Historical Social Research

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Nicolai Hannig: The Checkered Rise of Resilience. Anticipating Risks of Nature in Switzerland and Germany since 1800 [Abstract]

Both concepts, prevention and resilience, are ways of thinking and acting that are very similar at first glance. Prevention means optimising the present by anticipating the future. Crucial for the idea and practice of prevention is anticipating a risky future that should never become reality. Resilience describes a less radical manner of behaviour, which does not want to prevent risks per se. It stresses the ability to anticipate danger and to resist damage – if possible without losses. The terms “prevention” and “resilience” are still relatively young and have appeared infrequently in systems ecology, criminology and medicine since the early twentieth century. This article detaches both concepts from these fields and examines their heuristic potential with the example of natural disasters. In order to shed light on the history of prevention and resilience, the essay focuses on various agents with their specific strategies and techniques. So beside the history of hydraulic engineering, it presents other examples from weather control, scenario planning and disaster research to insurance business. It argues that latest in the second half of the twentieth century arguments for prevention lost their credibility as risks during the technological change multiplied constantly. Strategies of resilience, however, seemed far more realistic in a phase of risk pluralization and replaced the paradigm of prevention in many areas. Yet prevention did not fully disappear, but rather became a part of the much wider overall strategy of resilience.

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