School of Business and Economics


29 Apr 2015

The Problem of Dying Whilst Resilient: Performing Disaster Response and Recovery

Photo of a fire outdoors Fires can be catastrophic

Title: The Problem of Dying Whilst Resilient: Performing Disaster Response and Recovery

Speaker: Dr Charlotte Heath-Kelly, Warwick University

Date and time: 29th April 2015, 14.00 – 15.00

Venue: School of Business and Economics, Room BE 2.47

Abstract: While resilience has a long history in fields of engineering and ecology, it is a relatively new concept for security actors. Indeed, its introduction into security policy has resulted in a paradigm shift: security has been reformulated as the capacity to recover from disasters. The state has admitted that unpreventable events will happen (a previously unspeakable prospect) and reframed its protective mandate around resilient infrastructure and communities.

Given that security was previously predicated on the state’s ability to protect citizens and territory from harm, this paradigm shift has resulted in some messy and incohesive policy. This paper explores the frayed edges of the transition from ‘security’ to ‘resilience’, with a particular focus on UK policies of emergency management and recovery.

Resilience, like previous iterations of security policy, is only practiced as an anticipatory measure to prepare for the future emergency (“we will be resilient”). Security professionals and policymakers do not conceptualise resilience or security as a state in which we currently exist. And because ‘resilience’ cannot be thought as a state of social relations in the present tense (“we are resilient”), confusion reigns in emergency response & recovery documentation about how to return to a state of ‘resilience’ or ‘security’. How do you return to ‘normality’ when ‘normality’ is not defined? In this absence of knowledge, emergency response instead performs the end of the emergency. Response protocols perform the restoration of normality after major incidents to simulate recovery – because they cannot define resilience or security in the present tense.

Reading UK policy documents as theatrical scripts, this paper explores the practice of disaster management as a stage play. Where the emergency event disrupted politics and plunged knowledge into chaos, practices of response enact the recovery of certainty and stability by walking-back police cordons, reassociating bodies with their previous living identities, and marking the temporal ‘end’ of the event with commemoration and policy timescales for recovery.

Biography: Dr. Charlotte Heath-Kelly is a research fellow at Warwick University and postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies. The British Academy funded her pilot project (entitled Securing through the Failure to Secure: Reclaiming the Sites of Terrorist Attack) which involved case study research at projects of rebuilding, including the New York ‘Freedom Tower’; the ex-Sari Club in Bali; the future use of Utoya island in Norway; and the difficulties in memorialising the London bombings after the death of Jean Charles De Menezes.  She is currently developing this project into a monograph for Manchester University Press entitled 'Death and Security'. Her research interests revolve around critical security studies, counter-terrorism and critical approaches to radicalisation.