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  5. Conceptualising and applying resilience in a social policy context

Conceptualising and applying resilience in a social policy context

Date: Wednesday 08 February 2017
Time: 04.30 PM to 06.30 PM
Venue: Stoddart Building, City Campus

The seminar will feature presentations on:

  • Community Resilience: exploring concepts and realities. Deborah Platts-Fowler (Department of Law and Criminology) and Professor David Robinson (Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research), Sheffield Hallam University.
  • Household responses to economic hardship in post-crisis Europe and insights about ‘resilience’: A critical assessment. Professor Hulya Dagdeviren and Dr Matthew Donaghue, University of Hertfordshire.
  • Problematising and reconceptualising resilience in Higher Education. Professor Jacqueline Stevenson, Sheffield Hallam University.

'While bad habits can be passed on to children, we know too that the secret ingredients for a good life character, delayed gratification, grit, resilience, they can be taught by parents, not just caught from them' (David Cameron, Speech on Life Chances, January 11th 2016)

In recent years, the concept of resilience has become increasingly popular with policy makers who have been attracted by its emphasis on self-help and responsibilisation. Resilience has also become popular with academics working in the social policy arena who have embraced it because it offers a counterpoint to deficit model explanations of the experiences, circumstances, and 'performance' of disadvantaged households. However, as most of the literature on resilience is still in development, it is a concept often poorly conceptualised and understood in the social policy field. This seminar seeks to address this gap in knowledge by exploring resilience in three contexts: 'communities'; responses to economic hardship; and education, where the concept is often referred to as 'grit'.  

The seminar will take place on Wednesday February 8th 2017 between 4:30pm and 6:30pm. Book your place.

The workshop, which will be chaired by of one SIPS’ Director, Professor Paul Hickman, will feature contributions from:

  • Professor Hulya Dagdeviren and Dr Matthew Donoghue from the University of Hertfordshire, who will give a presentation entitled: Reconsidering resilience in the context of household responses to hardship in post crisis Europe. The presentation will focus on how people responded to hardship after the 2008 crisis, drawing upon primary data gathered through household and key informant interviews in nine European countries (Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, the UK, Germany, Finland, Poland and Turkey). From a theoretical point of view, we assess the nature of the post-crisis household responses on the basis of the structure – agency debate. An important contribution of this paper is to conceptualise different forms of agency and discuss their interaction with social structures. More specifically, we discuss household responses on the basis of three different types of agency: transformative agency, adaptive agency and perverse agency. We then reflect on the implications of our analysis for the resilience approach.

  • Professor Jacqueline Stevenson from Sheffield Hallam University, will deliver a presentation entitled: Reconceptualising Resilience: Problematising Deficit Discourses. The need to build students' resilience is increasingly framing approaches to widening participation outreach, access and transition activities, as well as to retention and success interventions once students are in higher education. In the US similar approaches are designed to help students develop 'grit', whilst in schools the focus has been on developing positive 'mindset'. These interventions are, however, largely built on the belief that those who fail in education lack resilience - thus locating both the problem, and also the solution, firmly with the individual and obviating the role of the institution. In this presentation I draw on research with adult learners, including refugees, ex-offenders and care leavers to critique the ways in which resilience-building activities can work to individualise and stigmatise students. I argue instead for a need to focus on, and address, the external factors which can inhibit success both pre-entry and across the student life-course.

  • Professor David Robinson, from the University of Sheffield, and Dr Deborah Platts- Fowler, from Sheffield Hallam University, who will give a presentation on:  Community Resilience: exploring concepts and realities. In many countries local government has been a prime target of austerity measures.  In response, local authorities are exploring a new repertoire of policy approaches in a bid to provide more with less.  In England, local authorities have been drawn to community resilience as a pragmatic response to the challenge of deploying shrinking resources to support communities exposed to social and economic disruption.  This application of resilience thinking is not without its challenges.  It demands a working definition of community resilience that recognises the potential for communities to prove resilient to shocks and disruptions, but avoids blaming them for their predicament. There is also the practical challenge of developing and targeting interventions to promote and protect resilience.  This presentation considers these challenges and explores the potential utility of community resilience as a policy tool through case study analysis in the city of Sheffield.

  • Deborah Platts-Fowler is currently a lecturer in criminology at Sheffield Hallam University, having previously been a Research Fellow at the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR). She has a broad range of research interests spanning a number of disciplines. She is particularly interested in community relations and participation in the context of crime and policing. Her most recent research explores why some communities are more likely to be affected by urban unrest than others, drawing on understandings of legitimacy, social capital, and informal social control. Communities tend to be scrutinised for problematic behaviours and outcomes. Her research invariably demonstrates the strength of communities to withstand and challenge a range of socio-economic pressures, while at the same time pointing to how they might require support to ensure and build their capacity and resilience into the future.


David Robinson is Professor of Human Geography at the University of Sheffield.  An important strand of his work has focused on researching the new politics of community that has gained ascendency within public policy making.  This has involved exploring and critiquing the processes through which particular places (for example, social housing estates, multi-ethnic neighbourhoods and deprived places) are increasingly portrayed as spatial containers of social failure, allowing social problems to be localised and thrown back at places to resolve themselves through the reinvigoration of community.  This work has included analysis of the shift in policy from tackling inequality and disadvantage toward correcting the behaviour of social groups / communities seen as deviant.  Much of his work has centred on the community cohesion agenda.  More recently, he has explored the application of resilience thinking to the social world, focusing on the concept of community resilience. 

Hulya Dagdeviren is a Professor of Economic Development at the Business School of University of Hertfordshire with many years of research experience on developing countries and advisory roles for international development organisations. Her work is underpinned by an interdisciplinary approach. She is the co-editor of the interdisciplinary journal, Competition and Change. Her most recent research has focused on household resilience in the context of crisis and austerity in Europe, a project funded by the EU. ‘Resilience, Hardship and Social Conditions’ in Journal of Social Policy and Narratives of hardship: the new and the old poor in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis’ in Sociological Review are some of her recent publications.

Matthew Donoghue is Research Fellow on RESCuE at the University of Hertfordshire, and Departmental Lecturer in Comparative Social Policy at the department of Social Policy and Intervention at the University of Oxford. His work intersects politics, sociology and social policy, with research interests in the politics citizenship and welfare, inequality and hardship, discourse and ideology. He has published on New Labour’s welfare reform and Community Cohesion policies, as well as on theoretical and empirical aspects of resilience and hardship in Europe.

Professor Jacqueline Stevenson EdD, MEd, BA, PGCE, Head of Research, Sheffield Institute of Education Professor Jacqueline Stevenson is Head of Research in the Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University. She is a sociologist of education with a particular interest in policy and practice relating to equity and diversity in higher education, widening participation, access and student success, pedagogic diversity and the stratification and marketisation of higher education. Key areas of interest are the social and academic experiences of religious students, Black and Minority ethnic students' degree attainment and success, and policy and practice relating to the higher education experience of refugees and international students. She co-convenes the Society for Research into Higher Education's Access and Widening Participation Network and is a member of the Executive Committee of the National Education Opportunities Networks and the Higher Education Race Action Group. She is currently working with London Metropolitan University to evaluate HEFCE's National Networks for Collaborative Outreach and, in partnership with five other HEIs, investigating the impact of financial support for the Office for Fair Access. Her forthcoming edited book brings together national and international research exploring religion and belief in higher education. Jacqueline was previously Professor of Higher Education at Leeds Beckett University.

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