DRAFT, PLEASE DO NOT QUOTE WITH PERMISSION
ON THE GENEALOGY OF STRATEGIES
Kings College London
This article examines what it might mean to write a genealogy of the strategy of ‘resilience’. The paper notes that scholars writing critically about Resilience tend to refer to their work as operating under the influence of Foucault or a Foucaultian method. This paper begins by asking how and to what degree genealogy forms the coherent method or even set of method in three Foucaultian analyses of Resilience thinking. Identifying some questions for the literature in this context, the paper examines the place of strategies in Foucault’s work, and how this relates to genealogical method. Having suggested that genealogy must not ignore the history of strategies of confrontation, I illustrate my argument by looking at the role of resilience in revolutionary strategy. This paper centrally argues that lack of clarity about genealogy’s key methodological principles has meant that reification is a recurrent problem in Foucaultian scholarship in this specific context, and has precluded study of the strategic potentialities of resilience.
Introduction: Resilience and Politics
Resilience concerns the inoculation of a system or body from fatal degradation through enhancing its ability to both withstand and bounce forwards from the experience of crisis. Encouraging or facilitating resilience, whether in a critical infrastructure, a community facing economic or social stresses, or an ecology operating amidst climate change, is a way of folding future risks into the system or body in question, so that its openness to the unexpected (threats and dangers) become a source of productivity in the form of beneficial adaptation. The more resilient you are, the better able you are to learn from and adapt to negative external stresses. It has been widely inferred that resilience cannot, therefore, be political. It is a conceptualisation of acquiesce and surrender to existing conditions. In this sense, it seems, the political debate around resilience has become rather degraded in recent years
Clearly, resilience is not a thing, but a conglomeration of concepts, which may be deployed for a wide range of different ends and purposes in a wide variety of contexts. Concepts are the tools by which we orientate ourselves so as to act in the world. But, as the Frankfurt School noted, it is all too easy to confuse our tools for the world they provide access to.1 A risk of reification seems clearly visible when critics of the concept of Resilience almost universally conclude that it is, as an “ideal type,” a governmentality that constitutes subjects as objects of depoliticised administration, but also recognising its “empirical diversity” or performative multiplicity.2 Having said that, Resilience thinking does seem, quite intuitively, not to be sufficiently concerned with ensuring we have a space to act and build the kind of polities we might want. Rather, our polities, if they are to be resilient, must surely be organised by the stresses they must potentially face. It is not therefore difficult to see why authors might argue that Resilience cannot be a politics, and constitutes rather a logistical economistic rationale for identifying mechanisms by which a profit may be gleaned from innate market uncertainty. Resilience appears highly resonant of the technology of Schumpeterian creative destruction in the marketplace, wherein the potential for being outcompeted enforces the efficient management of the system.
The key intuition here is that radical concepts like solidarity, resistance, contestation, revolt or revolution, all of which assume a political negotiation of what a community of agents might wish to be otherwise, seem to be rendered subservient to the demands of what must be done, if we are to be resilient, in an environment of permanent insecurity. For example, the ‘Third Way’ claim that social democratic states, if they are to be made resilient to the pressures of global capital flows, need to become nimbler, better adapted to compete, so will need to scale back their safety net in some way for the sake of their own long term adaptation.3 So, the critical claim that promoting Resilience is not and cannot be a matter of affirmative politics makes a good deal of sense; since the concept seems to accept extant structural conditions rather than potentially seeking to change them. There are good reasons for suspicion of the concept of Resilience. What I take issue with in this paper is the conclusion that the concept of Resilience has no riotous political possibilities whatsoever.
In the following sections, this article will suggest that discussions of politics and resilience have fallen afoul of reification for some very simple methodological reasons related to the ways in which Foucault has been read and mobilised. The result is that discussions of resilience have tended to disregard the possibility of insurgent, disruptive, energetic, and political deployments of the concept. My argument will proceed in three steps. In the first step I will review three influential accounts of resilience, each drawing from Michel Foucault. In the second step I re-read Foucault on the relationship between Power, Strategy and Genealogy. In the third step I develop a reading of Latin American counter-state strategists through the prism of resilience thinking, briefly demonstrating that such discussions remain alive today. I will conclude that there is clearly more to be gained from discussions of the radical potentialities of strategies of resilience than has been allowed in recent literatures.
Genealogies of Resilience Thinking
Widespread suspicion about the political consequences of resilience thinking is linked to Foucaultian approaches that expose an ‘intuitive fit’ between resilience and Neoliberal modes of governance. In this section I will summarise three significant works in this tradition and pick out some general comments about the methodological principles of the approaches found therein. The argument I shall put forwards is that there are two general kinds of arguments about resilience in evidence; both are genealogical. The first marks how resilience emerges in contemporary discourse first as a form of resistance or counter-conduct, exposing the limitations of dominant modes of resource management in the biosphere. Such genealogies of resilience expose the axiomatic incorporation of critiques such that they now becomes operative to neoliberal governance. The second form of genealogical thinking posits the stronger claim that resilience, wherever we see it today, embodies the signature of neoliberal powers’ operation. This may be because of its inherent qualities as a concept - its fundamental nature, or because it is a second order concept - the operationalisation of which is conditioned by the strategy of Neoliberal Power. There are valid elements to these claims. My concern relates to how the latter genealogies claim to reveal a singular, lamentable, apolitical content of the concept ‘resilience’.
The first work I will discuss is Walker and Cooper’s 20114 Genealogies of Resilience. This paper appears in almost every critically-minded article published in the Journal Resilience: International Policies Practices and Discourses. For Walker and Cooper, Genealogy allows identification of the “evolution” of “resilience thinking” from a Leftist/Environmentalist formulation with Holling, to “one of collusion with an agenda of resource management that collapses ecological crisis into the creative destruction of a truly Hayekian financial order”. Genealogy is mobilised to articulate the story of the neo-liberalisation of modern society, in the rise to hegemony of such logics across multiple fields of thinking. Walker and Cooper argue that the early critical ambitions of Resilience thinking failed to result in the hoped-for political effects, due to its “intuitive ideological fit” with the “Neoliberal philosophy of complex adaptive systems”. By implication, whilst Resilience thinking was invented with the be nst of intentions, it integrally carried the seeds of a regressive politics. Walker and Coopers article views genealogy as a means by which to show how complexity science increasingly dominates social thought where energy physics or first-order cybernetics once held sway. Resilience thinking is indicative of the new, if “tacit”, union of nature and society which over-determines thought in fields from critical infrastructure protection to sustainable development.
Whilst Walker and Cooper are keen to emphasise the originally antagonistic concerns of Holling and Hayek, and as such, to note the ambivalence of the original sources of resilience thinking, genealogy allows us to tell the story of how ‘Resilience thinking’ moved from an early “position of critique (against the destructive consequences of orthodox resource management), to one of collusion”, thereby becoming the signature of the operation of Neoliberal governmentality. The movement mapped by genealogy is of a procession, from a critical function to its opposite. Where Resilience thinking operates within a wide variety of fields, we can adduce an increasingly unified contemporary meaning, function and politics, expressive of Hayekian ontologies of market self-organisation. Where we see the signature of Resilience thinking today, the point which Walker and Cooper conclude on is that we should develop critiques that refuse categorically to draw on the terms of complex systems theory, and instead seek to think against the Resilience framework. This has very much set the tone for subsequent works.
The second Foucaultian analysis of resilience I will examine is Jonathan Joseph’s 2013 Resilience as embedded neoliberalism: a governmentality approach. Joseph argues that “it is through a Foucaultian understanding of governing that we learn most about what the concept of resilience is actually doing” (40), and therefore, implicitly, draws from the genealogical method which underpins Foucault’s work on governmentality. He argues, in a manner that resonates with Walter and Cooper’s analysis, that Resilience is an indicator of the dominant forms of neoliberal governmentality: “the recent enthusiasm for the concept of resilience across a range of policy literature is the consequence of its fit with neoliberal discourse. This is not to say that the idea of resilience is reducible to neoliberal policy and governance, but it does fit neatly with what it is trying to say and do. A brief glance at the concept’s origins shows it to have certain ontological commitments that make it ideally suited to neoliberal forms of governance.5” Whereas its origins in ecological writings emphasised the possibility for change and restructuring, Joseph argues that the general disposition to adapt to and absorb social shocks of all kinds fits neatly into a broader pattern of social theorisation, which takes place under the aegis of new materialism, complexity and network analysis, which seeks to “render the world governable in certain ways”6.
The issue at hand for Joseph is also that resilience thinking has a neat fit with the ontological commitments of Neoliberal power (39). It is adopted by governments and other agencies as a consequence. The spread of resilience discourse is explicable because it serves and promotes visions of the world which are distinctively neoliberal. Resilience supports and reaffirms the kinds of social relations, systems of governance and responsible autonomous subjects which neoliberalism wants (40). Joseph thinks that philosophical discussions of Resilience miss the (Foucaultian/Genealogical) point, since “its rise to prominence is the result of being in the right place at the right time. Contemporary conditions have given rise to certain practices of governance by which the idea of resilience finds a home”. To understand Resilience we must place it within the “the emergence and embedding of specifically neoliberal forms of governance” which seeks to limit government and ‘govern at a distance’ (41).7 The point, therefore, is governance finds Resilience a useful concept for intervening to promote “private enterprise and individual initiative” (42) as well as a range of other things neoliberalism likes.8 Neoliberalism is the “logic behind the rise of resilience” (42).
A clear vision of genealogical method is in evidence here, as tracing the capture of the concept by the broader governmentalities that deploy it (40). Joseph argues that he does not collapse resilience into neoliberalism at the level of meaning. Rather his method is to show how “the effects of the use of the concept” by neoliberal discourse (44). Scepticism about the concept amongst governments on the European continent is due to the less pervasive quality of neoliberal ideas (49). Joseph concludes that “resilience does not really mean very much and whatever meaning it does have changes depending on the context.” (47). The concept of resilience itself is a “shallow” buzzword, and its presence little more than an epiphenomena of the “rolling-out [of] neoliberal governmentality” (51). Politically speaking, however, we should seek to oppose and resist this process. Since the concept resonates with the idea that we need not change the Neoliberal reality but must rather learn to adapt to it (42-3), we need to be rid of resilience, for its continuing presence is symptomatic of neoliberal depoliticisation (52).
The final text is a 2014 book length work by Brad Evans and Julian Reid, Resilient Life: the art of living dangerously.9 Unlike Joseph’s article, this is a resolutely philosophical text. It is also set from the start as a critique of the ‘resilience agenda’, which the authors see as approaching a “universal dogmatism”. As for the previous authors, resilience is understood as a form of political intervention which assumes insecurity and vulnerability is the natural order of things, and as such, that “resilience strategies… [are] intuitively in keeping with neoliberalism and its systems of rule” (31xi). Resilience precludes any attempt to remake the world, or rather imagine the conditions of its remaking. Resilience thinking is surrender to Neoliberalism.
This is an account which is similarly explicitly genealogical, as “an exercise [that] positively embraces what Foucault termed the history of the present” (24). The central pivot of the analysis is the claim that it is the underlying principles of Liberalism that have changed, and the purpose of their analysis is to show how and understanding of life itself as resilient is at the heart of this. Where once Liberalism was built around a security imperative, the dream that the bounded community may be secured has been replaced by “a catastrophic imaginary that promotes insecurity by design”(2). The “ideal of resilience” (2) is, they argue, linked to an abandonment of the security imperative. Now “exposure to danger” has become a “planetary obligation” (2,4). The result is an utter desolation of political reason, and affirmative resistant politics, in place of systematic reactionary pursuit of survival. The rise of resilience thinking is the end of all potential for a political challenge to Neoliberal doctrine. The new normal is one in which a “sense of endangerment” (8) is naturalised, alongside the normalisation of market rule. We are thus cheated or any means to die affirmatively in the pursuit of ethical or political projects (13). In abandoning the security impulse, instead we are expected to live in a normalised state of “petrified awe”. Resilience is a vision of the community as “insecure by design” (21). This ideology of error makes politics, and certainly revolutionary politics, outdated, replacing it with technocratic rule (24-25). In this way Resilience offers a “key strategy in the creation of contemporary regimes of power” (32).
Contra Joseph, Resilience is more than a utile tool of Neoliberal doctrine. The doctrine of Resilience is an inherently and essentially reactionary vision of life (37). Evans and Reid build on Foucault’s Genealogy of liberal biopolitics (38), but go beyond it. Resilience arises with the “changing cartography of liberal power” (41). Unlike Joseph, for whom Resilience is captured by complex systems of Neoliberal rule but has little content of its own, for Evans and Reid it is “this biologised notion of the subject is shaping the practices of liberalism contemporarily” (my emphasis 40). It is “Resilient Life” which is the mover of the shift from Liberalism to Neoliberalism, and concomitant shift from fostering security seeking subjects to resilient subjects who are required to accept insecurity. Their argument is that the “terms of legitimacy of liberal regimes have changed in accordance with a much altered account of the life whose existence is now said to be endangered” (44). Neoliberal subjectivity (60) cannot stand still, and can only embrace its exposure – it is, therefore a fortiori resilient subjectivity. Evans and Reid seek to demonstrate that the compatibility of Resilience with neoliberal rule is based on a deep ontological link (75-76). This tension is explained via Agamben, who they read as saying that economics was always “praxis of governance that functions naturally by adapting to the nature of the object of governance”(76). Evans and Reid argue that “if there is anything fundamental to liberalism then it is this: one cannot understand how liberalism functions, most especially how it has gained the global hegemony that it has, without addressing how systematically the category of life has organised the correlation of its various practices of governance, as well as how important the shift in the very understanding of life, from the human to the biospheric, has been for changes in those practices” (77). Genealogy here is the mapping of fundamentally discontinuous, but nonetheless systematic conceptions of life, which are diagrammatically prevalent at different points in time. What has changed is the understanding of life which defines Neoliberalism. And this understanding is resilient. Here it is ecological reasoning, and the new account of life it creates, which is the enabler for entrepreneurial capitalism (77).
If differing in their causal claim regarding the significance of resilience, like Joseph, Evans and Reid lament the attack on the social state (47) by “strategically promoting continual adaptation” (48). This logic “is politically debasing, for it is on account of such an arrogant transfer of assumptions that the subject is denied the capacity to demand of the regime that governs it that it provides freedoms from the dangers which it perceives are threatening it” (62). In the strongest sense, “the resilient subject is not a political subject” (42). Calling for a return to security and visions of freedom that do not collapse into exposure.(64) Evans and Reid call for a return to social responsibility (65); a “re-articulation of a vernacular concept of security is essential to such a purpose” (72). There are also links, in Evans and Reid’s case, to Walker and Cooper’s analysis, in their recognition that Neoliberalism appropriates the emphasis on sustainability from critiques of neoliberalism (71). Clearly, the rise of resilience thinking is linked to the success of critiques of security thinking, but it is clear that Evans and Reid genealogy is making a far more ambitious claim, that the Resilient subject embodies “the futility of resistance” (82) under the account of life that defines neoliberal discourse.10
Evans and Reid reject categorically any idea that there might be a mode of resilience that emerges somehow actively and politically ‘from below’.11 The concept is inherently reactionary.12 In this light, unsurprisingly, Evans and Reid call for us to reject resilience (119). Rather we should seek to imagine roads to transformation, by imagining new political worlds (136). Evans and Reid seek an “alternative and more poetic vocabulary” to bring in a new politics of finitude, and claim that resilience cannot help us here: “strategies of resilience… put the very question of death into question by removing it from our critical gaze,” which inhibits political imagination (170). Resilience leave us without “a subject capable of conceiving the possibility of worldly transformation” (194-5).
I am, as I have elaborated elsewhere, not unsympathetic to the claim that “political truths are told by subjects that risk life”.13 My concern, rather, is methodological. Joseph makes the claim that resilience is a mobile concept that shifts according to the needs of exterior users, yet has a curious fit to neoliberal doctrine. Walker and Cooper also argue that resilience is comprehensible via media of Neoliberalism’s contingent capture of initially hostile critiques, on the one hand, whilst also noting the ‘intuitive’ ontological fit between Resilience thinking and Neoliberalism, on the other. What is distinctive about Evans and Reid’s claim is that they claim to have found the explanation of this intuitive fit; an ontology of life itself. The belief that resilience tells us something intrinsic about life is clearly a problematic reification, but there is a danger here, and also in Walker and Cooper and Joseph’s texts, that resilience becomes reified. All three analyses mobilise Foucault to make relative claims about the peculiarly Neoliberal political content of the term ‘Resilience’. For all three texts, thinking with resilience today is thinking with and for the strategy of Neoliberal power. It seems clear that the strong claim that this is a necessary relation is only present in Evans and Reid, but there is certainly an implicit appeal to it in the other two texts. This is clear in that all three texts are united in their call to resist neoliberalism by standing apart from and opposing the logics of resilience it adopts. Is it necessarily the case that where we see the concept of resilience we see the operation of a Neoliberal strategy of power? Is it necessarily the case that resistance to power must take the form of a conceptual opposition to its strategy, that is to say acting from a position external to its logics? In the following section I will examine the relationship between power, genealogy and strategy in Foucault, and suggest some reasons why we might resist such a claim.
Foucault, Strategy and Genealogy
At the end of Michel Foucault’s 1982 article The Subject and Power he set out his understanding of how “relations of power” are associated with what he called “relations of strategy”. In this text, Foucault also spelt out his distance from the Frankfurt School’s critique of Instrumental Reason.14 Foucault makes clear that he is interested in investigating the “links between rationalisation and power” only in specific contexts. 15 Whereas Charles Taylor read this as a progression on to Frankfurt School,16 Foucault is more commonly read as making a radical break from their model of critique: “What we have to do is analyse specific rationalities rather than always invoke the progress of rationalisation in general”.17 This new model of critique requires analysing the history of “power relations through the antagonism of strategies”.18 What is at issue, Foucault argued, is how relationships of power have become defined by a strategic struggle to determine the conditions of free action or conduct.19
Foucault defines the exercise of power (786) as “an ensemble of actions which induce others to follow from one another” (786). Power is not a matter of consent or domination, violence or passivity, it is “an action upon an action, on existing actions or on those which may arise in the present or future” (789). Foucault thus understands power as a strategic relationship.20 Power influences conduct understood as a way of behaving “within a more or less open field of possibilities” (789). Foucault argues that power is exercised when it acts upon that field of possibilities; as such, it is impossible to think the nature of power without also thinking about the “complicated interplay” of strategies. It is worth observing that Foucault is precisely not concerned to determine a ‘kind’ of action which conducts conduct and another ‘kind’ of action which counter such conducting of conduct, but rather to demonstrate that relations of power of all kinds, including forms of resistance, are strategically engaged in the determination of the field of action.21
Foucault argues that strategy may be understood in three ways, as i) “a question of rationality functioning to arrive at an objective”, ii) “the way in which one seeks to have the advantage over others” and, iii) “of the means destined to obtain victory” (793). He recognises that the defining locations for strategic interactions and though, which combine all three, are “war or games”.22 Foucault goes on to say that in other situations “the distinction between the different senses of the word ‘strategy’ must be maintained” (793). In these three different understandings of strategy we see three different relations of power. It is worth quoting Foucault at length:
“Referring to the first sense… one may call power strategy the totality of the means put into operation to implement power effectively or to maintain it. One may also speak of a strategy proper to power relations insofar as they constitute modes of action upon possible action, the action of others. One can therefore interpret the mechanisms brought into play in power relations in terms of strategies. But most important is obviously the relationship between power relations and confrontation strategies. For, if it is true that at the heart of power relations and as a permanent condition of their existence there is an insubordination and a certain essential obstinacy on the part of the principles of freedom, then there is no relationship of power without the means of escape or possible flight. Every power relationship implies, at least in potentia, a strategy of struggle, in which the two forces are not superimposed, do not lose their specific nature, or do not finally become confused. Each constitutes for the other a kind of permanent limit, a point of possible reversal (793-4).”
Foucault argues that such confrontations or “points of insubordination” show that struggle is integral to power relations.23 Foucault concludes his piece by claiming that “the locking together of power relations with relations of strategy” is a central marker of the history of societies, and must be the object of genealogical analyses (795). In his lectures, Foucault puts this in relationship to what he refers to as counter-conducts, which underpin his genealogy of governmentalities and their resistance around the Christian pastorate.24 Recent literatures concerned with elaborating the concept of “counter-conduct” have done an excellent job of demonstrating how problematic imaginations of resistance in term of “standing apart from, and in direct confrontation with, the power they oppose” are in light of Foucault’s analysis. In particular, the assumption that concepts, movements or actors can be “categorized as either revolutionaries or collaborators, on the side of either governors or the governed” has been critiqued inasmuch as it fails to acknowledge that Foucault understood power and its confrontation as a complex interrelationship of strategies. 25 Clearly the reification of one kind of action, as being essentially a form of power or counter-conduct, is not Foucault’s point. We should not to confuse a specific strategic relationship for an essential political meaning. In their emphasis on developing analytics by which we might examine contemporary resistance and protest movements,26 literatures on counter-conduct have, however, by and large failed to develop the methodological significance of Foucault’s point and its debt to the genealogical research programme invented by Nietzsche. This is to say that genealogies are not genealogies unless they acknowledge the primacy of lines of escape, or confrontation strategies, which Deleuze identified as the methodological pivot of Foucault’s work.27
As Foucault put it in a 1976 lecture; Genealogy is “the union of erudite knowledge and local memories which allows us to establish a historical knowledge of struggles and to make use of this knowledge tactically today.”28 Examining the relationship between strategies of confrontation and strategies of power, and placing this connection at the driving seat off the history of the present, is the apparent motivation for Foucault’s turn from archaeological to genealogical analysis in the 1970s and 1980s.29 The seriousness with which he read Nietzsche, and his connection of “the analyses of systems of signs with the analysis of forms of violence and domination”, is very clearly articulated in lectures to the College de France he gave in 1970-1971.30 Here ‘the will to know’ is, following Nietzsche, divided off from the illusion that we can find truths in history, which, of course, is to identify another kind of truth that is “freed from this truth-lie” (the truth of truth as lie) which opens up the possibility of tactical intervention in the present.31 Though it is certainly the case that, in the lectures he gave just before his death in 1983-1984 on the Stoics and Cynics, he emphasised the role of truth-telling in ancient philosophy, it seems unlikely that his aim was to identify a new transcendent meta-methodology for Zarathustra-like prophetic interventions given his previous statements.32 If there is a principle difference between their understandings of the ‘truth of the truth-lie’ it appears to be that, whilst for Nietzsche, genealogy offers the vehicle for a universal will to the transvaluation of values, which would later take the form of the conceptual personae of the prophetic Zarathustra, Foucault remains clear that critique remains always bound to the specificities of the dispositif/assemblage of power-relations in question.33 As such, the deployment of genealogy is tactical, local and specific, for Foucault, not strategic and generic, as it might appear to be for Nietzsche. Having said that it is following Nietzsche that Foucault argues that the purpose of genealogy is not to allow “the past to present itself as itself” but to make an “intervention in the present”.34 Whilst Foucault’s approach to Genealogy is distinctive,35 and clearly differs from Nietzsche’s formulation, it is also clear that Foucault did not claim any break from the key methodological associations that Nietzsche gave to the term.36
In this light, a return to Nietzsche’s original Genealogy of Morals, in particular, the essay “Guilt, Bad conscience and the like,” will be helpful. This is the essay that inspired the most famous elements of Foucault’s genealogical turn, and sets up criterion for the study that became Discipline and Punish. Here the central function of Genealogy, or “Real History” as Nietzsche calls it, is clearly anti-systematising; a reintroduction of difference, contingency, and the accidental play of forces as drivers for history, and in particular the history of ideas. Foucault explicitly takes these points in his discussion of genealogy as the rejection of any and all stories of origin, through the study of lines of descent, and of the constitutive process of historical emergence through confrontation on that line.37 These confrontations take the form of a procession of “dominations”, but “the fact of domination may only be the transcription of a mechanism of power resulting from confrontation and its consequences”38. It is clear, for Foucault following Nietzsche, that “every strategy of confrontation dreams of becoming a relationship of power”,39 as such, historical analysis cannot make the assumption that power precedes, somehow, resistance to it. The success of resistance is the creation of a new power relation. Power-relations are indissociable from relations of strategy.
To bring this back to the subject at hand, to think the strategic function of resilience, for example, requires that we distinguish between, but also recognise the shifting historical relations between: 1) Resilience as a “power-strategy”, 2) Resilience as a “strategy proper” and 3) Resilience as a “confrontation strategy”. Clearly, Evans and Reid are concerned to identify Resilience with the totality of the contemporary strategy of power, and the texts written by Walker and Cooper and Joseph are more inclined to view resilience as a contingent strategy proper to Neoliberal power relations. Foucault, however, makes it clear that it is the latter which is “most important”, in that it defines and orientates the former two by marking the constitutive points of insubordination within any strategic relationship. In this light, it seems reasonable to ask why Resilience’s active role within the history of confrontation is assumed to have relatively little relevance to struggles today. Must the role of resilience in political confrontations be limited to its early development as a critique of resource management in Holling’s ecological theory? Must we infer that it no longer carries any confrontational or critical heft, as Reid and Evans, Walker and Cooper, and Joseph all claim, and that we must simply oppose Resilience? Nietzsche can offer us useful methodological signposts for answering these questions.
Nietzsche wrote The Genealogy of Morals in explicit opposition to texts that assume we can uncover the fundamental meaning of systems of religious faith by identifying the signature of its origins in its contemporary forms.40 Nietzsche sets out to unpack where Christian morality comes from, but is radically opposed to such a search for original or fundamental meanings.41 What makes Genealogy a ‘real history’, for Nietzsche, is its refusal to identify a single origin, meaning or event, which lets us know the fundamental truth or essence of, say, Christian morality. Christian morality is seen as the result of a conjugation of a number of diverse lines of development, and the moral system is seen to include multiple concepts – including, guilt, resentment, shame, cruelty, conscience, obligation, responsibility, sin and punishment. This moral architecture emerged from a wide variety of different processes, including, the turning of aggression inwards with urbanisation, the resentment of slaves against their masters, the links between debt-collection practices and cruelty in primitive societies, priests’ will to dominate, and so on.42 He argues that morality is the result of the continent assemblage of all these different processes, each forming a different element of the moral machinery, linking together sin, ought, punishment, duty, and so forth, through largely incidental processes wherein particular socio-historical agents or actors found particular use in constructing each concept or element in a particular way in relation to particular practices. The point is to see how power relations are diversely involved in this assemblage. So, Nietzsche is not genealogically seeking out a fundamental truth residing in the contemporary concept of morality. He is making the opposite claim; that the meaning of morality is subject to a history of permanent hijackings by all kinds of social forces. Genealogy recounts the episodes of struggle between different wills, each trying to impose an interpretation, use or significance on the conceptual object (punishment, duty, etc.) that go into a ritual, social practice, system of belief, or moral order, and thereby disentangle the separate strands of meaning that have come together in contingent unity in the present.43 To quote Nietzsche directly: “We want historians to confirm our belief that the present rests upon profound intentions and immutable necessities. But the true historical sense confirms our existence among countless lost events, without a landmark or a point of reference”. Clearly Resilience thinking, much like Christian morality (indeed, Evans and Reid argue that it is a kind of moral order) similarly assembles a variety of diverse concepts including adaptability, flexibility, mobility, bouncing-back in the face of adversity, learning from disaster, and decentralised decision making, which also have emerged from a multiplicity of sources, practice, processes and disciplines. It should be clear why a generic location of ‘Resilience thinking’ within a historical progression from sovereignty to biopolitics, or with a progression from critical ecological thinking to a neoliberal ideological hegemony might be problematic. The principle danger, with respect to the Genealogies of Resilience reviewed above, is that expressed by Alberto Toscano with respect to Agamben’s recent work, that they fail to “attend to the possibility … that the resilience of certain thought forms… might be less relevant than their redeployment to radically different ends, within incommensurable contexts”.44 The resilience of Resilience, that is to say, its presence across numerous disciplines and contexts, is likely to involve a number of distinct and incommensurable forces or processes of capture and mobilisation.
Genealogy is the history of in-commensurabilities, of redeployments to radically different ends within quite different contexts, by radically different powers. As an anti-systematising method, it precludes any kind of historical progression. It allows only for the “succession of processes of subjugation, more or less profound, more or less independent, which operate on the thing”. In this sense, Genealogy will always find that, as Nietzsche put it, the “the form is fluid, the meaning is even more so”, as they emerge and evolve through and in capture by the constant play of historical forces.45 Genealogy’s most important feature is that it does not claim that the history of a concept, system of beliefs, social practice, ritual, etc., provides any indication as to its current meaning, form, or political utility, since all modes of thought, social practices, belief systems, etc., are multiplicities defined by histories of the capture and contingent assemblage of their constituent parts by historical forces of diverse kinds. The point Foucault draws explicitly from this is that our genealogies should focus on the struggles that define that history. My central point is, therefore, that whilst Resilience is clearly a good candidate for genealogical research, it cannot be genealogically found to have an essential contemporary meaning or political content, say, as Neoliberal – after all, Neoliberalism is its own shipwreck of conceptual associations.
The political content of a concept is assembled through its capture and use by historical forces. This is something which Joseph recognises. The inference Josephs then draws, with only limited caveats, is that resilience must be rejected forthwith as a corrupted concept. We cannot, of course, fail to recognise the utility and function of resilience thinking under Neoliberal rationalities, but we should problematize any neatness and finality with which this is posited as the marking essential political meaning upon the concept. Foucaultian studies of resilience see themselves as identifying the systematic spread of a ‘kind of thinking’ across numerous fields of concern, unifying them around a particular system of ideas or political diagram (Neoliberalism), that is therefore showed to constitute the dominant formation of power/knowledge. The signature of the concept is an identifier of this transcendental political content: ‘Resilience thinking’ becomes the irrevocable signature of the operation of Neoliberal power. To read Resilience as Neoliberal in this way is to achieve the precise inversion of the methodology which Foucault adopts from Nietzsche. Genealogy becomes a means to identifying the truth inhering in a concept today, marking a concept with a signature that over-codes all its previous or subsequent meanings. It appears to be in this vein that Josephs suggests that all new materialism, network thinking, carry the irrevocable seeds or signature of neo-liberal power. Evans and Reid put this claim even more strongly, in asserting that resilience is inherently neoliberal. The point of genealogy is that the political meaning associated with a particular use of a thing, whether it is a concept, a ritual or an object, does not have any universal qualities.
Tracing “signatures” is the methodological heart of Agamben’s work on the Political Theology of the market (providential Oeikonomia) in The Kingdom and the Glory. In this text, Agamben traces the concept of the market back to early Augustinian discourse on the holy trinity and identifies therein the emergence of a concept of the “divine economy”. In doing so, he adds an addendum to his famous work on the biopolitics-sovereignty nexus, ambiguating his account of the theological roots of modern politics and society: “Agamben paints political modernity as trapped in mechanisms fabricated by Christian modernity” (Toscano 229), drawing on the concept of “the signature” to genealogically identify the hidden theological machine that underpins all the operations of our supposedly secular world. If, as Toscano suggests, we must better attend to the genealogy of redeployments and struggles within different contexts (230), we must attend to the history of “means of escape or possible flight” that define the emergent descent of a thing, whether it be a concept, social practice, ritual, etc. (794 Foucault). We should be concerned with unpacking the genealogy of the multiplicity of conceptual forms, practices, and ideas that assemble into “resilience thinking” so as to determine its relevance to the confrontation strategies by which power relations are continually confronted. To think this means ‘reaching a judgement on whether resilience is good or bad’ is really to completely miss the genealogical point. The same critique applies to histories of concepts like ‘The Social,’ which have undergone similar kinds of ‘analysis by reification’ in recent years.46
The point here is not that we shouldn’t be interested in how Neoliberal rationalities find uses for Resilience thinking, but that Resilience thinking itself does not have any integral political meaning. Use does not indicate essential meaning, only a place within relations of strategy. As Price noted, “the starting point for drawing from the insights of methods such as genealogy is… their value in opening up insightful, important, and fruitful avenues of inquiry.”47 The danger, therefore, is that the mode of deployment of genealogy ends up closing off avenues of inquiry into resilience and its tactical utility to the present rather than opening them up. All concepts carry a history of confrontation over their meaning and use, as do all social forms, rituals, practices and institutions. Analytic and political dead ends arise when genealogy becomes solely concerned with telling the story of a supposedly coherent strategy of power, and fails to be concerned with uncovering the history of confrontation that remains integral to it. 48 To write the genealogy of resilience thinking requires we take seriously its history as a confrontation strategy, not because this tells us what the term ‘really means’, but because this is the only way to avoid reifying our conceptual object, that is to say, confusing a specific use for an essential meaning.