Afterword is an overview written by one of the project coordinators. In the spirit of this project, this contribution doesn’t try to bring the 16 texts to a single conclusion: consistent with the nature of resilience, different and even contrasting ideas must not only exist, but also flourish and compete. Nevertheless, these reflections permit one to recognize the characters of a meta-narrative that seems to tell a larger story: the story of a new emerging culture in which all the other stories, in their own way, may exist.
Looking at the texts presented in this section, the first impression is the one of a constellation of ideas, open to different interpretations and, in turn, capable to generate new ideas and interpretations. At the same time, it seems that, in their diversity, they share a tone and a meta-narrative: they all refer to resilience as a fabric of individuals, communities, organizations, objects and places that has to be continually mended and regenerated.
‘When considering resilience,’ writes Alison Prendiville, ‘human actions of collaboration, generosity, care and empathy, must be understood in terms of their social and material configurations within a location and how they are formed over time.’ In the same way, Dilys Williams expresses the need for ‘elastic connection between assertion of individuality, connectivity within community and wider contribution to societal infrastructures.’ And Jeremy Till writes: ‘At heart what we see being played out is the classic tension between structure and agency … resilient systems cannot straddle these differences and implied oppositions on two legs and in two ways, but need to dissolve the gaps so that the founding assumptions of structure and agency are challenged’.
These three statements clearly indicate what many other participants in the CoR discussions proposed: Western culture is largely based on polarities (as structure vs. agency; context vs. individual human expressions; societal infrastructures vs. individuality – just to refer to the previous examples). These polarities have to be recognized in their nature and value but the gap between the two poles on which they are based must be reduced. Or, using a textile metaphor, they must be woven together as the warp and weft of a resilient social fabric.
In general terms, to introduce a metaphor is useful if and when it is generative. That is, if and when it permits us to see something that, alternatively, would have been difficult to see, and to raise questions that alternatively would have been difficult to raise. This could be the case of looking at resilience as a woven fabric. A metaphor that, in our view, gives resilience useful insights, raises difficult, but necessary questions on it and, finally, lays the foundations of a meta-narrative capable of including the whole variety of cultures of resilience, without reducing the richness of their diversity.
For instance, this metaphor of weaving tells us something important about the value of redundancy: in a woven tissue all the yarns have a similar function, and therefore could also be seen as redundant. But, exactly for that, they make the resulting fabric resilient. At the same time, while it makes us better understand how resilience can work, it also indicates how it can fail, showing that, in a woven fabric, a certain kind of cut, even very small, can easily expand, bringing about the fabric’s complete rupture.
Most importantly, the woven fabric metaphor permits one to make an interesting observation on the different nature of the choices to be made. In the weaving work there are the choices related to the warp and ones related to the weft. The first ones require a planning capability: fixing some rules, they define the space of future possibilities. The second ones, related to the weft, are choices that can be freely taken, assuming that they remain in the limits of previously defined space of possibilities. Given that, if resilience asks for diversity and redundancy, and therefore for creativity and freedom of expression, how are the shared rules that make that creativity and freedom possible decided and planned? In turn, facing possible deeper future changes to context, what is the resilience of these shared rules?
Here we will leave these questions open to future discussions. But, considering them, we must observe that this metaphor, as all the metaphors, has a limit (that is, it can give a vivid image of some aspects of resilience, but it cannot capture its reality in all its complexity). In this case, the most evident limit is that woven fabrics are materials characterized by an homogeneity in their texture and a regularity in their making that clash with the messiness of contemporary reality. To overcome these limits our textile metaphor must evolve to a different kind of fabric and, most importantly, we must to adopt a different way to look at it.
‘Resilient-textiles-systems use localised care and repair paradigms with adaptable frameworks, mediating global traversing of textiles, using a bricolage of tools, techniques and agents.’ This is what Rebecca Earley and Bridget Harvey say about the life of cloths. Maybe the vision they propose can be generalized, bringing in a new and comprehensive metaphor, capable to better describe what a resilient society and its related cultures could be like. In Earley’s and Harvey’s vision, resilience starts to appear as a fabric combining different techniques and, most importantly, considering both its final result and its making.
‘My question is what makes resilience?’, asks Kim Trogal in her text; ‘who and what creates and maintains “redundancy” or flexibility in a particular system, for instance, and in what kind of conditions?’ She continues: ‘It takes work to make a community, to create “slack” … the work to foster experimentation, to enable learning, to maintain a network, to care for others, to share, to negotiate’.
Considering this observation our textile metaphor evolves into the one of never-ending patchwork fabric: a production process in which a multiplicity of actors are on the job weaving, knitting, embroidering and, most importantly, mending and re-sewing this always evolving patchwork fabric. A swarming of activities involving everybody: from the individual, to all kinds of organization. In particular, as Adam Thorpe writes: ‘this suggests a role for local government in brokering interactions, unlocking community resources and increasing the diversity of how citizens interact with local government and each other’.
This same idea of a patchwork fabric resonates in Melanie Dodd’s text too, when she writes: ‘The value of ‘managing the chaos’ of creativity in cities might best operate at this micro, or mid scale’. What happens is that the different patches of the patchwork are the ones in which the general complexity is distributed. And that, in this distribution, there are the conditions of existence of local and transformative solutions: ways of doing with the double value of solving local problems and, interlacing with the other ‘patches’, generating changes at the larger scale too. Beyond this, in the making of the patchwork, the possibility to resist the local stresses can evolve, becoming a learning process.
In other words, if we assume that those who weave, knit, embroider and re-sew different patches are intelligent actors, facing the effects of errors and unforeseen events, they can mend possible breaks (i.e. bunch back to the original conditions), but they can also up-grade the patchwork (i.e. as Lorraine Gamman and Adam Thorpe write, ‘bunch forwards’ towards better solutions).
Through these reflections in-progress, we can observe that this emerging vision (the vision of human activities as a never-ending patchwork making process) is quite far from the demiurgic one that played such a big role in the past century of western culture (and that is still mainstream in the technocratic arenas). This observation, which of course needs expansion, is not a surprise: taking seriously the notion of resilience necessarily implies to redefine our ideas on progress, time and future. And therefore, on how human beings position themselves in the world and make their choices on how to act in it.
At the same time, the vision of multitudes of individual and social actors, conscious of their limited knowledge who actively cultivate differences but also make their best efforts to interlace them in a larger fabric, seems to me a very human one. It tells us of human beings moving in the complexity, being fully conscious of their cognitive limits but, nevertheless, willing to ‘wisely dare’. That is, to express their individual creativity, their social empathy and their reflexive capability. In short, we could say that this metaphor tells us the story of a new, more human humanism.
Of course, this metaphor and the ideas on which it is based, must be situated in the specificity of their context: they are the partial results of discussions that took place in London, in the University of the Arts London. For sure, other cultural contexts would have generated different ideas and different metaphors. But, their explicit, openly declared link with the context in which they have been originated is a limit that is also their strength: having a clear origin, they can participate with less ambiguity to the world wide on-going conversations on these same themes. Or, using our metaphor, they may represent a meaningful patch to be sewed in the patchwork-making process thanks to which our future will be progressively shaped.