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The Resilience Industry: Resilience Discourse and Cultural Production

Session V-14, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Friday, December 2 at 1:30 pm

Panel Description
Over the past two decades, “building resilience” has become the key term in human health and in national security discourses, signaling a new approach to preparedness for both manmade and natural disasters. Resilience is often treated as an unquestioned good, and the ways it reconfigures our relationship to, and concept of, time, community, environment, or “the good life,” often go unquestioned. The embrace of resilience as an end in and of itself, and its cheerful championing by neoliberal institutions, obliges us to ask what other modes of relating to the future are abandoned in favor of resilience’s ideal of individual or communitarian flexibility and adaptability, as well as what lifeforms resilience, as a neoliberal governmentality, defines. This multi-disciplinary panel brings together papers on the manner in which activists, artists, and individual subjects have responded to resilience’s normalizing demands, challenging its ideological use as a practice of control and docility. The papers focus on Palestinian and Syrian refugee daily life and culture, yet reflect on the prevalence of the resilience framework in other regional contexts. There are three prominent questions addressed in the papers: first, they examines how international organizations, such as the UN Development Program, utilize a framework of resilience as they reach out to individuals and collectives, shaping a cultural agenda through access to funding. We ask about the current place of art and culture within broader programs of humanitarian and international aid. Secondly, the papers examine how the premises of resilience become normative for the performance of daily life, and how these norms are problematized or challenged - whether in the choreography of bodies in public space or in the representation of daily life in literature and film. Finally, we consider how the notion of resilience can be supplanted by local, embodied, and “disqualified” knowledge (Giacaman 2019); by practices of political resistance; and by a strive for justice.
Art/Art History
  • Resilience is by no means a new theme to Palestinian literature. To the contrary, stories of the way people stand up to and survive adversities, respond to threat in ingenious ways, and keep their fortitude and good form in the face of danger are what people traditionally seek in literature. Furthermore, theories of reading (for example, Ghassan Kanafani’s adab al-muqawama or resistance literature, or the role of storytelling in Elias Khoury’s Bab el-Shams) often argue that literature is a means of enhancing resilience, both personal and collective. Resilience, often narrated as ṣumud, has been a central theme in Palestinian culture facing decades of violence and settler colonialism. In the past few decades, however, the exploration of the meaning of “resilience” has far exceeded the literary realm. In a world that seems to be prone to uncalculatable uncertainty (Beck 1992), the ill-defined concept of resilience came to be seen as best one could hope for, replacing goals such as prosperity, well-being, or security. Today, scholars in disciplines as diverse as psychology, finance, security, development, or organizational theory strive to identify the building blocks of resilience and design programs to enhance it. Resilience is now defined as a set of capacities that can be built through training and development, another skill in the skillset required of an individual in a neoliberal economy. How has Palestinian literature responded to this new normalized and commodified demand for resilience, its emergence as a “a pervasive idiom of global governance” (Walker and Cooper 2011), and permeation of the NGO sector in Palestine (Keelan and Browne 2019)? This paper analyzes short contemporary stories by the Palestinian writers Adania Shibli, Ala Hlehle, and Majd Kayyal, alongside documents from the 2016-2020 “Resilience Building” program initiated by the United Nations Development Program and the Palestinian Authority, in order to ask how they conceptualize risk, harm, and vulnerability, as well as the new Palestinian resilient subject. My readings demonstrate that while the literature adopts the same view of the future as a complex, unmanageable catastrophe, the new demand for resilience is presented as a test which the contemporary Palestinian subject is bound to fail.
  • How do resistance and resilience relate to one another in a site of conflict? This paper addresses this question through the specific case of the female-identifying bodies of the Palestinian youth engaged in choreographed and semi-choreographed actions of resistance against the Israel Defense and Security Forces in the twenty-first century. In particular, through my Dance and Performance Studies lens and by adopting choreographic analysis as my main methodology, I will focus on how Palestinian female teenagers organize their specific act of throwing rocks not only against occupying powers but as a broader gesture of defiance against patriarchy and antagonistic male subjects at the local, regional, and transnational level. Theoretically, as the first part of the title suggests, this paper references the renown essays by political theorist Iris Marion Young and dance scholar Susan Foster (“Throwing like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment, Motility, and Spatiality” and “’Throwing like a Girl’? Gender in a Transnational World”), expanding the conversation to the complex construction of Arab female corporealities in relation to militarily, politically and socially-constructed apparatuses of conflict. The second part of the title synthesizes my argument as stemmed from the choreographic analysis of amateur, activist, and journalistic videos of Palestinian girls throwing rocks in protests, further informed by ethnographic research in the Occupied Territories. The expression “resisting resilience” presents a double-reading: resilience as a form of resistance and resilience as obstructing resistance. Indeed, in the light of this case study, this paper shows how specific subjectivities, in order to affirm themselves, need to depart from notions of resilience theorized in colonial contexts and advocate for forward-looking and radically transformative futures.
  • The proliferation of works of autofiction and autotheory has not spared the literary field in Palestine-Israel. Authors such as the Palestinian Adania Shibli and the Mizrahi Zohar Elmakias play on these genres, centering the self, her emotions or her biography as means for making sense of the world and for coping with it. But what if the literary trend of self-writing itself participates in the contemporary discourse of resilience, which commands us to engage in “self-care” and “self-help” thus privatizing welfare? Arguing that part of the appeal of Western autofiction is its modeling of “successful” narratives of self-help for its readers, I look to contemporary works of autofiction in Palestine-Israel to examine whether they exhibit similar traits. Do authors foreground the personal as a mode of resilience, to recuperate a shuttered self and an inaccessible history? Do they suggest instead the impossibility of such recuperations? What are the social and political implications of such choices and modes of narration? And what might we learn from the specificities of Arabic and Hebrew autofiction works that might shed new light on this genre more broadly?