Resilience to conflict: A new foray in reconciliation?
by Eilish BOSCHERT for Shared Future News
25 May 2017

Healing through Remembering welcomed Dr David Backer to present a seminar entitled ‘Resilience to conflict: A new, integrated, granular measure’. The event was co-hosted by Ulster University, which has recently partnered with the University of Maryland to develop lectures on peace tracking. This was their inaugural event.

As the Associate Research Professor for the Department of Government and Politics at University of Maryland, as well as the Assistant Director of the Centre for International Development and Conflict Management, Backer’s research illuminates the emergent idea of resilience in the conflict management sector.

Resilience is a developing concept — a peace studies buzzword gaining traction around the globe. But what does resilience mean, and why does it matter to areas of conflict? The United States Agency for International Development (2012) defines resilience as “the ability of people, households, communities, countries, and systems to mitigate, adapt to, and recover from shocks and stresses in a manner that reduces vulnerability and facilitates inclusive growth”.

According to Backer, resilience is about the stability, restoration, and transformation of people, communities, and countries in the face of adversity.

Backer has been studying conflict for over 20 years, researching the phenomena of conflict, its processes and impacts, and exploring ideas of reconciliation and recovery. He and his colleagues believe that resilience can be charted, with the help of quantitative and empirical research, to forecast instability risks and calculate the likelihood of recurrent conflict. Backer describes this as a “foray” into a new form of measurement: while the forms and functions of this concept have yet to be perfected, it could have striking reverberations around the globe.

Resilience monitoring is a proactive endeavour, encouraging intervention and establishing goals by which to attain better results. On a basic level, this type of research allows others to respond appropriately to stressors. However, the organisational structure of managing and addressing risk promotes an evolution of reactions from the basic response, to learning, monitoring, and finally, anticipation.

In spite of the suggested benefits of resilience research, some skeptics believe that resilience does more harm than good — implying that it is an exclusive and static trait, unable to be learned by people, communities, or countries. Others critique resilience for touting strength when focus and energy should be directed on the vulnerabilities and suffering of communities and institutions and how to best assist them. The ‘resilience’ label creates a dangerous implication that a group may not want or need assistance.

Backer acknowledges and encourages these critiques, recognising that resilience measurement has a long way to go before, and if, it is ever perfected. Critiques such as these assist researchers by directing attention to human issues of equity and justice, as quantitative analyses have the capacity to neglect nuance.

Backer displayed confidence in resilience research, maintaining hope that these endeavors may not only predict conflict around the world, but might also promote transformation through deep analysis of conflicts, their roots, and their triggers. Ultimately, he emphasised the importance of intersectionality. Integrating multiple dimensions allows for a clearer and more nuanced understanding of conflict, with a high success rate of management.

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