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date: 29 June 2022

Forced Resilience: Conceptualizing Resilience in Life-Threatening Adversitylocked

Forced Resilience: Conceptualizing Resilience in Life-Threatening Adversitylocked

  • Helle Harnisch, Helle HarnischAarhus University, Department of Education
  • Edith MontgomeryEdith MontgomeryCopenhagen University, Department of Public Health
  •  and Hans Henrik KnoopHans Henrik KnoopAarhus University, Department of Education


The field of resilience research lacks conceptualizations of resilience that better reflect the coercive conditions, contexts and experiences of human beings who face life-threatening adversity. The article provides historic context to definitions of resilience and underlines how resilience, when defined as an absence of psychopathology, is too narrow a perspective given the life-threatening adversity many human beings face; but nevertheless, continue with life despite of. The article introduces “Forced Resilience” as a helpful concept in drawing attention to experiences of life-threatening adversity, and how resilient responses should not be deduced to whether psychopathology appears – or not, since such understandings do not embrace the complexity of life-threatening adversity and what human beings do to cope with it. Based on a qualitative empirical cultural case study comprising 10 months of ethnographic fieldwork over 4 years among former forcibly recruited children, youth, and adults in the Acholi region of Northern Uganda, the article analyzes resilience as it appears among the children and youth in our study who experienced numerous kill-or-get-killed situations, and who today, as adults, live in continuous adverse circumstances. The article analyzes whether and how the emic, first-person perspectives of the former forcibly recruited children, youth, and adults resonate with state-of-the-art resilience and psychotraumatology studies. The results underline how this is rarely the case. We argue that more careful and emic consideration is needed, regarding how we define and evaluate what are pathological and resilient responses to what types of adversity in the fast-growing field of resilience research. It is our hope that “Forced resilience” will serve as a helpful concept, which through an experience-near approach can draw attention to resilience as it occurs amidst life-threatening adversity and that this will contribute to a needed re-conceptualizing and contextualizing of resilience.


  • Psychology and Other Disciplines
  • Social Psychology

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