The boundaries of building societal resilience: responsibilization and Swiss Civil defense in the Cold War

Florian Roth, Tim Prior


Resilience has become a dominant paradigm in a wide range of risk and security agendas. In this article we describe the modes in which resilience approaches in the domain of civil protection responsibilize social actors and citizens to ‘do their part’. We also examine some of the problems such attempts to ‘make the people resilient’ might raise. Specifically, by using an historical case study of the Swiss civil defense system as example illustrating how a political agenda can be used to proliferate individual responsibility for societal safety and security through instruction, we argue that measures labeled as ‘resilience-building’ can easily fail to meet their stated goals. Policies aiming at building resilience in a top-down fashion risk becoming counterproductive, especially if public policy aims to persuade or ‘nudge’ individual perceptions and behavior, as people feel manipulated or scared. It appears imperative to address the political and ethical boundaries of resilience-building efforts in order to understand and improve the effectiveness and democratic legitimacy of current resilience policies.


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