Governing (in)security and the politics of resilience: The politics, policy, and practice of building resilience in fragile and conflict-affected contexts

Rosanne Marrit Anholt

Research output: PhD ThesisPhD-Thesis - Research and graduation internal

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Governments, donors, international organizations, and (international) non-governmental organizations have turned to ‘building resilience’ as a response to political instability, armed conflict, terrorism, and large-scale refugee movements. The existing, multidisciplinary literature on resilience shows resilience to be, at its most basic level, a capacity to recover from adverse events. Security studies, which picked up on resilience from around the mid-2000s, found resilience to presuppose the inevitability of crises due to the complexity of today’s world; to responsibilize those affected by crises; and to indicate states’ inability to secure life, problematizing traditional, top-down modes of security governance. Yet, little is known about what resilience means in the context of (in)security, how it translates into practice, and what the implications are of this global ‘turn to resilience’. The objective of this dissertation is to understand the significance and implications of the turn to resilience in the global context of governing (in)security, by analysing the use of the notion of resilience in policy and practice. It builds on an analysis of European Union policy documents in the area of security, humanitarian, and development, combined with 13 semi-structured interviews with resilience experts (researchers, policymakers) and 40 semi-structured interviews with 47 humanitarian and development professionals working under the banner of the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. First, security, humanitarian, and development policies, policymakers and practitioners seem to understand resilience, above all, in terms of self-reliance. It is the capacity to respond to crisis and recover from adversity – without external support. At the level of government, this means the development of crisis management capacities, whereas at the level of refugees and vulnerable host communities, resilience means ensuring their economic self-reliance through formal employment. Second, security, humanitarian, and development policies, policymakers and practitioners point to the importance of localization for ‘building resilience’. At the national level, localization refers to national ownership and responsibility of the crisis response, whereas at the sub-national level, international actors use ‘localization’ to denote the ownership and responsibility of local civil society organisations. There are various structural barriers, however, that stymie localization, and policies lack awareness of “the local” as a diverse range of actors at different levels, with divergent and possibly conflicting interests. Third, security, humanitarian, and development policies, policymakers and practitioners emphasize the necessity to collaborate across policy siloes. The nature of contemporary crises necessitates a response where a wide variety of actors work together towards ‘collective outcomes’ on the basis of their complementarity. Breaking longstanding policy siloes is, however, no easy task. Fourth, security, humanitarian, and development policies frame refugees as an economic development opportunity for refugee-hosting countries. For the EU, this framing facilitates a strategy aimed at containing refugees in ‘the region’ and preventing onwards migration to EU Member States. A refugee containment strategy is, however, more likely to increase vulnerabilities and jeopardize what resilience capacities are present within communities and local institutions. For policymakers and practitioners, these findings point to the need to continuously and critically reflect on the interests and agendas that inform taken-for-granted interpretations of resilience, and whether ‘resilience-building’ programmes and related operational practices actually improve the ability of vulnerable individuals and social, economic, and political systems more broadly, to recover from crisis. The findings encourage resilience scholars to further the theoretical development of resilience as a governance rationality, investigate the normative implications of applying resilience in contexts of insecurity and (structural) violence; and more broadly, to study what is necessary for politics, policymaking, and governance to answer to, rather than avoid, emergent, complex life.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Wagner, Wolfgang, Supervisor
  • Boersma, Kees, Co-supervisor
  • van Steden, R, Co-supervisor
Award date11 Jan 2022
Place of Publications.l.
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jan 2022


  • Resilience
  • European Union
  • Global Strategy
  • Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan
  • Humanitarian-Development Nexus
  • Localization
  • Refugees
  • Crisis Governance


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