Neo-Liberalism Rebooted: Resilience Versus Resistance

  • John G. Glenn
Part of the International Political Economy Series book series (IPES)


This chapter is divided into four parts. The first section takes issue with the post-modernist version of resilience thinking which is elaborated (although not necessarily endorsed) by David Chandler. Resilience discourse is said to provide a solution to the radical uncertainty and unknowability of our social and natural worlds—one that relies on local communities and local knowledges. Chandler argues that current resilience thinking interprets the contemporary period as marking a shift towards a post-risk society where we fully acknowledge our own self-entanglement within the world and government is through society rather than over society. However, two major issues arise concerning resilience thinking. First, there is no in-depth analysis of power arising from the stratification of society. Second, post-modern resilience discourse provides no method by which to differentiate between local knowledges (is all local knowledge to be supported regardless of its political content simply because it is local?).

The second section of the chapter argues that rather than representing some radical rupture with current practices heralding the dawn of a new era, the manner in which resilience has been practically interpreted has effectively led to its incorporation into a larger neo-liberal framework. By emphasizing our supposed inability to intervene effectively in a complex, economic system, resilience thinking represents an ideological behavioural prescription promoting political passivity. As such, it helps mask the failure of political elites to put forward radical policy prescriptions in the face of neo-liberal crises.

The chapter then follows Chandler in developing a Foucauldian analysis of resilience thinking, but one that goes beyond a description of resilience thinking as a ‘regime of truth’ and one that views it as supplementing rather than supplanting neo-liberal governmentalities. It is the one that emphasizes the importance of comparing knowledges through the archaeological and genealogical methods enabling us to go beyond the ‘theoretical and political singularity’ of post-modernism. Using such methods, it is argued that resilience thinking represents an expansion of neo-liberal governmentality, rather than the emergence of a new episteme. In addition, although often overlooked in the literature, Foucault recognized the importance of understanding social structures—by understanding the power relations associated with social differentiations, we can better grasp how some discourses become dominant whilst others are subjugated.

The final section of this chapter therefore situates the emergence of resilience discourse in the context of neoliberalism-in-crisis. This crisis has multiple dimensions, but since 2007/2008 two are key: first, there is, for capital, a ‘realisation problem’, that is, a problem of generating profitable investment opportunities; and, second, a governance crisis over the legitimacy of neoliberalism per se. Resilience thinking has emerged in tandem with a further reduction in state welfare commitments, a further rolling back of employment rights and an intensification of privatisation of national assets. Rather than challenging neo-liberalism, resilience thinking is therefore best understood as a further elaboration of this discourse.


Resilience thinking David Chandler Neo-liberalism Foucauldian analysis 


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • John G. Glenn
    • 1
  1. 1.Politics and International RelationsUniversity of SouthamptonSouthamptonUK

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