Review of Goldstein’s Collaborative Resilience

A complete version of this review can be found at: James A Throgmorton, 2013, Review of Goldstein’s Collaborative Resilience: Moving through Crisis to Opportunity. Journal of Planning Education and Research 33, 1 (Spring): 124-126.

On April 17, 2007, a lone gunman killed 32 people and wounded 25 others on the campus of Virginia Tech. This event, and subsequent responses to it, inspired Bruce Goldstein to organize a “Symposium on Enhancing Resilience to Catastrophic Events through Communicative Planning” at Virginia Tech in 2008. As one of the 25 researchers invited to participate, I can report that it proved to be a very stimulating and enlightening event. This book, Collaborative Resilience, is based primarily on the papers presented at that symposium.

Goldstein divides the book into two parts. The first part offers five integrative/theoretical chapters that discuss various ways in which collaborative processes can contribute to resilience. The second part consists of eight case studies, the first four of which describe collaborative processes that display “adaptive resilience.” The second set of case studies focuses on processes that display “transformative resilience.” Goldstein concludes the volume by making his case for “collaborative resilience.”

While reading this book I had several specific events in the back of my mind, all of which are really tough cases: the flood that ravaged my part of Iowa in 2008, the Deep Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico during the spring and summer of 2010, the tsunami and nuclear meltdown that struck Fukishima, Japan, early in 2011, and the complete inability of the U.S. government to formulate a reasonable response to the long-term threat of climate change. And I found myself recalling heated debates in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, Iowa, about how to mitigate against future flooding. With those events and debates in mind, I found myself especially valuing this book’s efforts to distinguish between adaptive and transformational resilience and to articulate “communicative resilience” as a synthesis of communicative planning and resilience research.

While admiring the book, I also think it provokes questions that will require further research and skillful practice on the ground. First, how can self-interested individuals and organizations be persuaded to see themselves as having a stake in the well-being of the community (or place) in which they are embedded, especially when they are emotionally attached to preconceived ideological beliefs? Second, how can planners and natural resource scholars influence processes driven by scientists or public works engineers who have little or no experience with collaborative processes and who treat public questions and comments as mere input to be analyzed by experts? And third, how can scholars and practitioners inspired by “communicative resilience” influence public discourse in response to particular crises? What should they do when stories of blame begin circulating in public discourse, whether it be on cable television, talk radio, new social media, or face to face?

In the end, I find Collaborative Resilience to be an admirable piece of work that skillfully combines theoretical essays and insightful stories of practice. It should prove valuable to anyone who wants to help communities respond to crises in ways that will enhance their longer-term viability. And, most admirably, it leaves us with questions that can be answered well only through careful research and skillful practice.

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