In recent years, traditional topics of security studies have been occupied, one could say taken over by scholars who explore “typical” security topics such as health security or energy security from a resilience-perspective (cf. Gracceva, Zeniewski 2014; Kieny et al. 2014). As a result, security theorists have defensively pointed out the neoliberal character of resilience (cf. Joseph 2013), leading to an ongoing debate between security scholars and resilience theorists (Zebrowski 2016: 152). Despite the fact that both camps stress the superiority of their concepts, however, little has been said about the actual difference between security and resilience. In this post, I set out to explore the disparities of the two camps by taking the example of energy security, as the discourse surrounding energy encompasses both, security logics and resilience concepts (cf. Gracceva, Zeniewski 2014; McGowan 2008). In analysing both approaches, I argue that while productivity and resilience have substantial cross-overs, certain ways of dealing with the referent object and notions of threats may differ. However, separating both literatures is counterproductive as I argue that both seek to achieve similar aims.

Before I can ventilate the difference between security and resilience, a few words have to be said on what I understand by energy security. Energy security at its core sets the objective to avoid risks in order to maintain the flow and availability of energy products to ultimately circumvent negative societal, technological, ecological, economic or political outcomes (Bridge 2015: 332). The goal is therefore to identify risks and define threats which can interrupt this flow and availability of energy products and navigate around them (cf. Bridge 2015).

To achieve the successful navigation around risks and threats, different security logics have been applied in the past – at times simultaneously, at times exclusively. For the purpose of this analysis, three logics are of interest: survival, diversification and productivity.

Following Ben Anderson, I understand logics as

a programmatic way of formalizing, justifying and deploying action in the here and now. Logics involve action that aims to prevent, mitigate, adapt to, prepare for or preempt specific futures” (2010: 779).

Before contrasting security with resilience, the three logics shall be examined.

According to a survivalist security logic and resembling the early Copenhagen School approach, a threat to the referent object is a potential threat to its very existence and must therefore be prevented, even by extraordinary means (cf. Buzan et al. 1998; Garibaldi 2008). In the case of energy, this logic equates security with energy independence from a specific supplier or a limited range of energy sources (Cohen et al. 2011: 4860; Garibaldi 2008: 1). Commonly, the threat perception revolves around risk factors to national security and sovereignty, for example through dependence on foreign energy suppliers, whereby the state acts as the referent object (Bridge 2014: 5). Albeit the survivalist logic being limited due to its state-centric focus and the lack of acknowledging threats outside the political and economic spheres (i.e. climate change), this concept leaves little space for flexibility and system-level analysis (cf. Gracceva, Zeniewski 2014).

With the expansion of the understanding what constitutes a security threat in the field of International Relations, other security logics arose offering systemic and more complex perspectives on how to achieve security which include international trade and the global market (McGowan 2008: 92; Bridge 2014: 4). The diversification and productivity logics are two examples. Following the oil crises in the 1970s, policymakers moved away from survivalist security strategies towards more flexible and market-orientated approaches, whereby the referent object is not the state as such, but in an attempt to be holistic, economic elements are incorporated as well (McGowan 2008: 96). Instead of securing specific supply chains, another way of achieving security is by diversifying suppliers and fuel types to reduce dependency (Cohen et al. 2011: 4860). According to this logic, a threat to the referent object is therefore the inability to create fall-back options in case of disruptions to the system and again, the dependence upon one supplier or fuel type. Similar to a survivalist logic, however, the aim remains to avoid and to navigate around risks to the availability of energy products in case of shocks (Cohen et al. 2011: 4863).

Expanding on diversification and survivalist logic, productivity builds on notions of risk and threat calculation similar to capitalist analyses of loss and gains (McGowan 2008: 97). In a form of “laissez-faire-governance”, the policy objective shifts from protecting supply chains towards securing energy by liberalising, by maximising the productivity of the energy market and diminishing factors that threaten its productivity (McGowan 2008: 92). The productivity logic is based on a Foucauldian understanding of security – biopolitics. The basic idea of biopolitical security is that life (as the referent object) must be shaped and transformed in a way that good circulation is maintained and productivity is maximised while minimising bad circulation (Foucault 1978: 20-21). Such systems are understood to self-regulate, similar to the capitalist market (cf. McGowan 2008). No or bad circulation poses a threat to the referent object. Following a governmentality approach, life is governed through calculations of cost when facing inevitable contingencies. Said calculations are to determine a “bandwidth of the acceptable” (Foucault 1978: 21) between normality and deviance. Such risk assessments are based on probabilities, whereby the assumption prevails that the future is not entirely controllable (1978: 35). Instead of preparing for all possible unfavourable outcomes, the productivity logic relies on life’s ability to transform flexibly when facing contingencies (Dillon, Lobo-Guerrero 2008: 267). Ultimately, the aim of productive security concepts is to prepare the referent object for uncertain futures and unavoidable contingency in maintaining or enhancing good circulation (Dillon, Lobo-Guerrero 2008: 267).

With global threats to security, such as climate change or shocks to the global financial market occupying security personnel, the search for alternative risk management approaches led scholars to emphasise the value of the resilience perspective (cf. Cherp, Jewell 2014). Resilience, rooting in complex systems analysis, was coined by C.S. Holling in the 1970s (cf. Holling 1996). Holling distinguishes between engineering and ecological resilience. Generally, resilience means a system’s ability to cope with a changing environment and to remain cohesive even under extreme perturbations (Walker, Cooper 2011: 146).

Engineering resilience focuses on a system’s ability to bounce back to its original equilibrium (Holling 1996: 33). Yet, Holling stresses the importance of ecological resilience over engineering resilience, whereby the former incorporates the complex environment of a system and the system’s working itself (ibid.). Rather than envisioning one stable equilibrium, Holling proposes that resilience lies in a system’s ability to change and adapt its structure under pressure and when facing change. The system must alter its structure and create new equilibria to accommodate for shocks and perturbations (1996: 34). The difference between both terms is that the first one focuses on maintaining “efficiency of function” (status quo), whereas the second focuses on maintaining “existence of function” (flexibility) (1996: 33). In the case of energy security, ecological resilience lends itself as a perspective through which “risks in largely unpredictable social, economic and technological factors” (Cherp, Jewell 2014: 419) can be reflected on. Roege et al. (2014: 252) further stress that the “ultimate goal nearly always lies in a larger good of survival, social order, or advancement.”

To compare resilience with security, specific points of connection are noteworthy. As with a survivalist security and diversification logic, resilience seeks to ensure the survival and protection of its referent object. Measures to make a system or an environment more resilient can include anything from diversifying suppliers, to capacity building of individuals, to stockpiling (cf. Cherp, Jewell 2014: 419). At times mimicking elements of survivalist and diversification logics of security (nationalising vs diversifying), resilience appears deeply interwoven with the security literature. However, resilience concepts try to outgrow state-centric frameworks of narrowly defined threats and follow a path closer aligned with the productivity logic, whereby the threat perception includes more general risks to the referent object’s productivity (cf. Roege et al 2014: 250). In this regard, resilience concepts differ from survivalist security logics, as they focus on “flexibility, learning, and adaptation rather than on resistance to short-term adverse conditions” (2014: 252), as status-quo, existential threat-orientated survivalist concepts do. The nature of a threat is thus different between these security logics and resilience.

I further believe there are differences between security and resilience in how they deal with the referent object and in the consequential adoption of policies – at least between survivalist logic and resilience. When conceptualising the referent object, the resilience literature “shifts the emphasis from risk exposure to the other aspect of vulnerability, resilience” (Cerp, Jewell 2014: 419). In a sense, resilience, specifically seeks to foster particular capacities within the referent object in order to enhance its ability to remain flexible. The focus is inwards, the solution lays within the referent object’s abilities, not the type of outer risk per se. Particularly the survivalist logic, however, focuses on specific to abstract existential threats, therefore leading to a different perspective on threat’s nature. Due to varying perceptions of referent object and threat, resilience and security have differing policy-implications. Resilience, in trying to emancipate its referent object, falls prone to perpetuating neoliberal inequalities (cf. Joseph 2013). However, by remaining outside the Copenhagen security discourse, it avoids falling into the “securitisation trap” of defining existential threats and pushing for extraordinary measures no matter the cost, as survivalist and at times diversification logics do (cf. Bridge 2014: 4).

Nevertheless, I argue that resilience and productivity are complementary and closely aligned. Through risk analyses, resilience concepts seek to achieve the optimum performance of their referent object, which reminds of the productivity logic’s intention to foster good circulation (2014: 251). Both concepts foresee the referent object’s ability to remain flexible when facing contingencies, both seek to calculate contingencies to make them governable (cf. Roege et al 2014: 255). In both instances, security acts as a form of opportunity for change, rather than an existential threat. Above all, I criticise that both concepts remain equally fuzzy in not addressing clear security actors, by avoiding the definition of what security is and what is not – What is “good” circulation and who defines what “good” performance is? It thus appears peculiar that resilience and security scholars stress the need to treat the two as separate fields rather than as complementary approaches towards the same broad objective – the sustained “good” performance of the referent object.

The disparities between resilience and security in a survivalist sense are striking, not only in theoretical aspects (threat perception, referent object), but also in their policy implications (neoliberal agenda vs securitisation). Yet, boiled down to security objectives and the notion of a threat, resilience echoes the productivity logic, only with a hint of neoliberal flavour. I therefore argue that pretending resilience and productivity are not complementary approaches defeats the ultimate aim to provide security to the referent object.

To conclude, I set out to not only explain the survivalist, diversification and productivity logics of security, but to contrast them with resilience. I have demonstrated that resilience differs from survivalist and diversification logic in theory and in practice. Yet, the resilience perspective, albeit its neoliberal character, avoids the downfalls of securitisation and thus potentially allows for normalisation and de-securitisation in dealing with risks. Despite such differences, the productivity logic and resilience share remarkable overlap. For both, contingencies and shocks are inevitable, whereby the nature of a threat lies in the negative impact on “good” circulation (productivity/performance). Between survivalist and resilience concepts, the latter’s attempt to navigate around the pitfalls of securitisation may explain the vehement split of both literatures. In the case of productivity and resilience, however, I believe it is counterproductive to assume that both concepts are not part of the same coin, as they share complementary ways to protect the referent object from inevitable contingencies.


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