 Even if an increasing number of authors question the inevitability of the link between resilience and neoliberalism,Footnote 2 the general undertone still appears to be sceptical towards the use of resilience. Thereby, the current debate in security studies tends to focus on the premises of the ecological understanding of resilience, which deals with complex (socioecological) systems while sidelining other theoretical roots, such as those in psychology.Footnote 3 Due to its ontological multiplicityFootnote 4 and conceptual fuzziness,Footnote 5 the analysis is mostly limited to specific political manifestations of resilience.Footnote 6 The academic debate in security studies is thus driven by the hardly countable number of political resilience strategies popping up in several political fields and arenas. The multitude of disciplinary origins makes it hard to navigate theoretical assumptions of the term and throws many analyses back to a particular empirical manifestation of resilience.
This article analyses resilience from another, more abstract angle. It explicitly engages with the otherwise mostly implicit normative implications of resilience. Instead of criticising resilience for shifting responsibility, that is, responsibilising actors, I seek to develop criteria for a normative assessment of those shifts in responsibility that result from resilience. The particular societal consequences should serve as yardstick for evaluating concrete manifestations of resilience. While this includes the analysis of responsibilising effects or of the pitfalls in devolving responsibility instead of power,Footnote 7 such an analysis needs to go beyond holistic assessments that treat the population as homogeneous entity and resilience as consistently and inherently problematic. While there is no doubt that several resilience policies entail morally illegitimate malicious effects, the mere finding that resilience responsibilises a societal entity, that is, reallocates responsibility, tells us little about its ethical desirability or the legitimacy of this process. Depending on the accompanying conditions, a transfer of responsibility can either disadvantage and oppress or emancipate and privilege the affected societal entity (ranging from the individual to societal groups to entire societies). The justifiability of a rearrangement of the enacted mode of power due to a certain resilience approach consequently depends on its effects, that is, whether a responsibilising move fosters marginalisation or emancipation.Footnote 8
I argue that resilience entails an emancipatory potential, if it can be mobilised to initiate normatively desirable shifts in responsibility. I define emancipation as the dismantling of marginalising and oppressing societal structures, or, as Ken Booth puts it in his seminal article, as ‘the freeing of people (as individuals and groups) from those physical and human constraints which stop them carrying out what they would freely choose to do.’Footnote 9 Resilience is suited to address the problematic marginalisation or even exclusion of individuals and societal groups in current security settings through its focus on coping capacities. Demanding resilience means to demand agency that rests on a set of capacities. Increasing resilience, thus, requires making those constraints visible that prevent people from reacting to adverse situations. This visibilisation facilitated by resilience thinking is then the precondition for a subsequent recognition and societal negotiation of different needs. While this does not mean that societal discrimination and injustices are eventually mitigated, revealing the effects of oppressive structures makes it harder to maintain them. This applies particularly for democracies, as according to Rainer Forst, democracy ‘must be understood as a process of criticism and justification, both within and outside of institutions, in which those who are subjected to rule become the co-authors of their political order.'Footnote 10 Consequently, resilience thinking can be mobilised to emancipate those who are sidelined in current security settings.
I seek to demonstrate the emancipatory potential of resilience in three steps. First, I briefly introduce the responsibilisation debate in security studies to lay the ground for further theoretical reflections. Second, a case study on disaster management structures in Germany illustrates the argument. Disaster management is a prime policy field to analyse resilience, as resilience thinking has gained significantly momentum for more than one-and-a-half decades now.Footnote 11 The role resilience plays in (international) disaster management is aptly depicted by the prominence of the term within the two most recent UN Frameworks on international disaster management.Footnote 12 The case study shows that people, who receive homecare either by their social environment or a nursing service, are currently de facto invisible for state authorities. This lack of visibility translates into the neglect of care-dependent people's needs in the making of disaster management practices and structures. The findings of the case study thereby speak to the broader issue of how diversity is embraced in disaster management practices in particular, and security practices in general. This section draws on 24 semi-structured expert interviews with German disaster professionals, conducted between October 2016 and September 2017. The experts were chosen according to their level of experience in past disasters (for example, a winter storm and the subsequent blackout in the region of Münster in 2005 as well as floods of the river Elbe between 2002 and 2013 and in the federal state of Brandenburg).
The findings indicate that current disaster management structures in Germany take self-help capacities of the population for granted. What sounds like an often (and rightly) criticised resilience approach producing the precarious neoliberal individualFootnote 13 is actually situated in a classical security setting that assumes state's prime responsibility in disasters. Against the backdrop of the case study, I illustrate how the capacity focus of resilience might entail an emancipatory potential.
Due to a lack of an empirical case in which the emancipatory potential of resilience unfolds, this article illustrates this potential in a counterfactual analysis. In the case of the German disaster management system, resilience did neither matter as a buzzword nor as a political concept. However, exactly such a case allows us to assess resilience's emancipatory potential, that is, what resilience could contribute to improve the status quo. This approach runs the risk of legitimising resilience as such. Yet, it simultaneously allows for a nuanced debate on the conditions necessary for causing justifiable shifts in responsibility.
Following the Frankfurt School's tradition of immanent critique,Footnote 14 I seek the emancipatory potential of resilience in those principles and norms that are already entangled in resilience discourses and practices. The critique on resilience revolves in many cases around the devolvement of responsibility and its focus on adaptation to threats rather than their mitigation.Footnote 15 Yet, neither is resilience nor is the devolvement of responsibility inherently good or bad. We rather need to debate the normative implications of particular distributions of responsibility and of responsibilisation processes in their respective contexts. While critics rightly pointed to problematic effects of several resilience policies,Footnote 16 the emphasis of capacity and adaptability could also be used as a normative driver to call for the recognition of so far sidelined needs in society. Such a critique is not a critique of, but a critique with resilience. Therefore, the third step is to gauge the room for emancipation opened by resilience. For this end, I turn to Iris Marion Young's work on conditions for assessing the acceptability of distributions of responsibility as well as to concepts of recognition.Footnote 17 Thereby, I understand recognition as a necessary, yet insufficient precondition for sparking emancipation processes. Jonathan Joseph writes that ‘discussions of the philosophy of resilience that are divorced from actual policy-making run the risk of creating an imaginary world where discussions of resilience are not grounded in actualities.’Footnote 18 I argue, in contrast, that exactly those discussions are able to shape actualities. Just as Jonna Nyman demonstrates for the case of security,Footnote 19 I claim that studying resilience always involves normative judgements and should be done with respect to the specific context. Instead of pursuing a new form of ‘hectic empiricism’,Footnote 20 the criticism of resilience should not restrict itself to arguably misled policies. Rather, the study of resilience in general and Foucauldian critiques in particular should analyse power relations and patterns of justification with the aim of pursuing a constructivist mode of criticism. Such a form of critique would correspond to how Ben Anderson summarises Foucault's dream of a critique that ‘might aim to bring hidden, occluded or foreclosed possibilities to life by multiplying, summoning, and inventing’.Footnote 21 This article seeks to contribute to this end.
On resilience and responsibility
The reallocation of responsibility through resilience policies is one of the main points of critique in the contemporary resilience debate in security studies.Footnote 22 The devolvement of responsibility to the local sphere and particularly to the individual, so the argument goes, legitimises the withdrawal of the state from its obligation to protect its population. Risk becomes then a private good that is to be negotiated by individuals as entrepreneurs of their own protection.Footnote 23 Mareile Kaufmann describes this process as follows: ‘As such, resilience places the responsibility to act out security within the resilient subject, relying upon the subject's capacity to be affected and its power to respond to urgency with action.’Footnote 24 While critics of resilience, such as Jonathan Joseph, deny its conceptual coherence, the shift in responsibility is identified as an universal feature of resilience. Moreover, this shift is portrayed as per se morally problematic, since only responsibility not power is devolved.Footnote 25 While state bodies still authoritatively define necessary actions (that is, keep the power) they simultaneously delegate the responsibility to enact the given requirements to the individual. Those individuals made responsible to organise their own protection are not granted the means for living up to this demand, though. Responsibilisation, in this sense, is an external ascription of responsibility that is imposed through the power position of the responsibilising actor.Footnote 26 The ethical acceptability of this responsibilisation is less relevant. This is problematic, because ‘the discourse talks of putting local people “in the driving seat” when in reality the direction of the journey has already been decided.’Footnote 27
This debate of the distribution of responsibility is based on two central assumptions that I want to engage with in the remainder of the article. The first, often implicit, assumption is that the devolvement of responsibility is per se problematic. I doubt that assumption. While responsibility should certainly be linked to power and capacity, it is not only the shift in responsibility, but more generally, the distribution of responsibility among different societal levels and actors that should be the subject of analysis. Consequently, the ability to take up the transferred responsibility is crucial for determining the acceptability of a particular change in the allocation of responsibility, be it the responsibilisation of state authorities, societal groups, or single individuals. The picture of the allocation of responsibility is messier than current resilience debates imply. Marginalised actors might pro-actively want to be resilient, as Caitlin Ryan demonstrated in the case of Palestinian women exercising Sumud.Footnote 28 This debate is taken up in the last part of the article that seeks to sketch out premises for a desirable distribution of responsibility.
The second assumption is closely linked to the claim of the withdrawing state. This implies that there was a universal (or at least paramount) state-centric allocation of responsibility for the protection of the population in pre-resilience security regimes. Accordingly, the preferable clear-cut state responsibility for protection has been eroding through the emergence of resilience thinking. Yet, there has always been an, at times implicit, distribution of responsibility that also includes an individual responsibility at least for self-help. The implicit assumption of exclusive or paramount state responsibility for protection, which often comes with the critique of resilience, implies that states would comprehensively know and satisfy the different needs of their population. This assumption, however, underestimates the unequal consideration of security interests in the process of allocating resources. This inequality regularly disadvantages particular societal groups along power frictions and finally creates vulnerabilities. We can see this in past disasters, when class, race, gender, and ability strongly determined the likelihood of being killed, injured, or otherwise severely harmed.Footnote 29 Feminist security scholars criticised the problematic homogenisation of the population in security theories that lead to a structural neglect of women's security interests.Footnote 30 In a critique on Human Security, Fiona Robinson pointed out how the rights-based idea of the ungendered individual in Human Security sidelines women's security issues and reinforces existing gender hierarchies.Footnote 31 Analogous, the discriminating effects of the able-bodied and able-minded normality in contemporary state-centric security regimes tends to be underestimated. I seek to demonstrate in the following section that selection biases are necessary effects of the unequal ability to inscribe particular interests into state action. From this point of view, state responsibility for security becomes not only a part of the solution, but is also a part of the problem. Resilience might then even become a chance to scrutinise the selection bias of security authorities by pointing to adaptation and the therefore necessary coping capacities on various societal levels. The case study in the subsequent section presents the neglect of care-dependent people in German disaster management as a case in point for this emancipatory potential of resilience.
The neglected others: The marginalisation of care-dependent people in disaster management
The distribution of responsibilities in a state-centric disaster management system
Resilience is still a rather recent phenomenon in the international security arena. Where politics are grounded in resilience thinking, they are more often than not problematic, as several analyses demonstrate.Footnote 32 The endeavour to demonstrate how resilience could contribute to the emancipation of marginalised individuals works best by looking at a case in which resilience remains an absent political concept. This counterfactuality lends the analysis the scope to think about hitherto unrealised potentials instead of being limited to the pitfalls of the existing manifestations of resilience thinking. The German disaster management system is such a case, since it is characterised by a strong focus on state responsibility and public obligations. The concept of resilience, which is prominent in British and US strategies, islargely missing on the German political agenda in disaster management.Footnote 33 In fact, a report by the German federal government from 2019 extensively elaborates on the labour division between the federal government, the 16 ‘Länder’ (federal states) and the municipalities. It describes subsidiarity as the underlying idea of the German disaster management framework.Footnote 34 Like previous risk analyses by the federal government,Footnote 35 the 2019 report echoes the primacy of state responsibility for disaster protection. The mode of German disaster management is inherently statist, as its official characterisation in the 2010 rationale for risk analyses demonstrates:
The protection of the population against special threats is one of the most urgent tasks of the modern state. Germany has traditionally established a vertically structured, subsidiary system of emergency planning and assistance for emergency response that is predominantly based on voluntarism, in which the federal government, the federal states and municipalities work in close cooperation with the huge relief organisations and the fire departments.Footnote 36
Volunteerism means in this context primarily the organised, permanent, yet voluntary engagement in aid organisations, volunteer fire brigades, and other established organisations. Societal resilience is thus regarded as the result of a successfully integrated risk management between different institutional actors in civil protection rather than a task of civil society, let alone the individual.Footnote 37 However, the German civil protection strategy also emphasises the need to improve self-help abilities within the population. Self-help is thereby thought of as a temporary substitute for state bodies’ capacity during a crisis. The German Federal Office for Citizen Protection and Disaster Support, a central state agency in the field of disaster relief, assumes the reasons for deficits in society's self-help capacity in the lack of sensitivity, motivation, knowledge, and personnel resources to transfer knowledge.Footnote 38 In its state of affairs report, the scientific service of the German Bundestag likewise affirms that the population generally shall be encouraged to increase its self-help abilities. This, however, is not a general shift of responsibility but an acknowledgement of the demographic change and the eventual decline in numbers of volunteers, which will diminish the state's capacity.Footnote 39
The emphasis of self-help is the result of witnessed limitations in civil defence and public disaster management abilities, for example in the case of Saxony; a federal state in the Eastern part of Germany that experienced several major floods between 2002 and 2013. In August 2002, numerous mountain rivers swelled rapidly due to heavy rainfalls and caused vast destruction. The main river of the region, the Elbe, burst its banks and hit additional parts of Saxony during the subsequent days. During these events, 20 people died, 110 were injured and some tens of thousands needed to be evacuated.Footnote 40 Several interview partners in responsible positions agreed that all disaster management institutions involved were overwhelmed by the task the flood set.Footnote 41 Despite a broad range of problems, the evaluation by the Saxon state government mentions an increased demand for the population's self-protection only once.Footnote 42 Additionally, the responsibility of the population is only addressed insofar as the need for improved disaster communication is articulated as a precondition for enhancing self-help abilities.Footnote 43 Eleven years and two major floods later, the Saxon state government published another evaluation report of the so-called ‘Kirchbach Commission’ in 2013. This report assesses the implementation of the recommendations from 2002 during the 2013 floods. Notwithstanding its longer duration and a larger affected area, the water level remained slightly under the level in 2002 with less destruction caused by mountain rivers.Footnote 44 The floods in 2013 caused significantly less damage and no casualties.Footnote 45 The report expresses the commission's satisfaction with the effects of the flood protection measures implemented as lessons learned after 2002.Footnote 46 This assessment is echoed by several interview partners who confirmed the tremendous improvements since 2002.Footnote 47 In line with the disaster management policies on the federal level and the flood report from 2002, the 2013 report mainly refers to the state responsibility for flood protection. In its conclusion, however, it calls for the identification of means to bring the population as well as economic actors to take more responsibility.Footnote 48 This call is seconded by the reconstruction committee that calls in its report several times for an increase in self-provision.Footnote 49
While the 2002 report was arguably published prior to the emergence of resilience as a popular buzzword in civil protection, the 2013 report came out at a time when resilience has already claimed a prominent position on the agenda in disaster management and contingency planning.Footnote 50 However, neither the 2002 nor the 2013 report advocated for a devolvement of responsibility to the individual and the withdrawal of public institutions. Quite the opposite, the centrality of state institutions’ responsibility for civil protection are emphasised. This reflects the general modus operandi in the German disaster management system. Moreover, experiences from other disasters like the winter storm and subsequent blackout in the German region of Münster or several floods in the state of Brandenburg confirm this finding.Footnote 51 In all these incidents, state institutions, along with volunteers and professional disaster relief workers from several disaster organisations, were the backbone of disaster relief. The population was expected to stockpile and make some personal provisions as advised by state bodies.Footnote 52 In this vein, self-determined practices, such as spontaneous ad hoc volunteering, was seen as an ambivalent phenomenon that might increase relief capacities while running the risk of undermining state authority and control in disaster relief operations.Footnote 53
To sum up, German disaster management policies emphasise state responsibility and do not seek to legitimise the withdrawal of the state. The emphasis on necessary individual self-help capacities rather results from the insight that limited state capacities restrict the ability of public disaster management to comprehensively protect the population. Self-help is thus not an end in itself. However, the pursued top-down approach, the focus on specific risk scenariosFootnote 54 as well as the dominant reliance on expert knowledge led to a selection bias in the consideration of needs and finally to the structural discrimination of those whose needs are not considered. The described state-centric policies rest on implicit assumptions about capacities in and needs of the population. They produce a notion of normality that privileges the anticipated needs over those that are deviant from the assumptions. Consequently, deviance leads to neglect and eventually to marginalisation, as will be subsequently shown using the example of care recipients.
The neglected others: Care recipients’ invisibility in disaster management policies
Care recipients are largely sidelined in current disaster management structures. They are either treated as mere objects or even completely absent in disaster relief policies. The German Red Cross explicates that ‘[e]xperiences from disaster relief operations make clear that this group is not explicitly taken into account and that their special care requirements are often unknown to disaster relief forces.’Footnote 55 This lacking knowledge translates into their marginalisation in case of a disaster, since care recipients in many cases do not fit the anticipated and imagined normality disaster relief measures are designed for. One interview partner, who works as a disaster manager on the municipal level, illustrates this neglect by stating that
the municipality is able and obliged to provide emergency shelters. These emergency shelters are of course only intended for normal citizens – well, normal citizens in quotation marks – who are able to self-rescue.Footnote 56
This Janus-faced disaster management provides help only to those who fit the assumed norm. Others are disadvantaged, as the interviewee confirms by continuing that:
We had a beautiful gymnasium in service and it turned out that it was handicapped accessible. However, handicapped accessible meant the existence of one elevator, and you always need to go one story down. The access to the hall was in the basement. … That does not work, that is not made for the accommodation of a huge number of persons with a limited ability to self-rescue.Footnote 57
After realising that the gymnasium did not fit its purpose, the municipal authority managed to organise an unused reception centre of the German Red Cross to accommodate persons with disabilities. The interviewee further stated that the municipal administration (in form of the fire brigade) felt indeed to be in charge of transporting impaired people. However, they needed to be told whereto to be able to execute this task. The lack of adequate equipment for helping care recipients continued when it came to camp beds, which were not suitable for many care recipients as they would not be able to get out of bed, according to one experienced disaster relief worker from an aid organisation.Footnote 58 However, nursing camp beds were, in many cases, not available and only purchased after the witnessed incidences.Footnote 59 Moreover, there is a lack of trained volunteers to nurse care-dependent people while accommodated in emergency shelters. Adequate care could only be provided spontaneously through the evacuation of nursing homes and the take-over of their staffFootnote 60 or the availability of some trained staff employed by relief organisations.Footnote 61 However, none of the analysed cases showed a systematic approach to ensure an appropriate accommodation and treatment of care-dependent people. While centralised facilities like nursing homes could be evacuated in the analysed cases, the authorities had little or even no knowledge of the number of people receiving homecare, let alone of their needs during a disaster and their available resources. The complexity of anticipating the location and diverse needs of care-dependent people is exacerbated by the broad spectrum of homecare arrangements. These are very heterogeneous, ranging from care as a service, provided by professional nursing services, to private care that is exclusively carried out by the care recipient's social environment. Between these poles, a broad continuum of hybrid care arrangements exists, with different degrees of precarity, fragility, and eventually of vulnerability to disturbances. In a representative survey on needs during a winter storm with a temporary blackout, one in two care recipients answered that (s)he would need medical assistance.Footnote 62 The majority of care recipients and their care-giving social environment consider either state institutions or, if applicable, nursing services to be responsible for the necessary support.Footnote 63
In contrast to this reliance on state institutions, those interviewees being in relevant positions stated that they had no information on the needs or the whereabouts of homecare recipients, since there was no central database available for disaster relief workers.Footnote 64 A disaster-experienced interviewee doubted the usability of a database due to the tremendous efforts to keep them up to date. An outdated database, in contrast, would run the risk of wasting scarce resources in an emergency.Footnote 65 The interviewees had only vague ideas of what institution might possess relevant datasets, such as health insurances or nursing services. However, there is no established routine to systematically gather information on a given vulnerable group in order to assist in case of an emergency. Moreover, the majority of care recipients in Germany is nursed by their relatives at home without the involvement of any professional nursing service.Footnote 66 Bearing in mind the potentially high demand of assistance, the satisfaction of the care recipients’ needs in these cases depends on their ability to organise a support structure by themselves.
This became a salient issue during another disaster, namely the 2005 snowstorm in the region of Münster, situated in the Western part of Germany. The storm caused the most serious black out in the German postwar history affecting around 250,000 people for up to four days. The blackout hit primarily rural areas around the city of Münster. It sparked a reflection process about the potentials and limits of German disaster relief forces.Footnote 67 An interviewed official from the regional disaster authority confirmed that some needs of people in need of care are simply invisible for disaster relief authorities. The location of the increasing number of people in need of artificial respiration living in shared flats was widely unknown to the relief forces.Footnote 68 The interviewee described this precarious situation as follows: ‘If there is a black out in the area of a huge town and the [ventilator] machines start to struggle after three or four hours due to empty batteries, no crisis staff would know it.’Footnote 69 Institutions in the health and care sector are designed for functioning daily routines. Disturbances of these routines are regularly considered as ‘uncontrollable’ events.Footnote 70 Pushing disturbances beyond the limits of the controllable and manageable deprives them of their actionability and leaves the affected care recipients on their own. Neither professionals in the health sector nor disaster relief structures feel able or responsible to effectively provide help in case of an emergency.
The example of the treatment of homecare recipients in German disaster management demonstrated the neglect of care-dependent people as a heterogeneous group with various needs that are beyond disaster management's notion of normality. However, due to the high demand for external assistance, care recipients are particularly vulnerable. Although state institutions consider themselves as main authority for disaster relief, the distribution of support appears to be selective and excludes those with a high demand for assistance. This precarious situation is exacerbated by their below-average economic situation. The above-cited representative survey states that about one of three care recipients feels not able to stockpile food for economic reasons.Footnote 71 The structural marginalisation of care-dependent people in disaster management is thus amplified by their underprivileged economic position. This omission has not changed, although regions like Saxony significantly improved their overall disaster management structures after the repeated occurrence of floods. However, care recipients as well as impaired people have apparently not been able to inscribe their needs into disaster management routines.
This is not a matter of bad will by the rescue forces, but a result of the structural problem to account for the broad range of diverse needs of more than 3.3 million people receiving homecare in Germany.Footnote 72 The result is that care recipients are disproportionally burdened, since they are urged to organise disaster relief on their own to be prepared for an emergency. Care recipients are thus not responsibilised by the rise of resilience thinking, but due to their invisibility and the strategic selection bias of state-centred security politics.Footnote 73 In the remainder of this article, I argue that resilience has something to offer to improve the situation of care recipients and other so far neglected societal groups. The resilience discourse shifts the attention to personal needs and capacities. Those whose needs are sidelined by public disaster management are responsibilised anyway. An increased shift to people's needs and capacities can help to shed light on societal diversity. This form of visibilisation is the precondition for the recognition and the subsequent deliberation of so far neglected needs.
On responsibility, responsibilisation, and justification
The neglect of care recipients’ needs in German disaster management is just one example of the treatment of societal diversity in security politics. It leads to a situation in which people are rendered vulnerable through societal marginalisation and exclusionary processes. In this context, the vulnerability of societal groups, such as care recipients, is less the result of missing bodily abilities for self-help, but rather of societal structures that miss to take their particular needs into account. In other words: Those whose needs are considered shape security policies, while those whose needs are not considered need to struggle to adapt to state security policies or are thrown back to self-help. This marginalisation process is not limited to care recipients but occurs as an intersectional phenomenon along different sociodemographic markers. Kathleen Tierney defines intersectionality as a concept ‘to refer to the ways in which multiple dimensions of stratification and inequality come together to shape people's life circumstance and life chances’.Footnote 74 She identifies social class, race, and gender as main categories, but also acknowledges the role of age and (dis)ability in influencing someone's vulnerability. In this reading, vulnerability is not an ontological feature of a demographic group, but the result of societal processes and power hierarchies that privilege some while disadvantaging others. The case study demonstrated that care recipients’ need of help cannot be reduced to personal limitations, but also results from structural factors as shown above.
Tierney gives another example for the effects of intersectionality and stratified levels of affectedness. Post hoc disaster management measures after Hurricane Katrina discriminated against renters who suffered from increased rental costs while not profiting from loan programmes. They were thus structurally disadvantaged and rendered more vulnerable to the hurricane by public policies. Moreover, these programmes were designed in a manner that privileged those homeowners, who lived in more expensive neighbourhoods. Not quite surprisingly, these relief structures disadvantaged persons of colour, women, and disabled people who were marginalised pre-disaster and the more so during as well as in the aftermath of a disaster.Footnote 75
Societal power structures effect that some people are more able to inscribe their interests into state structures than others. Those who are not able to make their voices heard will find it hard to put their security concerns or needs on the agenda, particularly if they differ from what is considered ‘normal’. This finding is not new and has been addressed, for example, by feminist approaches to security studies.Footnote 76 However, it points to the ethical necessity of asking whose security it is that we are actually talking about.Footnote 77 The choice of the referent object is crucial, since it determines on what level and with whom in mind security – and likewise resilience – is negotiated. The omission of that reflection leads to the reproduction of prevailing power hierarchies and therewith of a normality that provides means of protection to those who are most able to make their voices heard. This distributional injustice of security measures follows the Matthew effect,Footnote 78 as observed for decades, for example, in disaster management.Footnote 79 While security practices are shaped to help those who are privileged anyway, those who are deviant from the imagined normality are neglected and, due to the lacking possibility to influence political outcomes, eventually marginalised. Consequently, since state policies take insufficiently account of their needs, marginalised individuals and groups are de facto made responsible to take care of themselves. The case of the Vietnamese Catholic community's self-help during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 demonstrated how the social capital of an otherwise marginalised societal group can contribute to disaster resilience and compensate for the lack of other sources of resilience.Footnote 80 Despite being economically underprivileged, this community proved to be unexpectedly resilient against the hazard.Footnote 81 Yet, the resilience of the Vietnamese Catholic community was not a product of state support policies in the first place, but of their social capital and their ability to mobilise help that eventually led to a political recognition of their needs.Footnote 82 Looking at marginalised groups thus shows us that, depending on what referent we are analysing, responsibility for protection has been allocated at the individual and local level for quite some time; even before the emergence of resilience. However, it has mostly remained invisible due to the affectedness of mostly neglected or marginalised groups.
These existing de facto distributions of responsibility are problematic, since they are the result of a particular selection bias of state policies determining whose needs are seen and whose needs remain neglected. However, this de facto distribution of responsibility has rarely been addressed when assessing either the effects or the potential of resilience. Quite the opposite, critics of resilience have emphasised the shift of responsibility for protection from the national to the local level and from the community to the individual in International Relations in general and security studies in particular.Footnote 83 While in many cases justified, the generality of the critique is problematic due to a threefold flaw. First, it misses to make the referent object of resilience explicit by asking, ‘Who is responsibilized through resilience?’. Rather, critics speak of ‘neoliberal subjects’Footnote 84 or ‘resilient subjects’Footnote 85 and therewith homogenise ‘the individual’.Footnote 86 This is a pitfall, since the power positions of individuals differ fundamentally, as famously argued by Fiona Robinson in the critique of Human Security's blindness for gender differences.Footnote 87 In fact, those who have been marginalised, whose voices have been silenced and whose needs have been ignored before resilience gained momentum, cannot be additionally responsibilised through resilience. They had already been urged to take responsibility for their own protection before the rise of resilience started, as the example of care recipients in German disaster management demonstrates. The process of responsibilisation only accounts for those, who were previously able to make their needs heard in the process of shaping security policies. The responsibilising effect of resilience policies hits those, whose needs have so far beenconsidered most, the hardest. The critique of resilience thus (unconsciously) reproduces a problematic notion of normality of the able-bodied and able-minded middle-class referent object by generalising the claimed shift in responsibility.
Second, and building upon the first point, although resilience does not necessarily lead to a general shift in responsibility, it generally legitimises the allocation of responsibility at the individual and local level by drawing from the connection between resilience and complexity.Footnote 88 Following this line of thought, David Chandler rightly states that ‘[r]esilience is a key concept within neoliberal discourse, denoting a positive internal attribute of being able to positively adapt to change.’Footnote 89 However, although adaptability is regarded as inherently positive, the resilience discourse blurs the allocation of responsibility rather than causing a simple shift. This can be seen in the discussion of disaster resilience on the level of the UN. The Hyogo FrameworkFootnote 90 as well as the Sendai FrameworkFootnote 91 emphasise the key responsibility of the nation-state for disaster relief, while responsibilising both the subnational and the international sphere.Footnote 92
Third, the way in which the term responsibilisation is used insinuates the illegitimacy of a potential devolvement of responsibility. However, this does not meet the ethical core of responsibility. The acceptability and desirability of a certain constellation of responsibility depends on the respective context and is less clear-cut as current critics imply. A shift in responsibility might be justified and even desirable depending on the contextual circumstances. Thus, the next section sketches out criteria for a more nuanced assessment of the legitimacy of distributions of responsibility.
Responsibility and emancipation
In the tradition of the Frankfurt School's Critical Theory, Iris Marion Young argues for the recognition of difference, thus of deviant needs and perspectives, as precondition for societal justice.Footnote 93 A recognition of different societal perspectives and positions is key for identifying a desirable distribution of (political) responsibility. Such a distribution is in turn crucial for ascribing legitimate expectations of actions to different actors in order to mitigate existing injustices. Consequently, responsibilisation is prima facie a description of the process of shifting responsibility by declaring someone responsible for something. Assessing the legitimacy of such a move is a subsequent step and needs to be based on normatively justifiable categories. First, this section proposes an understanding of responsibility and how it is related to societal justice. Second and drawing on Young'sFootnote 94 work, it seeks to lay out criteria for a justifiable distribution of responsibility that neither objectifies nor unduly burdens societal actors.
In her concept of shared responsibilities for creating social justice, Young argues that responsibility in complex social structures needs to be distributed between the various actors involved.Footnote 95 Responsibility has different temporal reference points and includes a retrospective and a prospective dimension.Footnote 96 In its retrospective dimension, responsibility can be thought as referring to a past event or development and is mostly used in the context of past wrongdoings. Responsibility for future action then results from past failures or omissions that led to the existing injustice. In its forward-looking perspective and in the context of societal justice, responsibility means the moral obligation to alter or at least challenge those societal conditions that are identified as being unjust.Footnote 97
Young proposes to assess the ethical acceptability of the distribution of responsibility based on the four parameters power, privilege, interest, and collective ability.Footnote 98 Such an assessment necessarily differs from lopsided calls for either the caring state or the resilient subject and provides the basis for a more fine-grained ethical analysis. Although Young developed these parameters in the context of social justice,Footnote 99 her arguments are equally helpful to analyse distributions of responsibility in other policy areas in which justice plays a crucial role. Security is such a field. In Young's reasoning, powerful agents (be it institutions or individuals) bear greater responsibility than less powerful agents. Furthermore, the more one is privileged by certain structures, the greater is the respective responsibility for the outcomes and side effects those structures create. Collective ability is another parameter and means that the greater the ability to rally people to act jointly, thus, to pool power, the greater the responsibility (not) to change certain structures and situations. According to Young, this means that ‘[u]nions, church groups, and stockholder organizations, to name just a few, sometimes can enact significant power not because they can coerce others to do what they decide, but because they have many members who act together.’Footnote 100
Also those, who are negatively affected by certain structures, do carry at least some responsibility, since they have an interest to remedy these grievances. This parameter sounds counterintuitive, if not cynical, as it shifts responsibility to those suffering the most from injustice. Young defends this claim by arguing that
victims of injustice should take some responsibility for challenging the structures that produce it. It is they who know the most about the harms they suffer, and thus it is up to them, though not them alone, to broadcast their situation and call it injustice.Footnote 101
In fact, on a closer look, negating victims' responsibility to name a situation or structure unjust means to deny their agency. Notwithstanding the responsibility of the powerful, the privileged, and the connected, victims of injustice need to name problems from their perspective in order to avoid undue paternalism. A legitimate distribution of responsibility nonetheless needs to assure that the ascribed responsibility to voice problems does not overwhelm the affected individuals’ capacities. In the worst case, this would equally lead to silencing this perspective. Young's parameter interest, thus, needs to be assessed against the backdrop of the capacities that are available to live up to the ascribed responsibility. A lack of the ability to issue one's interest should then be read as a problematic, and certainly unjust, exclusion. However, this stance on responsibility does not release the beneficiaries of societal power structures from reflecting on those who might be disadvantaged by the same structures.
Sticking further to the Frankfurt School's tradition of Critical Theory, enhancing societal justice can be thought in terms of enhancing the recognition of so far neglected needs and interestsFootnote 102 or of material redistribution,Footnote 103 whereby recognition may be considered as the precondition for redistribution. Either way, the just consideration of neglected or marginalised perspectives is to result in the emancipation of the disadvantaged. In line with Ken Booth, I understand emancipation as
the freeing of people (as individuals and groups) from those physical and human constraints which stop them carrying out what they would freely choose to do. War and the threat of war is one of those constraints, together with poverty, poor education, political oppression and so on.Footnote 104
This emancipation process is linked to increased power and privilege. As argued by Young, the degree of legitimate responsibility correlates with the respective ability to live up to the requirements (that is, power and collective ability) and the degree to which the referent of responsibility takes advantage from a current social structure (that is, privilege).Footnote 105 While emancipation mitigates oppressing structures and unjust inequalities, it increases autonomy and therefore creates ‘socially, morally, and politically autonomous subjects of justification or as authorities within a normative order’.Footnote 106 Following this ideal of a just distribution of responsibility, the emancipation of so far marginalised individuals or groups would legitimise a shift in the distribution of responsibility towards the now more emancipated social entity.
Resilience, visibilisation, and emancipation
The differentiation between a general notion of responsibilisation, i.e. shifting responsibility, and legitimising a certain distribution of responsibility, which happens to burden the individual while releasing the state from its responsibility for protection, is ethically crucial. As argued above, essentialising resilience as facilitator of undue responsibilisation processes is a misleading generalisation. Rather, resilience can contribute to emancipation. The academic discourse in critical security studies that rejects shifts in responsibility turns a blind eye on the question of what might be an acceptable portion of responsibility for whom. A general denial of this question unduly homogenises the population and implies that there was the right portion of responsibility everyone could legitimately bear. However, this implication obscures the unequal distribution of power, privilege, interest, and collective ability within the population. It runs the risk of reproducing the Matthew principle by obscuring that a shift of responsibility is de facto only for those people possible who were ex ante privileged enough to delegate a certain responsibility for their own protection to the state. Defining resilience as a strategy to legitimise a neoliberal modus operandi of protection, in contrast, at least implicitly justifies the ex ante distribution of responsibility. This is problematic in itself. It would be more sensible to criticise the (un)intended consequences of resilience policies by showing unfavourable consequences, rather than condemning a policy just because it redistributes responsibility.
The justification for the deployment of resilience as an organising principle points to the limits of knowledge,Footnote 107 the necessity to introduce a possibilistic rationality in security thinkingFootnote 108 and thus the need for a decentral allocation of the responsibility for protection. This serves as justification for resilience to become increasingly important in political life.Footnote 109 Particularly in disaster management, a policy field that deals per definition with the unknown and the inevitable (though influenceable), resilience appears to be a plausible concept to mitigate vulnerability and thus the high toll disasters are regularly claiming.Footnote 110 However, the approach of resilience still needs to be supplemented by a normatively acceptable justification.
Herein lies the pitfall of those current resilience policies limiting themselves to devolving responsibility while keeping power at the state level.Footnote 111 These policies call for increased capabilities without providing the means to live up to the transferred demands. This transfer of responsibility is undue, since it disregards structural injustices and individual capacities while calling for individual capabilities. In this context, Rainer Forst argues that the ‘problem appears most clearly, when it is proposed to compensate the effects of such injustice through benevolent conduct by individuals’.Footnote 112 Many political resilience strategies do exactly this. They call for building individual capabilities to compensate for the adverse effects of unjust, yet unaddressed, societal structures. This reveals a justice problem of resilience policies that is exacerbated by the tendency to hold the most structurally disadvantaged individuals and groups now responsible for their incapacity to live up to the requirements of self-help.
Notwithstanding these problematic resilience policies, there might be room for an emancipatory resilience approach. In the first place, such an approach would address the preconditions for legitimately calling for a more resilient population. This requires asking: (a) How resilient is resilient enough; (b) What is needed to be resilient?; and (c) How and by whom can the required capabilities be obtained? Drawing on the case study, such a resilience approach would make necessary capabilities explicit. It would be critical towards empirical observations of what is called resilience and flourish in the realm of the possible, yet currently contrafactual. It would pursue the premises of critical theory as
a connection between reflection in philosophy and in social science informed by an interest in emancipation. It inquires into the rational form of a social order that is both historically possible and normatively justified in general terms. At the same time it asks why the existing power relations within (and beyond) a society prevent the emergence of such an order.Footnote 113
Such a resilience approach would create an irritation, as it would challenge both, those approaches that are criticised for unduly shifting responsibility without enquiring the preconditions for its enactment and the well-travelled general criticism of any responsibilisation linked to resilience. In short, it would question established truths and thus be performed critique.Footnote 114 Such a form of critique could be subsumed as immanent critique, since it seeks to unveil the emancipatory potential within a certain concept rather than contrasting it with the ideal utopia.Footnote 115 It therewith represents an ‘affirmative critique of resilience’,Footnote 116 understood as a way to use resilience in a subversive manner beyond its current, in many cases neoliberal manifestations. If we accept that there are unknown, unexpected, or inevitable malicious events that might result in catastrophic consequences harming the neglected and underprivileged the most, then resilience appears to have something to offer to remedy injustice. The merit of resilience is its capacity focus that is foundational for the demanded adaptability.
I call this contribution of resilience visibilisation, the process of making capacities and the lack thereof visible in the public debate and thus to power structures. The visibilisation of diversity and plurality as structural features of a society are then necessary steps to subsequently recognise individual needs and constraints and to potentially foster resilience, either as a value,Footnote 117 an ‘ideal type’Footnote 118 or a concept.Footnote 119 Neither visibilisation nor recognition necessarily lead to resilience or even emancipation. Yet both steps represent preconditions for a meaningful debate about how resilience could be facilitated and nurtured in society. If we follow Axel Honneth's understanding of recognition as a precondition for a socially just society,Footnote 120 then visibilisation is its epistemic foundation. In other words, the emancipatory potential of resilience lies in the chance to visibilise so far marginalised perspectives.
This stands in contrast to how resilience policies currently operate.Footnote 121 Yet, this shortcoming of today's manifestation of resilience is not an inevitable given.Footnote 122 Therefore, exercising immanent critique on resilience is to unfold its emancipatory potential. Developing categories to analyse the legitimacy of a shift of responsibility appears as one way of doing so. Iris Marion Young's criteria for a just distribution of responsibility are such a basis to assess the legitimacy of a certain distribution of responsibilities. To illustrate how this emancipatory potential might work in practice, I want to return to the case study.
Visibilisation, recognition, and redistribution: The contingency of legitimate distributions of responsibility
People receiving homecare are in a precarious situation in disasters, except if they prove resilient and organise help via their social bonds and networks. In the current institutional setting, it is their social capital that lends them protection and increases their ability for self-help by making security authorities aware of their situation. But even if they manage to do so, it is far from being granted that disaster relief forces will have the know-how to satisfy the needs of a care-dependent person. The ambulatory care provider, in contrast, might neither be able to take care of their patients during a disaster nor to adequately and timely inform security authorities about the problematic situation.Footnote 123 The insufficient link between welfare and security bureaucracies results in a blank spot that leaves care-dependent people in the worst case on their own.
Transferring the responsibility to organise help to the state is not an easy task. Even if some interviewees proposed to set up a central register of some form that make the information on home-cared persons actionable, such a database would suffer from two crucial disadvantages. First, several interviewees confirmed that the efforts to keep such a database up to date would exceed their current administrative capacities.Footnote 124 Second, care recipients who actively refuse or unconsciously miss to feed sensitive personal data into the database might witness disadvantages in a disaster situation. Such a procedure would, again, responsibilise care recipients to reveal their data and thus render them subject to a discriminatory treatment due to their inability to self-help.
An emancipatory resilience approach, in contrast, would come from another angle. It would not put the potential disaster, but the capacities to be granted for keeping the population adaptive and resourceful centrepiece. An emancipatory resilience approach, firstly, needs to politicise the level of capacities different actors are required to have at their disposal. Is it up to state institutions to supply the population with groceries or are citizens supposed to stockpile? If that is the case, then for how many days? Are there state emergency shelters for everyone or do particular groups need to care for themselves? How fast does an ambulance or firefighter need to be at the site of operation? All these questions are inherently political and linked to capacities. They thus need to be deliberated to exchange perspectives and to scrutinise the justifiability of the different claims.
This justifiability is then, secondly, directly linked to the degree to which the different actors are privileged or disadvantaged by a certain distribution of responsibilities, and, above all, if they can live up to the ascribed responsibilities. Therefore, the capacities, needs, and constraints that either enable or prevent people from being resilient need to be balanced with the ascribed responsibilities. In accordance with the findings of the case study, David Alexander pointed out that disaster relief practices are simply not made for people with bodily needs or impairments that differ from the majority of the population.Footnote 125 The lack of inclusivity we witness already in daily life is exacerbated during crises and results in the above-described marginalisation of some societal groups such as care-dependent people. Some first attempts to make so far neglected needs visible were undertaken by Katja Schulze et al. whose research findings showed that those care recipients who do not stockpile do so disproportionally often due to a lack of economic capacity.Footnote 126 An effective politics of protection for disabled and care-dependent people alike is based on such a visibilisation of needs. This visibilisation is best done through the involvement of affected people, in the sense of Young's criterion interest. The therefore necessary level of participation, representation, and inclusion can be facilitated by the capacity-focus of resilience.
The visibilisation of needs is the precondition for their recognition. However, recognition is more than visibilisation. Recognition encompasses to actively take a perspective into account.Footnote 127 The process of recognition results in the negotiation of the different individual and collective resources and constraints as well as of granted privileges and existing needs. Comparing needs and resources is then the basis for an assessment of the actual capacities that allows for deliberating on just distributions of responsibility. It links these responsibilities to a possibly necessary material redistribution as quintessence of recognition in order to increase societal justice, just as Nancy Fraser argues.Footnote 128 In this reading, the level of available resources, for example in form of social, economic, or cultural capital or in the level of inclusivity and accessibility of public spaces and means, need to be adequate to the ascribed responsibility. Young's four parameters collective ability, power, privilege, and interest could be a possible yardstick to assess the acceptability of a given distribution of responsibility.Footnote 129 Such an analytical measure, however, forbids to condemn the devolvement of responsibility as such or to treat the individual as a homogeneous category. Bringing Young's categories into practice means to contextually assess who can be legitimately held responsible for what and to what degree.
Due to capacity limitations on all societal levels, ranging from the individual to the whole society, a distribution of responsibilities is almost inevitably necessary. Yet, if the legitimacy of a distribution of responsibility depends on the level of available resources, then there is not the one right allocation of resources, but various principally justifiable distributions that might require the redistribution of resources to those who carry responsibility in order to be ethically acceptable.
Chandler argued that resilience is a relative term that needs to be assessed against a particular situation.Footnote 130 If there is no state of absolute resilience, how resilient is resilient enough and what capacities would therefore be necessary becomes a political decision. The visibilisation of needs and therewith also of societal marginalisation or even exclusion enables a more informed debate of what resources are necessary to achieve a level of resilience that is deemed appropriate. Such a political process would facilitate an emancipation in Ken Booth's terms as the ‘freeing of people’Footnote 131, because it needs to take structural constraints into account and lend the affected people agency. The recognition of so far unconsidered needs in the process of shaping security routines would increase the privilege of care recipients in disasters. Be it through the redistribution of responsibilities or the enhancement of capacities, this recognition would thus be an act of emancipation; and the visibilisation of these needs its precondition. Resilience might be used to actualise this visibilisation. Herein lies its emancipatory potential.
This article sought to demonstrate that resilience has the potential to tackle pitfalls in current security policies. Taking the example of the German disaster management system as a case in which the resilience discourse is hardly developed, the article demonstrates that people receiving homecare are marginalised also in a traditional security environment. Due to public neglect, they are de facto responsible for their own protection. These people cannot be additionally responsibilised by resilience. Rather, the responsibilisation claim works in the first place for those, whose societal prerogatives make them visible for current modes of disaster management and who thus can rely on the helping hand of state security practices.
Despite the various shortcomings of resilience policies, there is an emancipatory potential in resilience that might subvert the rationality of its current deployment by contrasting the call for resilience with a call for inclusivity and resourcefulness. Means for increasing resilience thus need to be found in fields such as inclusion and social-welfare politics that have little to do with the security realm, but play a huge role for determining individual capacities. Those capacities need then to be negotiated against the backdrop of a political debate on what capacities should be granted in order to be resilient enough. Such a debate, in turn, rests on the knowledge of individual and collective capacities and constraints. It thus requires a politics of visibilisation that rests on participation, representation, and inclusivity.
Yet, there are clear limits to the argument brought forward in this article. The form of visibilisation that I advocated in the article is demanding with regard to its framework conditions. Only in those cases in which state institutions seek to improve the living situation of the people, visibilisation is desirable. In contrast, making one's needs visible for oppressive regimes might even exacerbate the vulnerability of those who already live in a precarious situation. Moreover, in order to be able to meet the visibilised needs, states need to have appropriate economic means at their disposal. Consequently, visibilisation is not a panacea against societal injustices. Yet, it might be a first step for recognising needs and identifying actual distributions of responsibility.
Furthermore, I have argued that responsibilisation is not necessarily bad. Its legitimacy depends on the level of capacities that are at the disposal of the respective referent object. Young offered a helpful framework of how we can think about legitimate constellations of distributions of responsibility.Footnote 132 In her normative assessment of security, Nyman argued that ‘we cannot and should not avoid normative judgements when we study security.’Footnote 133 The same applies to resilience. Even more, we should bear in mind that the general rejection of resilience or its simple equation with neoliberalism falls short of using resilience's potential to issue a form of immanent critique that might help to subvert not only the way resilience is currently enacted,Footnote 134 but also the marginalisation of people who are deviant from an imagined normality. Even if this creates an imaginary world, it would be one that policymakers would need to engage with and that does not foreclose the potential of resilience but seeks to exploit it. Resilience, thus, offers academics the possibility to exercise immanent critique, that is, to think it differently and to develop and promote those ‘“mutant rules” of resilience’Footnote 135 that go beyond the criticism of resilience's current appropriations in the political discourse and to point to its potential benefits. One step in this direction is to take up the debate about the preconditions for legitimate acts of responsibilisation that do not lead to increased precarity, but to emancipation.
I would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers and the editorial board of the European Journal of International Security for their constructive feedback that clearly improved the quality of the article. I am particularly grateful for Regina Ammicht Quinn's and Thomas Diez's helpful comments and questions on earlier versions of the manuscript. This research received funding from the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research under the funding code 13N13871.
Marco Krüger works as a research associate at the International Center for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities at the University of Tübingen. He is principal investigator of several projects dealing with societal resilience. His research interests lie at the crossroads of (critical) security studies and security ethics.