Radical resilience

As part of their course Current Trends in Leadership and Change (LFCS05), LFC students have written blog posts about resilience, circular economy practices, stakeholder relations, conflicts in organizations and relational frictions in European monarchies.

The concept of radical resilience in the absence of state presence or assistance has been emerging in different contexts, such as in the United States. The blog post briefly explores the theoretical background, power relations and practical examples of resilience in the context of a sudden absence of governance structures. It also looks into resilience’s criticism and the concept’s implications for leadership.

Anarchism, radical resilience, and power relations

Anarchism comes from the Greek word ‘anarkhia’ and means being without a ruler, contrary to authority (Ward, 2004, p. 1). Anarchism is a political ideology which promotes freedom from all authority. To anarchist groups the enemy is the state and its institutions. Most frequently, anarchist critique of society focuses on power relations and hierarchies (Fiala, 2017).

Resilience comes from the Latin word ‘resilire’, which means to jump back (Bourbeau, 2018, pp. 24-25). It means the capacity of an individual, a state or a system to bounce back after a shock. The concept is often used in psychology and is applied at workplaces as it explains how individuals respond to changes that occur in their environment. Bourbeau argues that the response refers to transforming and remodelling the structure, but that the social context defines how the process of jumping back reforms itself (Bourbeau, 2018, p. 31). Chandler (cited in Bourbeau, 2018, p.27) claims it is “the agency of those most in need of assistance at the center, stressing a program of empowerment and capacity-building”. To him, the individual qualities of resilience create the elasticity and endurance that the situations require. For leadership, the strategy of resilience can mean a crisis, as societies will only respond and not prepare for change (Juntunen & Virta, 2018, p. 67). It has also been suggested that resilience has become another buzzword as it implies jumping back to the former status quo.

In recent years societies have witnessed a growing trend of emergence of new radical groups, including anarchist groups (Mullenite, 2016). The tensions and relations between anarchist groups and states involve power relations. There is a demand to understand and recognize domination – and create ways to overcome it. Radical groups are created to overcome different situations that a group of people consider unequal, unfair or wrong. Anarchism is usually linked to strong and radical resistance against authorities. These authorities can be, for example, laws, rules and different institutions. Anarchist groups view them as top-down, hierarchical, patriarchal and tools to use power (Geoghegan & Wilford, 2014).

The left wing-anarchist tradition sees the state as an inherently antidemocratic institution of domination. The study of the relations between anarchism and the state thus focuses on unjust and unequal conditions (Manicas, 2011). The gap between groups of people and the state creates dissatisfaction leading to radical movements seeking to overcome and change the current situation. Anarchism may also be a counter-reaction to limitations, rules and laws. Anarchist and radical groups may form for different reasons, and there might be several grievances radical groups seek to tackle.

Case studies: New Orleans and Haiti

Radical resilience is most easily understood as something emergent, rising out of, say, natural disasters or a lack of attention from the central government. A state may, for example, choose to rescale itself by ‘pulling back’, and in the process abandon some peripheral communities. In such situations, the affected communities must find a way of surviving; find a way of being resilient and develop self-reliance in order to transform the community. Radical resilience juxtaposes to that of a government-driven resilience, which according to Jon and Purcell (2018) is a technocratic exercise in planning preparedness.

In the case of New Orleans, the hurricane Katrina functioned as the catalyst for radical resilience in 2005. The widely-perceived lackluster response by the President George W. Bush administration was interpreted as a sign that the central government couldn’t be relied upon. Moreover, it wasn’t even that the government wasn’t doing enough, but that the city’s planning agency was about to take the wrong steps by planning to turn certain residential areas into park land, which the locals tried to stop from happening (Jon & Purcell, 2018, p. 242). Jon and Purcell note that in the area of Broadmoor, eventually over 80% of the houses were rebuilt thanks to the efforts of residents. What was supposed to become park land, became a space of continuance for the community. The effort of the citizens can be framed as emergent, bottom-up resilience of communities – instead of technocratic resilience offered by the government. The government saw the destruction of homes and made the assumption that the community was finished, too, but the community was more than just the houses. Radical resilience can form due to a lack of attention by the government, and New Orleans can demonstrate this. Whatever the faults with the government’s relief effort, one thing was clear: President Bush was perceived to be distant from the crisis (Walsh, 2015). It can be argued that the absence of the President was interpreted as a rescaling of the state to a degree, acting as a catalyst for radical resilience. The hurricane Katrina saw the formation of local decentralized collection of initiatives, which offered various disaster relief services on a volunteer basis. These “Common Ground Collectives”, in the words of Southall (2011), did not wait for the government, but took the initiative.

The case of Haiti, after the Earthquake in 2010, is also relevant regarding radical resilience. It highlights the failure of both government and international organizations to rebuild a viable activity (Hannemann, Werthmann & Hauck, 2015). This can be observed by the examples of three informal-temporary camps: Canaan, Corail and Onaville. Haiti is, first of all, a fertile ground for radical resilience because of the lack of democracy, transparency and participation. An emergency situation was a springboard to local initiatives.

Corail camp was implemented by US Army and handled by NGOs providing temporary accommodations and basic supplies forbidding any form of initiatives from the local population. After the inhabitants expressed their frustration toward the international community in 2012, NGOs and external actors started withdrawing. Then, a growing informal community was born and inhabitants proved that they are capable to recover from a catastrophe by themselves, creating economic regeneration and rebuilding their lives. Indeed, “food stores, restaurants, and other businesses were established by inhabitants. Private schools were built, mainly with the help of churches” (Jon & Purcell, 2018, p.14). This echoes with the idea of “cracks” (Jon & Purcell, citing Holloway, 2010), meaning that rising against the current power opens cracks that facilitate radical resilience (alternative relations). Inhabitants were resilient because they handled the reconstruction by themselves, and it was radical because they did not ask for any form of support from the state or international organizations.

Limitations and criticism of resilience

Radical resilience has also limits in the long-term perspective. Leichenko, Mcdermott & Bezborodko have discussed the limitations of resilience through the study of Barnegat Bay region of coastal New Jersey. Resilience requires cooperation between a diverse set of stakeholders who would be able to use their knowledge regarding different fields to tackle obstacles. The authors highlight the need of threat anticipation, insights regarding policy mechanisms and past experiences. Thus, the alternative and local initiatives taken by the inhabitants is a starting point to a policy change and alternative strategies. However, in order to sustain these efforts, inhabitants need the support of a broad suite of stakeholders as well as utilize diverse modes of co-production (Leichenko, Mcdermott & Bezborodko, 2015).

Considering the Infrastructure Resilience Guidelines, created to achieve resilience in response to the hurricane Sandy, it would be essential to consider the promising function and viability of utilizing the guidelines beyond decision on Sandy supplement funds, especially for non-recovery settings and environment (Finucane, Clancy, Willis & Knopman, 2014, p. 35). According to Finucane et al., the guidelines need to be modified for a more holistic comprehensive strategy.

In leadership studies, the overuse of resilience qualities by an individual can drive a person to try to achieve unrealistic goals (Chamorro-Premuzic & Lusk, 2017). Less resilience could help people become less accustomed to adversity. Juntunen and Virta (2019, p. 80) note this as the dark side of resilience: insecurity can become a normal state, making individuals, states or systems stronger, which can decrease the incentive for transformation of these actors. Being overly bold can mean being unaware of one’s limited capabilities, and it can also turn one deaf to others’ suggestions to make things better (Chamorro-Premuzic & Lusk, 2017).

The blog post was compiled by Jasmina Ahonen, Juuso Ilmola, Meredith Chuzel-Marmot, Yuichi Kumazaki, Karoliina Heikkilä and Andrew Jones.


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Manicas, P. (2011). State, power, anarchism: A discussion of the art of not being governed: An anarchist history of Upland Southeast Asia. Perspectives on Politics, 9(1), 92–98.

Southall, N. (2011, April 10). Disaster communism & anarchy in the streets. [blog post]. Revolts  Now. Retrieved from https:// revoltsnow.wordpress.com/2011/04/10/166/

Walsh, K. (2015, August 28). The undoing of George W. Bush. US News. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/the-report/articles/2015/08/28/hurricane-katrina-was-the-beginning-of-the-end-for-george-w-bush

Ward, C. (2004). Anarchism. A very short introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.

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