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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
Political Science | Political Theory | Social and Behavioral Sciences
My dissertation is a contribution to Contemporary Political Theory that considers the ways in which the rise of the concept of “resilience” across contemporary social and political life is fundamentally re-ordering how we understand ourselves, one another, the world, and possibilities for action. My research examines the production and deployment of knowledge about resilience in domains of the popular wellness industry, domestic and global policy-making institutions, philanthropic foundations, insurance companies, scientific and social scientific academic research, socio-ecological justice movements, feminist science fiction and critical theory. In this exercise, I do not denounce resilience (further narrowing possibility) but orient my reader toward what Foucault (2003b) calls a permanent critical attitude toward the present. Making visible the scope of surprising effects produced by resilience discourses, I aim to de-familiarize resilience as a common- sense value and an object of resistance, and to hold space for conducting ourselves differently through resilience.
I begin by tracking resilience from its contested use within psychology and ecology to its status as a proliferating strategy for governing life in “complex times.” Next, I analyze resilience as part of an emerging rationality of liberal governance that I term “promising pessimism” and which signals a fundamental departure in the purpose and techniques of liberal governance. I show how a range of traditional ideals, promises and conducts—such as security, progress, and welfare—are displaced by the 21st century promise of enhancing resilience: an immunizing practice of folding naturalized economic, ecological and political crises of an unpredictable world into the vulnerable body in question. To develop this argument, I offer close readings of self-help texts; U.S. Military soldier training programs; national security strategies; global policies addressing migration, climate change, and humanitarian aid; and NASA’s mission to colonize Mars. Finally, I examine environmental activists Transition Towns’ counter- conductive practices of resilience aimed at unseating unsustainable growth through direct action and displacing activist fantasies of “resistance” as a sovereign project. I conclude by theorizing a critical (counter-conduct) infrastructure for practicing freedom as a resilient way of life.
olson, alix, "The Promise(s) of Resilience: Governance and Resistance In Complex Times" (2018). Doctoral Dissertations. 1452.