BASE TEXT is the upgraded version of a text discussed by the CoR group in the first phase of the project. Presenting the shared view of the whole groups of teachers, researchers and students who participated in these discussions, it can be seen as the common ground on which, in the following phases of the project, an ecosystems of ideas and projects have sprouted up and developed.
A Radical Resilience
Resilience, when referred to socio-technical systems, means the system’s capacity to cope with stress and failures without collapsing and, more importantly, learning from the experience. Therefore, it should be considered a fundamental characteristic for any potential future society. If in recent times this term has emerged and spread it is because, when having to deal with the crisis and several catastrophic events, the vulnerability of our contemporary societies has appeared in all evidence. Exactly because the use of this term has become so widespread, its meaning must be attentively discussed and understood.
Diversity, redundancy, experimentation
What are the characteristics of a resilient system? Complex systems theory and several practical examples suggest that, for adaptive systems such as socio-technical ones, the ability to withstand the test of time in turbulent environments (that is their tolerance of breakdown and their adaptation capacity) results from a particular system architecture and internal dynamics: resilient systems may be characterized by diversity, redundancy, feedbacks and continuous experimentation; they are built up with a multiplicity of largely independent and very diverse sub-systems, and are the ground on which new and alternative solutions constantly appear. In this way, even when one or more of these sub-systems break down, and one or more solutions (ie strategies to get a result) become impracticable, the whole system does not collapse; other solutions (ie other ways to get that result) are still available and, thanks to the existing feedbacks, the system can learn from the experience.
A disruptive concept
How far are our societies from this profile of a complex, resilient system? This question has no single, simple, answer. In effect, there is a double trend in contemporary society: on one hand we can see the big mainstream players of the 20th century promoting large production plants, hierarchical system architectures, process simplification and standardization. Resilience here is often interpreted as the reinforcement of the socio-economic status quo. The result is the reduction of biological and socio-technical diversity and a consequent increase in the overall fragility of the system. On the other hand, we can see a growing wave of socio-technical innovation moving in the opposite direction, with small and connected actors experimenting with agile flexible, context- related, highly diversified systems. This second trend makes the viability of resilient socio-technical systems visible and tangible. At the same time, it clearly indicates a kind of paradox: to make our societies more resilient we must change them by moving away from the dominant ways of thinking and doing. In other words: against a background of mainstream models, resilience is quite a disruptive concept: one that calls for radical transformations.
An emerging scenario
Until now, the notion of resilience in all its interpretations, including the most radical ones, has been used in the framework of a defensive discourse. Confronted by crises and catastrophic events, and because the likelihood of them occurring will increase in the future, the common reaction is one of survival: we have to re-organize our society and make it more resilient on current terms. This way of looking at resilience has, of course, very strong motivations, but is potentially negative and limiting. But we can look at it also in a different, more positive and interesting way. If, technically, resilience means diversity, redundancy and continuous experimentation, it also means that the corresponding society must be a diversified, creative one. In other words, taking seriously the meaning of resilience, this compelling and deeply human image of society becomes much more than just a wish. It indicates the direction in which, very practically, we need to go if our society is to have any hope of lasting. In short: in a resilient society cultural diversity and creativity must flourish. Indeed, cultural diversity and creativity must be an integral part of any scenarios of resilient societies.
The cultural side of resilience
Until now, the discussion on resilience has mainly adopted technical, economic, and functional points of view, and the main questions have been: how to solve problems in a resilient way? How to make these solutions more viable? What could their economic model be? It is important and necessary to raise these questions, and to search for their answers, but it is not enough. If resilience must be a characterizing feature of every potential future society, its cultural dimension, with its implications in terms of diversity and creativity, must be considered too. Therefore, new questions arise: what, in a resilient society, do we mean by development? How does the idea of democracy evolve? What is the relationship between the local and the global? And, more in depth: what about work, skill and creativity? What about trust? What about the very general ideas of time and space? A cultural approach to these questions would not attempt to solve ‘problems’ per se, but open up new possibilities in order to feed and support a social conversation on them.