The reification of resilience and the implications for theory and practice

A review of academic and grey literature in disaster risk reduction, construction, urban planning and architecture shows that the term ‘resilience’ has been increasingly adopted to describe an ethical posture towards interventions in the built environment. Policy makers in the United Kingdom (UK) have followed this trend and increasingly adopt the resilience language in policy and Government agendas. However, a detailed examination of over 20 UK policy documents and 19 interviews with stakeholders involved in the planning, design, construction and operation of the built environment, reveals a multiplicity of diverse uses and representations of resilience. Moreover, the meaning attributed to the term is often influenced by the professional remits and decision space of policy and decision makers. Given these results, we argue that resilience should not be seen as a consensual concept but rather as an unfolding ethical paradigm through which stakeholders create their own dynamic representations and meanings. By illustrating how the term is often reified in divergent and incompatible ways, we identify five tensions that this creates, and the implications from both a theoretical and a policy perspective. Given the malleable and nebulous nature of the term we suggest that it should be used cautiously within both contexts.