During the last decades, perceptions of future development have become more and more troubled and alarmistic. The world, it seems, lives in a permanent state of emergency. First, as observed by sociologists of risk, the shared believe of modern societies about societal abilities to transform uncertainty into calculable and manageable risks has been fundamentally challenged. Second, and more recently, societal debates about future prospects increasingly turned from valuing indeterminacy as an opportunity to perceiving uncertainty as a major threat. Such discomforting sentiments are corroborated by uncontrollable natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy or socio-technical misjudgements as unveiled by the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima. Somewhere between resignation and the belief to control risks a “new language of preparedness” (Ash Amin) is emerging.
Vulnerability and resilience have become keywords in this new language. Vulnerability denotes possible harms of a valued entity, however defined. These threats can unfold gradually (‘slow burn’) or abruptly (‘shocks’). The notion resilience addresses the ability of the threatened entity to survive possible harms. Resilience can either be achieved by the entity’s robustness to ‘bounce back’ into its former shape or by its flexibility to change its internal structures and by cultivating a constant state of adaptability. While initially mainly used for the analysis of natural disasters the notions vulnerability and resilience are increasingly employed to conceptualize societal challenges, organizational change as well as economic or regional crises.
The conference “Constructing Resilience”, which is co-organized by the Leibniz-Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning (IRS) Erkner and the HafenCity University Hamburg (HCU) Urban and Regional Economic Studies Group aims at initiating a cross-disciplinary dialogue about the notions’ social scientific analytical potentials and spatial implications.