Blog | Resilience, reinvention and transition during and after quarantine | By Kristof Van Assche, Martijn Duineveld, S. Jeff Birchall, Leith Deacon, Raoul Beunen, Monica Gruezmacher, and Daan Boezeman

people inside a bus wearing masks

In the period of quarantine 

The Covid-10 crisis has isolated many people but it didn’t stop people from sharing stories about the situation and about what comes back after quarantine. In many countries one can witness a very contrasting set of discourses (see for an overview Matteo, 2020). Social cohesion and solidarity are praised, nationalists’ discourses are strengthened (Legrain, 2020) and disaster capitalism currently runs on steroids (Solis, 2020).

These discourses will shape what comes afterwards. If one believes the current crisis as caused by global capitalism, then a Marxist response is to take it apart afterwards (e.g. Harvey, 2020). If it is interpreted as a result of environmental destruction, then one might urge to focus on environmental justice and restoration. If it is believed to be a fluke in an imperfect technocracy, then the answer might be a strengthening of the high modernist state, and no need to rethink any other systems beyond, e.g. by imagining a transnational health care policy (Butler, 2020). 

In a world were idealized and dystopian versions of the future are in the making, we believe we should offer a more realistic and modest perspective on transition, one that does not dismiss conservative or radical alternative propositions, but keeps the options open for a more resilient future.

A more radical transition?

The normal order that stabilizes after the crisis has in many ways to be a reinvention. In evolutionary terms a post-quarantine society never rebounds or returns to its pre-quarantine state. A few essential questions emerge: should the virus, the responses and what is concocted and revealed in quarantine be read as enough reason to build more resilient societies? Or, does it amount to a demand for more radical transition? We would say: both. 

Societies want to come out of the pandemic in a world they at least recognize, in a society which still fits their values and aspirations, in a web of relationships which is as complex as before. In that sense, yes, resilience is needed. At the same time, what is touched upon here, the series of actions which might engender resilience in a broad sense, like increasing vigilance, civic engagement, environmental protection, climate action, fighting inequality, might all help, to prevent, minimize, and absorb shocks triggered by changes in the ecological system. They also point at the need for a radical transformation, transition. 

We might first need transition, then resilience, that is, radical reinvention into a society that is more flexible in the face of shocks.


So, what would a reinvention look like? A starting point can be a collective reflection on dichotomies which have polarized societies, veiled and hampered insight, and disabled adaptive governance and resilience. We can think of political left vs right distinctions, capitalism vs socialism, local vs global, development vs environment, distancing vs proximity (cf. Sinclair, 1997). All of those prevented insight in real adaptation options. The situation further points at the risks of any ideology which becomes an obstacle for reflexivity and keeps things blindly on a path, whether in the name of progress, justice, economic development, sustainability or other ideals. 

Complexity and uncertainty are features of life, of social-ecological systems, and many of our tricks to reduce uncertainty have just ignored or displaced it. Which brings us to the possibility of transitional governance (Van Assche et al, 2020)While the quarantine itself is a form of transitional governance, with limited aims and an acknowledgment of a temporary shortening of time horizons (i.e. let’s get through this first), we believe there is an argument to collectively consider a generalized transitional governance. 

Rather than positioning a priori an alternative, or emphasize a strengthening of system features invigorating a rebound, we believe there is real value in keeping the options open, and in recognizing that we simply don’t know yet which general form of social and economic organization offers better perspectives for people and planet in the long run. While the outline of the system after transition is not clear, some desirable features (as mentioned above) are clear, as are the risks and damages of the current system, and the argument for transitional governance.

The quarantine can hopefully inspire a reorientation towards what is considered of value, possibly a base for a new selectivity, and new procedures to figure out which transitions and reinventions are desirable. Transitional governance can entail the building of capacity, both intellectual and organizational, to deal with change while building a new and more inclusive long term. 

This means investment, a distance from ideology and from ideologies of small government, service delivery and efficiency. We need redundancies, and we need governance to be ambitious, to reflect on and articulate collective goods, for the short and long term. Stressors can force the system into a new state of stability, but for social ecological systems, we have some influence on that new stability, and we need to maintain the tools to imagine, organize, push in the direction of a new stability which is actually desirable and resilient (Walker & Salt, 2006). 

This blog is based on this research article:

References and further readings

Beunen, R., Patterson, J., & Van Assche, K. (2017). Governing for resilience: the role of institutional work. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability28, 10-16.

Bigger, S. (2009). Victor Turner, liminality, and cultural performance. Journal of Beliefs & Values30(2), 209-212.

Buscher, B., & Fletcher, R. (2020). The Conservation Revolution: Radical Ideas for Saving Nature Beyond the Anthropocene. Verso Trade.

Butler, J. (2011) Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. routledge.

Butler, J. (2020) Capitalism Has its Limits. Available at: (Accessed: 3 April 2020).

Byrne, D. (2020) The World Is Changing – So Can We2020. Available at: (Accessed: 3 April 2020).

Davoudi, S., Brooks, E., & Mehmood, A. (2013). Evolutionary resilience and strategies for climate adaptation. Planning Practice & Research28(3), 307-322.

Duineveld, M., Van Assche, K., & Beunen, R. (2017). Re-conceptualising political landscapes after the material turn: a typology of material events. Landscape Research42(4), 375-384.

Elden, S. (2020) Geographers, sociologists, philosophers etc. on covid-19 | Progressive Geographies. Available at: (Accessed: 3 April 2020).

Foucault, M. (1994) ‘The subject and power’, in Faubion, J. D. (ed.) Power. Essential works of Foucault 1954-1984. Volume 3. New York: The new press.

Geels, F. W. (2011). The multi-level perspective on sustainability transitions: Responses to seven criticisms. Environmental innovation and societal transitions1(1), 24-40.

Harvey, D. (2020) ‘Anti-Capitalist Politics in the Time of Spiraling’, pp. 1–8. Available at: (Accessed: 3 April 2020).

Klinenberg, E. (2003/2015). Heat wave: A social autopsy of disaster in Chicago. University of Chicago Press.Butler, J. (2011) Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. routledge.

Landrigan, P. J., Fuller, R., Acosta, N. J., Adeyi, O., Arnold, R., Baldé, A. B., … & Chiles, T. (2018). The Lancet Commission on pollution and health. The lancet, 391(10119), 462-512.

Legrain, P. (2020) The Coronavirus Is Killing Globalization and Empowering Nationalists and Available at: (Accessed: 3 April 2020).

Littlejohn, A. (2020) Should We Return to “Normal”? – Leiden Anthropology Blog. Available at: (Accessed: 3 April 2020).

Luhmann, N. (1989). Ecological communication. University of Chicago Press.

Matteo, V. (2020) Coronavirus Socio-Economic Responses in the world. Available at: (Accessed: 6 April 2020).

Mooney, G. (2015) Intrusive Interventions: Public Health, Domestic Space, and Infectious Disease Surveillance in England, 1840-1914. Boydell & Brewer.

Shields, R. (2013) Spatial questions: Cultural topologies and social spatialisationsSpatial Questions: Cultural Topologies and Social Spatialisations. doi: 10.4135/9781446270028.

Sinclair, D. (1997). Self‐regulation versus command and control? Beyond false dichotomies. Law & Policy19(4), 529-559.

Sloterdijk, P. (2011) ‘Bubbles: Spheres, Volume I: Microspherology, transl. Hoban, W’. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Solis, M. (2020) ‘Coronavirus Is the Perfect Disaster for “Disaster Capitalism” Naomi Klein explains how governments and the global elite will exploit a pandemic.’ Available at:

Van Assche, K., Gruezmacher, M., & Deacon, L. (2020). Land use tools for tempering boom and bust: Strategy and capacity building in governance. Land Use Policy, 103994.

Van Assche, K., Verschraegen, G., Valentinov, V., & Gruezmacher, M. (2019). The social, the ecological, and the adaptive. Von Bertalanffy’s general systems theory and the adaptive governance of social‐ecological systems. Systems Research and Behavioral Science36(3), 308-321.

Van Assche, K., Beunen, R., Duineveld, M., & Gruezmacher, M. (2017). Power/knowledge and natural resource management: Foucaultian foundations in the analysis of adaptive governance. Journal of environmental policy & planning, 19(3), 308-322.

Walker, Brian and Salt, David (2006) Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World. Island Press