Interrogating resilience and exploring the agency within affect


  • Cate Massola School of Social and Political Sciences University of Sydney


resilience, affect, emotions, disasters, vulnerability


In this article I discuss the role that emotions have on shaping responses to disasters, based on interviews with people who experienced bushfire and flood in 2019 and 2020 in New South Wales, Australia. At the time of the research, state and federal disaster management strategies implored individuals to be self-responsible, independent, and accountable, under the broad concept of ‘resilience’. I argue that resilience rhetoric enforces notions of acting 'stoically' and being self-reliant in the context of disasters, which I locate as being connected with historical understandings of Australian national identity and can be dismissive of emotions, as barriers or non-pertinent in recovery efforts. I problematise the notion of resilience by challenging the presumption that its corollary, vulnerability, and emotions more broadly, belong to a non-agentive category. I consider how emotions can mould both personal and collective responses to disasters and find that experiences of anger, feeling forgotten, and being traumatized can be factors that motivate people to act.


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