While the word “resilience” originally emerged from the ecological systems discipline, it has now become a norm—a goal and expectation rather than simply a characteristic. In GEOG-G 306 Geographies of Resilience, Dr. Postigo will help students explore what resilient systems truly mean. During this exploration, students will work with IU's Environmental Resilience Institute and contribute to public knowledge by contributing to Wikipedia.
An interview with Dr. Julio Postigo, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, is below.
Why does this course fit the theme of this year’s Themester?
Dr. Postigo: Having “Resilience” in the title of the course certainly helps to fit the theme of this year’s Themester. More seriously, the class will be discussing resilience from its origins as a concept to its recent status as “buzz word” among practitioners. The increased popularity of the notion of resilience has not implied, unfortunately, knowing the background of the concept. I expect that the next year we will wrestle with the idea that resilient systems have the capacity to withstand or transform in response to perturbations or change.
My class will fit it in by providing explanations about the origin of the concept, and we will also have a very hands-on experience with resilience with both the theoretical concept itself and the applications of it, especially in the state of Indiana and its population.
Are there any projects you’re excited about?
Dr. Postigo: In the class, students will undertake some projects, one of which is contributing to Wikipedia—which is the most-consulted source of information—regarding the concept of resilience and its perspectives. By contributing content to an ever-growing source of information with proper sources, students will contribute to the public’s knowledge.
Another project that students will participate in is working with Hoosier Resilience Index developed by IU Environmental Resilience Institute (ERI). The students will understand the sources of both resilience and vulnerability and its spatial patterns through the use of the Index and the analysis of its indicators.
What do you hope people learn from your class and more importantly, what do you hope they teach others after being in this class?
Dr. Postigo: In general, I aspire for my students to learn and expand their critical thinking to be a better human being, to learn basic science and humanities, broadly speaking. Residential education is crucial as it offers the space and opportunities for an intellectual training nurtured by the interactions with their peers and instructors. I think that there is a formative process that takes place through the intellectual exchange of ideas, perspectives, debates, and disagreements that are very important.
In terms of resilience, I hope that students learn that this was originally a well-grounded concept that has a lot of theoretical foundations, and that there has been this expansion of resilience from a concept to a normative precept, or a goal that has to be achieved. There are certainly positive aspects in that, but there are also challenges and risks that appear unexplored. It is clear that there are political systems, forms of oppression and exploitation that are extremely resilient, but we wish they were not.
It is not as simple as just talking about resilience and that everybody and everything has to be resilient. I think that there are steps that are missed there and that there is very little criticism in making that sort of leap, and I hope that we can build and learn what are the steps bridging the concept to the application of resilience. Hopefully, if we are successful at the end of the class, we are going to be able to have some developments of resilience and suggestions on the research and where the action should go.
How do you feel that this year’s theme fits into what is going on in the world right now?
Dr. Postigo: The popularity of resilience is due to the planetary crisis that we are living in. Human societies organized under capitalism have brought the planet to the brink of impossibility. That is a major challenge. We can talk about it in terms of environmental crisis, all the pollution and climate change, with the levels of global warming unknown by humans. This challenge generates threatening implications for life (including life styles) as we know it, and partly explain the current popularity of resilience.
The pandemic has probably increased the use of word resilience as the virus keeps testing how resilient humans are. But when looking at the origin of the coronavirus we find the same source of the global challenges. The expansion of capitalism and the intensification of human-environment interactions have enabled the transmission of diseases from animals to humans, and vice versa. Now, we are getting diseases like this much more frequently and intensely, so there is one connection between resilience’s popularity and COVID: they have the same origin in the way capitalism links humans to nature.
Another relation is understanding Covid as a major disturbance, though this may change if it becomes permanent or a condition of our daily existence, which will hopefully not happen with us being vaccinated every year. Again, however, we are constantly trying to see whether or not humans are resilient, and how human societies are capable of standing these disturbances. The evidence with Covid is that there are huge inequalities shaping the resilience of social classes and groups. Marginalized and impoverished groups are disproportionately experiencing the negative aspects of COVID. Again, that is not because of the virus itself as the virus is neither racist nor classist. It is operating on an uneven and inequal society.
These are just some examples to show that the connections and foundations of resilience and the current pandemic times are the same—it is all related to human-environment interactions under capitalism.
What type of students do you encourage to take this course?
Dr. Postigo: The type of students I would like to have in the class are students that are passionate about research and academic inquiry. They need to have a mindset that really wants to understand things beyond what they can see, go underneath the surface, and try to understand what is underlying. Students should therefore be adventurous and interested in critical multidisciplinary approaches and ways of understanding things.
I am looking for students who are thoughtful and comfortable reading papers, books, but also comfortable behind a computer understanding both the concepts and their applications.
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