Studying societal resilience in Australia

From the ongoing exhibition "First People" at the Museum of Melbourne
From the ongoing exhibition "First People" at the Museum of Melbourne
Dear readers,

Since one and a half months (and for the month to come) I am located in Brisbane, Australia, as a guest researcher at Griffith University. I am here in order to work on my postdoctoral research project entitled Societal Resilience: An international discourse analysis. The aim of the project, which was granted by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), is to conduct a comparative analysis, of how the notion of Community/Societal Resilience is (or is not) established as an object within a broader societal safety discourse, in Sweden, Australia and Brazil. The three countries are interestingly different in political governance as well as in the kind of challenges to societal safety and security that they face.

The questions that I ask are inspired by a Foucauldian archaeology and include:
  • What are the "conditions of possibility" behind the constitution of community/societal resilience as a discursive object in Sweden, Australia and Brazil?
  • Which statements are possible within the discourse? Which statements are not?
  • What are the discursive practices? (essentially the policies, strategies and research institutions emerging with the aim of building resilient societies) 
  • What are the materialisations of the discursive objects? (essentially how the notion of resilience changes the system behaviour, including the behaviour of actors who have never heard about the notion of resilience). 
  • How does the constitution of resilience as a discursive object change power relations? (essentially who win and who loose from the discursive practices and materialisations of the discourse)
The questions do not include normative aspects of coming up with a "better" definition, assessment method or strategy to enhance societal resilience. Rather they include the curious search for the what currently makes the quest for increased resilience logical and non-controversial within the discourse of societal safety and security.

I approach these questions using a some different methods, including an extensive review of the scientific literature (currently exploring the fields of resilience ecology and neoliberalism), analysis of policy documents (including documents from the UN, the World Bank, Australia, Sweden and Brazil), and loosely structured interviews with representatives of the Queensland State Department of Community Safety, the Queensland State Department of Local Government, Community Recovery and Resilience (yes, the notion is included in the name of a state department!), as well as representatives of local and regional governments in the state of Queensland (going to Bundaberg in a couple of weeks). I conduct these studies in parallel with studying the notion of discourse from a Foucauldian perspective.

It is not uncommon that in research we start with an answer for which we want to build an argument, and there is nothing wrong with so doing - research is not a linear process, but in this project I actually have no clue what the answer will be (or even which questions I will eventually answer). I am seriously curious and the current document analysis and literature review is so much fun! 

Last Tuesday I also made a visit to the headquarters of Emergency Management Queensland; a complex designed for enhancing coordination and cooperation between rescue services, police and healthcare. Fascinating to see how they in practice try to gather and synthesise information (including trending twitter feeds) in a manner than enhance their own adaptive capacity. 

In much combination with these studies I spend lots of time with my dear friends Eder and Roel together with whom I have worked and studied in Sweden, Brazil and Australia. Life as a postdoctoral scholar rocks!
Sunday barbecue in the park
So, where should I now drive my segway? #adaptivecapacity
Only in Brisbane 


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