The shifting status of failure and possibility: Resilience and the ‘shift’ in partnership-organized prevention in Sweden

Published date01 August 2020
Date01 August 2020
Subject MatterArticles
2020, Vol. 40(3) 332 –347
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0263395719880707
The shifting status of failure and
possibility: Resilience and the
‘shift’ in partnership-organized
prevention in Sweden
Randi Gressgård
University of Bergen, Norway
Vanja Lozic
Malmö University, Sweden
Based on a study of prevention politics in Sweden, this article probes the turn to resilience in its
institutionalized form: cross-sectorial partnerships. It interrogates how resilience proponents
strategically deploy the semantics of the shift in policymaking, arguing that they perform the
‘shift’ (in mind-set) to criticize a long-established welfare-state governmentality, associated
with professional ‘silos’, to create new possibilities for partnership-organized intervention. Part
I draws attention to how resilience policy mobilizes partnerships around the indeterminate
problem of ‘problem setting’. Based on the idea of limited knowledge and governance in an
indeterminate world, failure is considered inevitable and potentially productive, if handled
appropriately – which is an issue of problem design or framing. It is considered particularly
important to handle problems of coordination and communication internal to partnerships,
since failures here risk jeopardizing collaboration and hence the whole enterprise. Part II
demonstrates how partnership-organized resilience initiatives bracket-off risky failure by
strategically reframing problems and bringing new visions of the future into being – through the
semantics of the shift. In characteristically epochal terms, the ‘shift’ casts partnership formation
as an improvement of the future, although the strategists’ belief in future visions is apparently
shot through with cynicism.
failure and possibility, partnership strategy, problem design and re/framing, resilience and
designerly critique, security and prevention, semantics of the shift
Received: 12th March 2019 ; Revised version received: 30th July 2019; Accepted: 9th September 2019
Corresponding author:
Randi Gressgård, Centre for Women’s and Gender Research, University of Bergen, P.O. Box 7800, 5020
Bergen, Norway.
880707POL0010.1177/0263395719880707PoliticsGressgård and Lozic
Gressgård and Lozic 333
As policy debates are increasingly moving towards resilience, broadly understood as ‘a
discursive field through which we negotiate the emerging power of governing complexity’
(Chandler, 2014: 13), critical scholars have discussed whether this turn reveals something
deeper about shifts in techniques of government. In the field of security, commentators
have observed a ‘marked distancing from centrally coordinated response organized via
hierarchical chains of command and control designed to combat known threats and ene-
mies’ (Brassett et al., 2013: 223), in favour of more self-organizing forms of security.
Others have argued that the terms resilience and resilient have become ‘political keywords’
in the field of security and beyond, vested with symbolic meaning to legitimate specific
practices (Selchow, 2017). What has received little attention in these debates, however, is
the performative function of the ‘shift’ in policymaking: the semantics of the shift. When
taken as a performative category, analytically distinct from the specific content to which it
refers, the ‘shift’ becomes a signifier with its own political agency or purpose. This article
proposes to explore what the ‘shift’ does strategically when enacted to affect change in
urban prevention politics. (We put the ‘shift’ in scare quotes to emphasize its performative
nature.) The empirical context for our interrogation is the reformed national crime and
radicalization prevention politics in Sweden, organized around partnership collaboration
in designated urban areas. The reformed national policy is oriented towards establishing,
maintaining, and dispersing local collaborations, often coordinated by the municipality
and the police, and usually involving numerous other partner organizations as well. In
constantly changing and unpredictable environments, the argument goes, partnership col-
laboration is a suitable way of organizing prevention initiatives because of their bottom-
up, multi-sectorial, holistic, and yet open-ended configuration.
We will bring to light not only how partnership strategy gives meaning to resilience,
but also how it severely restricts what resilience could mean, especially when the turn
towards resilience is represented as an epochal ‘shift’. We advance the argument that the
semantics of the shift serves to create what Michel Foucault (2008) calls a ‘field of adver-
sity’ (cf. Collier, 2017; Grove, 2018), casting the long-established welfare-state regime as
outmoded, in juxtaposition to future-oriented resilience thinking. This style of critique
inadvertently re-enacts the anticipatory temporality that underpins the allegedly failed
politics of the past, but insofar as the ‘shift’ points to an entirely new mind-set (synven-
dor) attuned to indeterminacy, it also conjures up notions of uncertainty and insecurity
which increasingly animate urban prevention policy.
With the limits of knowledge and governance in mind, several researchers have
pointed out that policymaking is ever more organized around contingency and failure
(see, for example, Chandler, 2014, 2016; Harvey et al., 2013; Heath-Kelly, 2015; Kessler,
2016; Lisle, 2018); resilience thinking assumes that governmental interventions will
inevitably produce unforeseen consequences or unexpected insecurities. To the extent
that failure is an integral part of the process of governing complexity, as David Chandler
(2014: 12) posits, resilience politics must take into consideration its own failure, as it
were. The awareness of failure is, accordingly, at the heart of much contemporary secu-
rity politics. Yet, at the same time, the awareness of failure gives rise to new bracketing
strategies (Best, 2008), and this is where the semantics of the shift literally enters the
scene. We shall demonstrate how the semantic performance of the shift mediates failure
as part of partnership strategy, arguing – in line with Chandler (2014, 2016) – that the
strategic enactment of the ‘shift’ serves at once to transvalue and contain failure. Contrary

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