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Rethinking Resilience: Reflections on the Earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, 2010 and 2011

Bronwyn Mary Hayward, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Canterbury, New Zealand; Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group, University of Surrey, UK; Voices of the Future, University of Oslo, Norway


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Resilience has emerged as a policy response in an era of public concern about disasters and risks that include fear of terrorism and environmental or economic catastrophe. Resilience is both a refreshing and a problematic concept. It is refreshing in that it creates new opportunities for interdisciplinary research and vividly reminds us that the material world matters in our social lives, political economy, and urban planning. However, the concept of resilience is also problematic. Widespread, uncritical calls for greater resilience in response to environmental, economic, and social challenges often obscure significant questions of political power. In particular, we may ask, resilience of what, and for whom?

My reflection here was written in the context of the ongoing grief, disruption, and community protest in my home city of Christchurch, New Zealand, a city that experienced 59 earthquakes of magnitude 5 or more, and over 3800 aftershocks of magnitude 3 or greater between September 2010 and September 2012. From this perspective, I call for expanding our political imagination about resilience, to include ideas of compassion and political resistance. In my observation, both compassion, expressed as shared vulnerability, and resistance, experienced as community mobilization against perceived injustice, have been vital elements of grassroots community recovery.

Key words

citizenship; earthquake; political agency; resilience, social justice

Copyright © 2013 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087