Arctic resilience(s)


Research Professor Monica Tennberg is giving some remarks about the RESCuE project findings regarding the household resilience in the time of socio-economic crisis in Europe   

Resilience is a word that you find nowadays all over the place. For example, the recent EU communication (EU Commission 2016) on Arctic policy states that “The EU should contribute to enhancing the economic, social and environmental resilience of societies in the Arctic”. Resilience in general refers to the capacity to cope with, adapt to and transcend difficult circumstances (Keck & Sakdapolrak 2013), such as a personal trauma, economic recession or a natural hazard. The concept originates in natural science and social psychology but has become also more popular in social sciences recently. Resilience thinking is heavily criticized for naturalizing threats and risks as part of everyday life, and making unpredictability and uncertainty as the aim of governance as if we live all the time in some form of constant danger (Welsh 2014). However, resilience is also presented as something to be built and developed, and as such a target for development of governance. In the Arctic, resilience has been discussed especially in the context of (indigenous) community development and climate change.

The recently published Arctic resilience report (2016) defines resilience as a combination of adaptive and transformative capacity beyond just coping with abrupt events and their consequences. The report emphasizes the importance of natural, social, cultural, financial and human capital, infrastructure and knowledge assets to support community resilience. The importance and available combinations of these different resources depends on institutional, cultural and historical contexts of each community to be assessed. The capacity to adapt is a latent property of a social-ecological system that requires supporting structures to ensure its activation. Two important factors for activation of such capacity are enabling institutions and a social and environmental space that allows for flexibility. References to the support provided by the enabling institutions (as I understand them as welfare state services and funding for example) are mentioned in the context of financial capital, infrastructure and social capital, as issues of investments and taxes, major projects, education and health care, but in general it seems that as part of the social-ecological systems, welfare statehood does not seem to have a role to play. The report directs its policy message to Arctic Council – knowledge to support resilience is essential. The report presents the Arctic Council, an international body of cooperation for the region, as a site of multilevel cooperation, knowledge production and learning for resilience.

In the RESCuE (Patterns of resilience in times of socio-economic crises among households in Europe) project our policy message is about the importance of European and Nordic welfare state infrastructure and activities to support household resilience. The project interviewed appr. 600 interviews among vulnerable, low income households and experts in eight European countries (Germany, Poland, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, United Kingdom and Finland) and in Turkey in 2014-2015 to study what kind of practices make households resilient despite the European economic crises and its impacts on employment, labor conditions and cuts in public policy and infrastructure. The only Nordic/Arctic country involved in the project was Finland. (See also Promberger et al. 2014; more about the project

In the project we have found out that
• Poverty is essentially a condition of low resilience
• Resilience is rare among households; most households are non-resilient
• Household resilience is multidimensional; economic, social and cultural practices of resilient households become blurred
• Resilience itself is vulnerable and can change over time
• Resilience can be also negative; household practices to maintain resilience may have harmful impacts on nutritional health, work-life balance, and so forth.
• Low threshold public and common goods are important for household resilience

Most importantly, we found out that resilient households depended heavily on low threshold public and common goods to maintain their resilience like infrastructures in child care and education, transportation, housing, water and electricity, voluntary and other work and participation opportunities. EU policies may supplement national and other policies designed to create, maintain and support favourable conditions, ensure resources and enhance household resilience. In practice this means securing access for households to low threshold public and common goods and supporting opportunities for resource mobilization by households.

This issue of welfare infrastructure and services is a topical one in Arctic Finland. As a response to the EU-defined “sustainability gap”, the current government aims to make a major reform in the Finnish social welfare and health care systems not only to make considerable savings but also to secure equal services and access to citizens. The planned reforms to be in full motion by 2019 will centralize services to major population centers, digitalize social welfare and health care services and introduce market logic to these sectors more intensively than before. For Arctic Finland, these plans are somewhat concerning: how to secure access and availability of social welfare and health care services and infrastructure in remote, sparsely populated northern areas. Municipalities in these areas have provided these services before, but their role will be considerable diminished in the future. Not all people have a computer or a connection, can afford such things, or know how to use them at all or has the skills to make the best use of the available digital services, just to mention some practical concerns in the face of the future centralized and digitalized social welfare and health care services. The RESCuE project emphasizes the social nature of resilience, as an issue of transforming identities, connectivities in different forms and participation, something that is totally in contrast to these plans of the new Finnish commodified, digitalized social welfare and health care system.

By Monica Tennberg


Arctic Council (2016). Arctic Resilience Report.
EU’s Arctic policy (2016) Joint communication to the European Parliament and the Council. An integrated European Union policy for the Arctic. 27.4.2016.
Keck, Markus and Patrick Sakdapolrak. 2013. What is social resilience? Lessons learned and ways forward. Erdkunde 67, 1:5-19.
Promberger, Markus, Krystyna Faliszek, Ursula Huws, Jane Gray, Hulya Dagdeviren, Krzysztof Lęcki, Lars Meier, Witold Mandrysz, Frank Sowa, Georgia Petraki, Marie Boost, Juan Carlos Revilla, Athena Athanasiou, Tarik Şengül, Attila Aytekin, Barbara Słania, María Arnal, Monica Tennberg, Luís Capucha, Terhi Vuojala-Magga, Carlos de Castro, Kazimiera Wódz (2014), Patterns of Resilience during Socioeconomic Crises among Households in Europe (RESCuE). Concept, Objectives and Work Packages of an EU FP 7 Project.
Welsh, M. 2014. Resilience and responsibility: governing uncertainty in a complex world. The Geographical Journal 180, 1:15-26.

RESCuE Blog photo by Joonas Vola 6.3.2017 x.jpg



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