Virginia Tech’s Steger Center for International Scholarship in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland, was filled with debate, discussion, and dialogue as The Global Forum for Urban and Regional Resilience hosted a meeting on the Political Economy of Regional Resilience last month. 

The event was the first in a planned series of conversations at the Riva San Vitale campus to address the university’s initiative to bridge public policy and practice in the broad domain of regional economic resilience.

This inaugural workshop brought together a select group of leading scholars on resilience from around the world with the aim to discuss, evaluate, and map out a broad research agenda on regional resilience that is anchored in the analytical tradition of the political economy and that is increasingly evident in emerging discourses on critical social theory. 

The theme for the workshop was “Critical Perspectives in Post-Crisis Resilience,” which was approached through a broad range of perspectives including financial resilience, regional governance and big data.

”As urban scholars and social scientists, our engagement with resilience has to transcend the conventional dichotomy of ecological resilience as adaptive complex systems versus engineering resilience as adjustment to a system’s static position. Instead, notions of resilience rooted in social science thought ought to be theorized in ways that prioritize nuances among different ideas, the evolution of socio-economic institutions, and the particularities of historical events,” said David Bieri, associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs and coordinator of the meeting.

The workshop consisted of both formal sessions with research presentations as well as informal interchanges amongst participants. The overall conversation focused on the complex relations between financial markets, social and political institutions, and the role of the state. 

Many of the presentations over the course of the three-day conference raised important questions about how these relationships might be better understood  and more effectively governed in order to address the highly uneven geography of contemporary socio-economic practices.

“The value added of resilience as an idea is that it not just brings out old questions that have been around for a while but it also recognizes that we do not live in a flat world,” noted Andy Pike, professor of local and regional development and director of the Center for Urban & Regional Development Studies at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. “It is a spiky world with a lot of heterogeneity, diversity, and disruption. What we are trying to figure out is why or how some places can cope with the spiky world better than others.”

Resilience has become an important concept in global planning and policy in response to new vulnerabilities that attend climate change, economic, social and political instabilities, and population expansion, but understanding the relationship between resiliency and vulnerability is crucial to enhancing the social well-being of the global citizenry against a backdrop of political, economic, and environmental uncertainty.

“It is the distributional aspect of resilience and vulnerability that is at the heart of the problem we are trying to address,” said James Bohland, co-director of The Global Forum on Urban and Regional Resilience. “What we need to pay more attention to are highly uneven geographies, and highly unequal disparities that are often created in the name of resilience.”

The conversation on resilience continues this fall through a seminar series held at the office of The Global Forum on Urban and Regional Resilience. Confirmed speakers for the fall seminar series include: Laura Sands, professor of gerontology in Virginia Tech's Department of Human Development, who will present her ongoing research on how resilience influences healthcare utilization among older adults exposed to a disaster; Simin Davoudi, professor of environmental policy and planning at Newcastle University, who will be a visiting scholar with The Global Forum on Urban and Regional Resilience this fall; and Zak Ratajczak, a post-doctoral research associate with the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia.

The Global Forum on Urban and Regional Resilience is also convening an International Symposium for Next Generation Infrastructure, which will be held in Washington Sept. 14-15.

For information, email Jennifer Lawrence or call 540-231-4458.

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