Governing humanitarian emergencies, protracted crises, and (in)security through resilience

Rosanne Anholt

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‘Resilience’ occupies a prominent place in contemporary discussions around the governance of humanitarian emergencies, protracted crises and insecurity more broadly. The aim of this study was to further our understanding of resilience as a governance rationality and a policy discourse, in particular with regards to the gap between scholars’ critique and resilience’s rapid uptake in practitioner circles. The academic debates on resilience within a variety of disciplines were reviewed, combined with 13 key informant interviews with resilience experts from a range of international development, humanitarian, and peacebuilding organisations at the governmental, inter-governmental, and non-governmental level. The results indicate that resilience is first and foremost a response to a radically different understanding of contemporary risks and crises as inevitable and complex. Practitioners add that resilience is also a response to the current structures of the international system that are ill-fitted to address the needs that arise out of contemporary protracted crises. While scholars point towards resilience’s dynamics of decentralization and responsibilisation that mirror neoliberal logics, practitioners point to the reverse: smarter programming that (problematically) necessitates joint-up efforts between humanitarian action and development assistance. There is nevertheless a common concern about resilience’s potential for depoliticisation, rendering invisible the structural factors that limit individuals’ agency and that (partly) define their vulnerabilities. In conclusion, resilience is an unfinished concept that refers to a certain interpretation of the world that designates a normative construction of how insecurity should be governed. Within a broader context of the ‘turn to complexity’, resilience ultimately seems to be about adaptation within the system, rather than system change. If resilience is to fulfil its potential to be a driver for effective, appropriate and acceptable programmes for peoples affected by violent insecurity, we should start by responsibilising deeper social structures, rather than individuals, for our common vulnerabilities.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherDept. of Political Science and Public Administration
Number of pages66
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2017


  • Resilience
  • Crisis
  • Security
  • Governance


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