Between Innocence and Deconstruction: Rethinking Political Solidarity

The third and final post in our short resilience and solidarity forum, this time from Chris Rossdale. Chris lectures in International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London. His research focuses on anti-militarist social movements and radical political theory. He has also recently edited a special issue of Globalizations on radical political subjectivities, his own contribution exploring the relationship between Emma Goldman and Friedrich Nietzsche through the concept of dance. He can be reached by email thusly.


The ethos of solidarity remains one of the left’s most powerful and enduring ideas, a clarion call for collective struggle in the face of international borders and neoliberal individualism. At the time of writing, my social media feeds are awash with calls for solidarity with Ferguson; thousands also turned out to a solidarity protest at the US embassy. Last week I attended a solidarity fundraiser for the Kurdish Red Crescent, took part in an action organised to coincide with UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, and circulated a petition in solidarity with students who experienced police violence at the University of Warwick. Rarely a day passes at present without some fresh discussion about the particular politics involved in different forms of solidarity with those suffering from the outbreak of Ebola. Across different modes, the practice of solidarity is a part of our everyday political conduct.

Rossdale_pic1

Protestors march after gathering outside the American Embassy in London November 26, 2014, to show solidarity with the family of black teenager Michael Brown who was shot and killed by a police officer in August in Missouri. REUTERS/Paul Hackett

On the one hand, this is clearly a good thing, enabling common political, financial and emotional resources to be shared in important and useful ways. Distance, whether spatial or cultural, can be an alienating force, and practices of solidarity can serve as a powerful redress to such alienation, asserting collectivity and community in the face of division. In this piece, however, my intention is to outline a critique of much of what passes for solidarity, and suggest that more radical or deconstructive understandings are needed if we wish to produce more substantive challenges to political domination.

The particular practices of solidarity I have in mind are those which occur in those contexts (which are many) in which the imbalance of power directly privileges, at least in some forms, one party over another – whether this is in the context of cis-male solidarity in feminist projects, citizen solidarity in migrant and refugee struggles, or, the particular case study I discuss below, Jewish-Israeli solidarity with Palestinians. Continue reading

Governing Through Resilience: Implications for Solidarity and Political Action

The second guest post in our solidarity and resilience forum, this time from Tudor Vilcan. Tudor is a doctoral candidate at the University of Southampton. He seeks to critically investigate how discourses of resilience are put to use as ways to govern society. He is also interested in complexity theories, new materialism and critiques of neoliberalism.


This contribution represents a sum of reflections about solidarity and political action in the context of resilience policies based on a presentation given at the Political Action, Resilience and Solidarity Workshop organized at King’s College London in September 2014. I suggest that there is room to think about political action and solidarity in the context of resilience policies. Political action and solidarity are developed through encouraging individuals and communities to take ownership of their own risk management and build generic adaptive capacities. I argue that the meaning of political action and solidarity is changed in this context, as it provides a localized social engagement that at the same time evacuates political concerns from consideration. For resilience policies to succeed in properly connecting with individuals and communities, they need to find a level of engagement that is not just social, but also political.

Vilcan_pic1

Resilience has become an important idea, especially in the last few years. It has been developed and applied in the context of the environment, threats and hazards, development or thinking about change. More importantly, it has started to make its way into policy making, becoming one way in which society can be governed. At its core, resilience proposes to be a property or capacity of groups, communities or societies to cope with disruptions and still maintain their basic functions.

There is an acute absence of contributions that seek to draw links between resilience on one side and political action and solidarity on the other. This might be because we are told that resilience is about the strengthening of society as a whole to better tolerate shocks and rebuild if necessary. It appears to go beyond concerns with formal politics and deliver a model for governing society that is more appropriate to the interdependent and complex world in which we are living. Such a model emphasizes the need for connections, diversity, broadened participation or devolved governance. It signals a move away from the centralized approaches to policy making to emphasize that society must be seen as a large array of networks, systems and critical infrastructures whose disruption or failure can have catastrophic domino effects. When resilience is conceptualized in such way, political action and solidarity can be seen to represent atavisms of a time when static, concrete political and social categories were popular. In today’s complex and fluid world, they don’t appear to have the same purchase.

Continue reading

Why We’re Not Ditching Resilience Yet…

A guest post in our resilience and solidarity symposium from Rhys Kelly and Ute Kelly. Rhys is a Lecturer in Conflict Resolution at the Division of Peace Studies, University of Bradford. His work currently focuses on the pressing challenges posed by ecological crises (including climate change) and resource depletion (including ‘peak oil’). Retaining a long-standing interest in (peace) education, Rhys’ work is now broadly concerned with investigating what kinds of individual and social learning are needed and possible in the context of increasing global insecurity, which might support just and peaceful transitions to more resilient, ‘sustainable’ communities. Ute is a Lecturer in Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. Her current research interests arise from the intersection of two areas that she has been interested in – the theory and practice of participatory engagement processes (particularly dialogue and deliberation), and the emerging interdisciplinary field of social-ecological resilience. Ute is interested in exploring the communicative and collaborative dimensions of resilience, the relationships between people and the places in which they find themselves, and approaches to enhancing resilience at different levels and in a range of contexts. She also teaches a module on ‘Peace, Ecology and Resilience’ within the BA in Peace Studies, encouraging students to explore the meanings, uses and limitations of ‘resilience’. Rhys and Ute are jointly engaged in exploring the meanings of ‘resilience’ on the ground, particularly for people who have been trying to engage with the converging ecological, economic and energy crises facing us today. Relevant recent joint publications include ‘An Education in Homecoming: Peace Education as the pursuit of Appropriate Knowledge’Journal of Peace Education (2013); and ‘Towards Peaceful Adaptation? Reflections on the purpose, scope, and practice of peace studies in the 21st Century’, Peace Studies Journal (2013).


Those who responded:
engaged with resilience,
thoughtfully active.

‘I want you’, she said,
‘to ditch ‘resilience’ now’.
How, then, to resist?

Part of a sequence of haikus about ‘10 days in September 14’ for a collective zine, these two fragments are an attempt to convey Ute’s experience of the workshop on ‘Political Action, Solidarity and Resilience’. The first tried to describe the people who responded to a survey we had created to gather reflections on ‘resilience’.[i] The responses to our survey were thoughtful and reflective, and most came from people who are critical of the status quo and trying to respond to a set of crises that includes climate change and the degradation of ecosystems, energy depletion, austerity, conflict, inequality and injustice. Interestingly, many of our respondents appreciated the opportunity to reflect on their own understandings of ‘resilience’, on the contexts in which they had seen the concept appear, and on its strengths and limitations.

Kelly_pic1

The second haiku poses a question that emerged from some of the discussions at the workshop itself – in particular, a tendency on the part of some of the contributors to dismiss the idea that ‘resilience’ might be a helpful concept, to conflate a focus on ‘resilience’ with neoliberal agendas, and/or to construct ‘resilience’ and ‘resistance’ as mutually exclusive concepts.

Such a construction, we feel, is too narrow, too caught up in looking at how ‘resilience’ has been used in some (not all) academic and policy discourses, and too dismissive of genuine attempts to grapple with ‘the fragility of things’, with a real sense of converging crises. Continue reading

Solidarity and Resilience: A Forum

Between 19-21 September 2014, resident blogger Wanda and King’s College partner-in-crime, Nicholas Michelsen, organised a workshop with the theme of Solidarity & Resilience at King’s College, London. Before the special issue hits the stands, we have gathered for our readership a small forum of contributions to sample some of the hot topics discussed over that weekend. The organisers would also like to use this opportunity to thank all those who participated in the event. It was really a tremendous gathering that shattered many old ideas and made possible new ones!


Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 13.34.02

As most good things happen, the “Political Action, Resilience and Solidarity” workshop was born over post-conference drinks. A few of us were musing over the proliferation of the term resilience at the 2013 EISA in Warsaw, when someone chimed in the concept’s obvious rival, solidarity. Had we forgotten about this term? Perhaps even declared it dead? The level of excitement grew and we just knew we had to organize an event about this strange pair. Exactly one year later, we met again at King’s College in London, with much appreciated support from the Open University and Westminster University, to unpack the hidden genealogies of these two concepts and muse over their possible associations/combinations.

We hosted panels approaching the matter from the perspective of political theory, conflict studies, governmentality and social movements. In almost every case, resilience appeared to be more malleable (sometimes infinitely malleable perhaps to its detriment and our suspiciousness), befitting contemporary challenges, and just plain… resilient. Solidarity, on the other hand, required complex theorizing, lacked a practical anchoring, was at times entirely absent from some panels, and made a strong comeback only on the closing roundtable thanks to the benevolence of some Marxists speakers.

Certainly, we would not want to do something as simplistic and rash as to declare a winner. Practices of solidarity would certainly benefit from a dose of resilience, and investments in resilience would certainly be a lot richer if they drew upon the latent democratic culture and transformative impetus of solidarity. But it was hard at the end of the two-day event to not feel like we had found ourselves on the threshold between two worlds. There is a great force pushing against the spirit of Enlightenment thinking, with its “enthusiasm for revolution” and its half technocratic, half romantic belief in human-led progress and perfectibility. That force is variously known as complex systems analysis, new materialism, flat ontology or the Anthropocene, all of which describe a connectivity-volatility-fragility nexus for which resilience emerges as the proper mode of action.

Continue reading