Recognizing the urgent need to respond to rapid societal and environmental change, resilience is one of the University of Twente’s spearheads. As an academic institution, we have a role to play in strengthening the resilience of the social, technological and environmental systems that support us. In this weekly series, UT researchers share their personal reflections on current events and trends that impact our daily lives, exploring their implications for resilience. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own. In this fourth issue, Veronica Junjan raises questions on how resilience could lead to societal resistance.
Academic and broader societal discussions regarding resilience tend to focus on resilience as something that is desirable. Coping with unexpected events is a normal part of life. Particular attention is given to these unexpected events in policy and management work. ‘Building back better’ and recovery and improvement after a shock to the system are often mentioned as desirable processes in the aftermath of such events, particularly given the increased frequency of crisis events where society demands action to recover from the crisis.
Demands for action often lead to governmental action, for example rescuing major banks during the financial crisis as a way to protect regular citizen savings, policies to address migration flows, instituting public health protection measures, or measures to address climate change. Such large scale actions usually entail changes at multiple levels: institutional, organizational, and individual. These changes are sometimes met with relief (as in the example of bank rescue), and sometimes with scepticism (as in the climate-related measures or those implemented during the recent pandemic) expressed in various ways by members of society. People tend to gravitate towards and stick with groups holding similar convictions regarding the proposed measures and, particularly in recent years, a consequence of this can be fragmentation and polarization (the so-called “bubbles”). In particular, those who feel that they have something to lose from a proposed solution find it difficult to accept and change their attitude or behaviour, and may feel increasingly estranged from certain segments of society. This limits the options for cooperation, where people work together to address the crisis, particularly in situations where individual freedoms are restricted by governmental actions meant to protect the public such as the measures limiting individual freedom during the Covid19 pandemic. Scepticism towards the proposed changes can limit compliance with the measures. In this way, ‘resilience’ takes on a new dimension of the system, namely resistance to the proposed change.
This friction between the individual and the collective raises questions on how to restore the balance between the individual and the public sphere. Against the backdrop of increased fragmentation and polarization, encouraging dialogue can be seen first step towards restoring trust at the societal level. Being able to cope with unexpected events implies building (reserve) capacity for societal resilience and anticipating the sources of resistance to change in order to be able to ‘build back better’ (before it’s too late).
Veronica Junjan is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Behavioural Management and Social Sciences (BMS) at the University of Twente.
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