Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Against Resiliency: An Ethnographic Manifesto


Download PDF

Cite this article:

2022 EPIC Proceedings pp 202–219, ISSN 1559-8918,

Using ethnography as an analytic tool to examine the concept of resiliency, we call for a shift in our practice and praxis. Research subjects and ethnographic practitioners are tired of working against and thriving despite. We are tired of being seen as resilient in a world that demands so much from us and only values our contributions if they align with dominant views and world systems. We are tired of being relied upon to provide answers and solutions to the issues presented in front of us. In this manifesto, we demonstrate and argue that resilience, as a category of human agency, shifts responsibility to the person being resilient and away from the systemic problems that created the need to be resilient in the first place. By reifying resilience in our research and our findings, we celebrate survival despite the psychic and somatic labor and toll on resilient actors. As practitioners, we are drained by being and witnessing resilience. As ethnographers who work, we must imagine with people past resiliency to a place where we all thrive. We approach our methods and our engagements with compassion, mutual aid, and exploration.



Being of black African descent in Latvia and doing research on individuals of black African descent in Latvia means that everything is personal (visceral). The stares that your subjects describe (not the usual stares, these ones seem to pierce your very soul and say “you are not one of us”), are the same stares that you are on the receiving end of every day as you walk down the street. The discussion of blackface and appropriation in Latvia are not ones that are done through the lens of you being American, but of being Black American. You become emotionally exhausted by the discourse, by your research, but it is not because you are far away from your family or because field work is not always enjoyable, it is because your lived experience is shared by many of your subjects. Resilience is futile because you need to cry, you need to express your frustrations, you need to allow for social anxiety in the face of the stares, microaggressions, and mutual empathy.


What started as my favorite part of fieldwork turned into my coping mechanism. We had only a few days to complete our notes, and usually the time crunch spurred me to action. I love writing fieldnotes, especially under pressure. But I was already behind. As I visited the houses of people found by a recruiter about their consumer behavior and “failures of adherence,” emails from my titi sat in my inbox unanswered. I drained my second glass and closed my eyes, placing the cool hotel crystal against my forehead. My cousin was not a candidate. I couldn’t slip him any money or find a way to get him access to the treatment we were trying to understand. Feeling the condensation on my skin, I let the day come back to me. The car parts and children’s toys that littered the patchy side lawn. The kitchen in disarray, the lumpy sofa that smelled like too many animals and a house overwhelmed. I gestured to the bartender, he refilled my glass for the third time (on the client’s dime). Only two more markets with at least six more interviews in each to go…


Alone in our apartments, at the hotel bar, on a bench in the emptiest room at the museum, or a rental car in a nondescript strip mall next to a nondescript Panera Bread, we break down. Ethnography takes its toll. Away from the eyes of our friends, families, clients, and collaborators, we face our feelings of helplessness, exposure, liability, and shame. We sit, focus on our breathing, and try to contain within our bodies, the tumult of lived experience. Other times, we silently scream into a pillow. Either way, the day continues, and the work gets done. We adjust our corporate drag, check our makeup, and deliver insights.

As women of color and social class traversers, we are constantly tasked with being resilient: “a strong Black woman”, “a strong Latina”, “fearless”, and any other cliched phrase that is placed upon women and women of color. This is not liberating, it is not freeing, nor does it give us strength. It is exhausting to constantly prove our resilience and our worth to ourselves and others. To disguise the impact of our traumas or the traumas that we must live through, or to hide how vulnerable we feel in the field, at work, and in the world. In many ways, the same could also be said for our subjects – they too are tasked with proving their resilience, providing a narrative and demonstration to researchers who are already asking so much of them.

We felt compelled to write this manifesto together, with compassion, to call more tired practitioners in. The authors that we cite and the ethnographic subjects that we focus upon, all bring to light the pitfalls of resiliency. In global development, industry or civic projects, resilience is a positive response to hardship that can be translated into insights and then scaled. Resilience, as Rose and Racadio (2011, 299) detail, is where people “manipulate structures or resources to overcome barriers”. But, as critiques of our foundational texts and Fanon (2021/1963) remind us, liberation does not always mean liberation from day-to-day realities, and the outside ethnographer might not know how to assess resilient acts within the performative field of our ethnographic engagements.

Insights provided by these readings and our personal experiences in the field and on the job show us that resiliency, as a category, should be engaged with caution. As we show, by reifying resilience in our research and our findings, we celebrate survival within broken systems, despite the psychic and somatic labor and toll this takes on resilient actors. As Bracke (2016a, 69) details, “the notion of resilience does indeed assume damage and impact (…) it is also conceptually designed to overcome vulnerability – to contain and evade it, to bounce back from it, to minimize its traces, to domesticate its transformative power.” To domesticate vulnerability means that we are taming it without harnessing its power. We are taking away the ability to be vulnerable, to allow for vulnerability. We argue against resiliency because, as ethnographers, we cherish and honor the transformative power of vulnerability itself. We don’t want to contain or evade vulnerability. We don’t want to domesticate it because domestication of vulnerability isolates us. We don’t want to bounce back, because bouncing back minimizes the traces of harm and suffering.

As practitioners, we are drained by being and witnessing resilience. As ethnographers, we must imagine with people past resiliency to a place where we all thrive. We must approach our methods and our engagements with compassion, mutual aid, and exploration. Vulnerability is not a weakness, nor should it be domesticated – it is a powerful testament to our embodied histories and selves and the creative human force within us that allows us to signify and tell our stories. Without vulnerability we are simply academic subjects: projected upon, analyzed, and our daily lives made invisible. Guided by Black, indigenous, and queer approaches to practice and method (e.g. Dennison 2012; Johnson 2008; Povinelli 2006), we believe a slow, and compassionately critical ethnographic practice can serve as the solution to the problem resiliency demands. We look to our own experiences to center marginalized ethnographers, living their own version of a double consciousness; code switching “outsiders within” in the boardroom, field site, and team meeting. Because of this, we have learned that when our work develops deep relationships, and allows people to tell their own stories, it can, as Cervantes (2020, 134) states, “(…) emphasize the importance of examining the individual story within the larger collective to understand connections and tensions”. Only then, can we find joy within our ethnographic practice and the process of providing insight and transmitting knowledge.


As we professionalize our training and harness our creative power, we call for a shift in practice that centers compassion. We must embrace vulnerability, seek to build connection, and interrogate the power structures that lie within our work and at work. What follows is a literature review of the origins of the discourse of resilience and how it has been applied to three areas: systems, services, and ultimately, people.

Systems & Services

The term resilience, in the physical and biological sciences, denotes the characteristics that make a material or system return to a state of equilibrium following a moment of stress (Gordon 1978; Tarter & Vanyukov 1999; Norris et al. 2008). Versions of this meaning inform and shape recent developments in business operations and technology enablement, specifically around supply chains. As manufacturing became a global venture, companies prioritized efficiency over redundancy and drove down costs by implanting “just in time” sourcing to reduce inventory.1 This approach opened operations up to new and different risks, which were further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Uncertainty over demand, long delays from suppliers and logistics (e.g. recent calls for a railroad strike in the U.S.), shifts in labor and the workforce, geopolitical tensions and war (like what we are seeing in Ukraine), and changes to partner relationships and the availability of resources impact the bottom line. These disruptions can erase half a year’s profits or more,2 and require “a new paradigm for competitive resilience” within the supply chain, where technology can help anticipate disruption, minimize exposure to risk, respond quickly, and remain responsive to customer needs.3 In this vein, resiliency hinges on identifying disruption risks, and minimizing or avoiding them to maintain a steady state of operations and consumption.

This definition has also trickled into social services, pandemic responses, and disaster risk reduction strategies. Instead of focusing on traits of resiliency (as we will discuss below), service design in these veins focus on developing the resiliency of systems in order to “make a multiplicity of interactions possible” (Manzini, 2011:3) with people through community networks and city-supported infrastructure (Radywyl 2014; Fullilove 2005; Klinenberg 2002, 2012). Research and interventions examine pathways towards positive outcomes (Cowen et al. 1997; Luthar 1999), so prevention and intervention strategies can be developed for those facing adversity (Cicchetti and Toth 1991,1992; Luthar 1993; Masten et al. 1990; Rutter 1990).

For example, people who work in traumatic or stressful contexts, like the military or in medicine, must develop resiliency to mitigate the emotional toll, burnout, and challenges of their highly demanding jobs. Research has been directed to develop programs or apps to support those in transition between these contexts and address attrition in these fields (e.g. Litz et al. 2009, Steenkamp et. al. 2011). These also include programs and policies around climate change, natural disasters, and pandemics, as well as the “well-being” and “wellness” services seen in universities and corporations. These interventions, however, focus mostly on individual approaches to stress management and mindfulness.4


Across the social sciences, the topic of resilience has captured the imagination of researchers, practitioners, program and policy creators, as well as service designers who draw mostly from the disciplines of psychology and social work, to focus on personality traits, personal agency, positive outcomes, and positive functioning in times of high stress, trauma, scarcity, and the acts and processes of survival despite great odds and adverse conditions (e.g. Glantz 1999; Kaplan, 1999, Shaikh & Kauppi 2010, Luthar, Cicchetti and Becker 2000, Werner & Smith 2001). As people take action and make choices within resource constrained environments, they draw upon personal and social resources at their disposal.

Resiliency when used to describe people, their actions, or their processes speak to the relationship between an individual and their social world, and their positive and self-directed acts of resistance and survival (Sims-Schouten and Gilbert 2022). From genocide survivors to the poor, single mothers to downsized white collar office workers, and teenage single parents or those displaced by climate disasters, people have used (and scholars have documented) how the parameters of resilience provide a structure of meaning for survival and positive framings of painful circumstances (e.g. Kennedy 2005). Whether suffering from a challenging home life due to parental mental illness (Masten & Coatsworth 1995, 1998), maltreatment (Beeghly & Cicchetti 1994; Cicchetti and Rogosch 1997; Cicchetti, Rogosch, Lynch & Holt 1993), urban poverty and community violence (Luthar 1999, Richters & Martinez 1993), chronic illness (Wells & Schwebel 1987) or catastrophic life events or even Nazi concentration camps (Frankl 1962,1978), resilient people are able to construct meaning and find purpose within suffering through their free will and deliberate choices.

For example, individual traits and personal qualities like high levels of autonomy and self-esteem, are thought to influence and lead to positive outcomes despite childhoods defined by poverty, mental illness, or substance abuse (Werner 1982; Masten and Garmezy 1985). Research in school settings links academic progress to positive student self-perceptions – the belief in one’s ability to overcome “the system” can help students maintain their drive despite persistent effort and setbacks (Martin and Marsh 2006). White collar professionals experiencing career shifts and downsizing due to new technologies and industrial changes like outsourcing, find ways to accept their circumstances, “by changing how they think and describe their jobs” (Moellenberg et al. 2019, 106). Resilient individuals effectively seek support, use humor to temper reality, manage negative emotions, and motivate themselves to keep going (Fisher & Law 2020). They manage stress, learn from their environment, and find meaning in circumstances that might be otherwise overwhelming or defined by injustice and inequality.

Resiliency is also used frequently to speak about women and their strategies for navigating the world from an unequal power position. For example, minority women charting out successful career paths or navigating their everyday as undocumented residents expressed optimism, faith in themselves and God, and their strong relationships and values to reframe the challenges they faced and their refusal to be marginalized (Bachay and Cingel 1999; Campbell 2008). Women in long-term abusive relationships found meaning and pleasure through their role as a homemaker, and their relationships with others (Zink et. al. 2006). Women experiencing menopause were able to demonstrate resilience during this period of transition by reflecting on their life experiences and relationships to others, defining menopause on their terms (Kafanelis et al. 2009).

Although individual resilience can be undermined by excessive challenges, others can assist in making the challenges manageable, revealing how resiliency is an individual act shaped by one’s social world and human bonds. Resilience can also come from external factors like social networks, strong kinship ties, as well as martial, social and cultural capital, thus emphasizing the structural and material conditions which shape and are shaped by resilience. Environment and the social system shape the choices and actions people make on their journeys of survival and resilience (Rose and Racadio 2011). But it’s not merely the availability of support or the scarcity and challenge of the environment, it’s the human agency within these contexts that allow people to act creatively and purposefully as autonomous and self-directed actors (Lister 2003) that make them resilient.

By justifying their behavior as an active response, these studies reveal how individuals reclaim a sense of agency in a shifting world. Resiliency thus is a personal and productive choice of reclamation., one that emphasizes an individual’s ability to cope with crisis, adapt to hazards, and bounce back: resiliency focuses on the strength of individuals and puts a positive spin on the coping mechanisms of people and communities.


As the Nap Ministry, an organization founded in 2016 to promote community rest and resistance, explains, “corporations and organizations love the word resilience. We don’t need to keep being resilient, we need the terror of white supremacy, sexism, capitalism, and patriarchy to cease. Resilience be code for ‘let me be tough and strong so this world can continue fucking with me’.”5 What the Nap Ministry labels as the underlying “code” of resiliency reveals the assumptions within this framework when it is applied to people and communities. Resilience is not a pathway to liberation, instead it is a result and requirement of oppression and subjugation. To examine the use and function of resiliency, as anthropologist Roberto Barrios (2022, 29) argues, “is to make grand statements about how the social world works and how people relate to their environments; topics that anthropologists have researched since the discipline’s foundation in the late 19th century.”

Embedded within resiliency is a statement about the power of individualist actions, traits, and perspectives that can be accessed and deployed despite unequal relationships to power and unequal access to resources. As the literature review reveals, resiliency emphasizes individual responsibility; a boot-straps version of overcoming that places the burden on an individual’s adaptability. These individual acts take place upon a neutral and ahistorical social and geographic field where statis, return, and success are equally accessible (if you bring the right attitude) and most importantly is an adequate response to the challenges of today. Within the neoliberal world of deregulation, free-market capitalism, and a reduction in spending for social services, who else can you turn to if not yourself?

Resilient actors, as Rose and Racadio (2011, 299) detail, know how to “manipulate structures or resources to overcome barriers”. Yet, their acts are unsanctioned and outside the purview of existing social and institutional support and systems. Resiliency, therefore “either directly oppose the ways structures are intended to work, or they address gaps in the structures.” (2011, 303). By improvising, people are compensating for systemic failure. This Anglo-Saxon and neoliberal understanding of resiliency, where agency, and a positive mental attitude are all you need to overcome any obstacle set in front of you, diverts attention away from the root causes and historical and political processes that make some people vulnerable in the first place and why certain populations are more likely to exist in vulnerable social positions in our broken system.

It does not go over the heads of the people called resilient, what that means and how paternalistic it sounds, as well as who are usually labeled as resilient, and by whom. Resiliency tends to minimize the impact of systemic white supremacy (Joseph-Salisbury 2018; Rhamie 2012), and can be seen in Heniz’ (2018) research on a program designed to address inequality in the South Side of Chicago. While the local foundation supporting the intervention was concerned with issues of systemic racism and gun violence, these issues are hard to tackle, require tact, and can be deeply political and tense across racial and economic lines, especially as outsiders attempt to come into the neighborhood and make pronouncements and program decisions. Instead of larger systemic issues, the project team focused on one demographic and their resiliency: “If youth in this age group were able to develop rich, meaningful and sustainable livelihoods, the project team believed, race inequality and gun violence would decrease” (Heniz 2018, 567). Yet this “unseasoned team of non-local, mostly white, international expert-actors” struggled to connect and understand the Black community they engaged with and sidelined their rich experience of social engagement and activism, leading to mistrust and tension. This is all too familiar of an encounter, where “members of ethnic minority communities are defined as in need of resilience, while at the same time their experience of structural racism is ignored or erased” (Sims-Schouten and Gilbert 2022, 85).

The use of resiliency maintains the status quo and keeps people and communities vulnerable because, “resilience paradigms ‘naturalize’ and reproduce the wider social and spatial relationships which generate turbulence and inequality” (MacKinnon and Derickson 2013, 254). First, because the return to stasis was never a good position for the vulnerable to begin with, and second, because the underlying root cause is never addressed or even discussed, leaving the social context, grounded experience, and cultural and historical landscape unexamined. As anthropological critiques of resiliency within disaster scholarship reveal, “the concept of resilience does not mitigate disasters but serves as a mechanism for the maintenance of the system that creates them” (Barrios 2016,29). For example, the use of the term to describe Haitian survivors after the 2010 earthquake justified insufficient aid and contributed to the mismanagement of the multi-billion-dollar response. In fact, the top-down, NGO-dominated approach and intervention caused more harm, and triggered a range of unintended consequences like increased gender-based violence and insecurity (Schuller 2012, 2016). Without systemic transformation, and a critical understanding of race, imperialism, and colonialism as well as community and local involvement in recovery programs, Haitians were left vulnerable, a condition that continues to this day.6 Thus the label of resiliency, especially when pronounced from above increases dependency and keeps people vulnerable to hazards.

This is echoed by Barrios (2016, 33) who declares that defining “… what it means to recover successfully or rebuild better is sometimes more of a matter of discursive power, hegemony, imagination, and the politics of knowledge, more than it is about helping…”. As long as resiliency is a label placed upon minoritized and marginalized populations by dominant, white, middle-, and upper-class voices, long-term transformation will be limited. Some are othered and labeled as possessing the capacity to continue, and in need of support. Others aren’t even seen or acknowledged, dismissed as failures and overlooked. Yet, any intervention grounded in resiliency will continue and perpetuate the trajectories that leave people vulnerable. The resilient will continue to survive (barely), and those perceived as possessing a reduced capacity will continue to be ignored. These acts are not sustainable, even if we work in industry and seek to “operationalize,” “embed” or “deliver.” Resiliency exposes the precarious models of success, that for some to win, others must fail, and some must show more “grit” to even survive.

The frustrations, burnout and moral injury people face are based upon structural factors outside of their control. Yet, “we tend to blame each other and ourselves for the failure of the social structures we inhabit,” states Laura Kipnis (2004, 35). We also tend to identify within the individual their successes, even if they are hard won and collectively earned. A focus on resiliency celebrates the extreme acts people deploy to overcome barriers. For example, a wellness program asking me to meditate for five minutes daily can never address the systemic and collective strains the neoliberal world places upon us. A wellness program does not allow for a probing of these traumas or a deeper “meditative” exploration of how these traumas impact one’s state of being and where one can find accountability and healing. EPIC2021 keynote speaker Panthea Lee, in a Medium post titled “Towards a politics of solidarity and joy”, talks of confronting and tending past traumas through somatic abolitionism (versus, say, a mindfulness training). Lee (2020, np) argues that people

…develop protective, automatic responses to oppressive social conditions and traumas both violent and quotidian. We might, for example, numb ourselves, or become smaller in order to appease those that threaten us. These instincts are learned and culturally shaped; over time, they become automatic and coded in our soma. Left unaddressed, our senses of connection and of dignity begin to slip away – in short, our very humanity is threatened.

As practitioners, we must recognize these somatic tendencies in both our subjects and ourselves, especially when we see these tendencies in marginalized populations, and understand that resilience is not the answer to the social conditions to which Lee refers. Practitioners need to stop describing people as resilient and move towards an understanding how systems and structures create the hazards that demand resilience. A way to do this, we argue, is through ethnographic vulnerability. For us, as ethnographers, we are sometimes asked to not put our feelings to words in our field reports or business presentations – it is not considered “professional”. But, perhaps, openly writing and talking about our vulnerability (and that of those whom we research), is something that we should do more often. It is, after all, an important part of acknowledging embodied histories and stories.

Ethnographic Subjects

The truth of the discourse of resiliency is that it does not allow us or our subjects to be vulnerable. Resilience asks for us to hide our vulnerability because it is a sign of weakness, of not being able to show our “strength” or “flexibility.” Or, resiliency asks us to perform. In ethnography, resilience is utilized to describe how Indigenous groups are able to maintain their ways of life in the face of colonial actors, imperialism, and “industrialization”. One can only look to the foundational texts of anthropology – Malinowski (1922) and Mead (1928), among others – to see how they celebrate their subjects’ ability to remain “primitive”, “the same”, and “untouched”, as though they have not been impacted by the outside world. This continues into the realm of ethnographic and natural history museums, some of which were either founded by or supported by the “collections” of anthropologists such as Kroeber and Boas – either through the addition of living indigenous subjects as exhibition content (Kroeber) or thematic and taxonomic organizing of items illegally taken from their original owners (Boas). Many of these museums still fall into this trope (until they are challenged by former colonial subjects and their descendants). But, just because the practices of the ethnographic subjects of the past are seen as resilient – it does not mean that they actually are or were resilient. And once their countries declared independence and ostensibly threw off the reigns of colonialism, it did not mean the liberation of their bodies and minds. This is an area that postcolonial critique takes to task, as the mere term postcolonial still centers colonialism within the histories of subjugated peoples. It also does not account for settler colonialism and/or continuing imperialism (McClintock 2015). Additionally, the continuation of the legacy of colonialism within the minds of the “formerly” colonized cannot be forgotten nor translated into a societal transformation overnight (Thame 2011).

For Frantz Fanon, there is a critique to be had about the postcolonial self and body politic. Fanon, although he was not an ethnographer, is still frequently cited and called upon by anthropologists and sociologists. In The Wretched of the Earth, he (1968/2021, 114) states that

The peasant who continues to scratch out a living from the soil, the unemployed who never find a job, are never really convinced that their lives have changed, despite the festivities and the flags, however new they might be.

Liberation, and resilience in the face of past colonial aggressions, is only resilience on the surface. Behind those “festivities and the flags”, are human beings who just want to keep their heads down, live, and not put on a show for an audience. There is also the question of what goes on behind closed doors. While Fanon does discuss the types of anxieties (one could say psychosis) that plague individuals of black African descent in a white European world in his 1967 classic, Black Skin, White Masks, he does not go outside the realm of what is going on inside one’s mind. There is no crying in the streets or silent pillow screams mentioned in his text. Vulnerability, in his case, is something that one feels, but does not express.

Understanding the relationship between vulnerability and resilience is essential to understanding our subjects, as well as the legacy of our work and disciplines. Texts by more contemporary scholars, particularly those from ethnographic backgrounds, dive into how discussions of vulnerability are often ignored in the discourse of resilience. Bracke (2016a, 2016b) goes against this tendency by exploring vulnerability and resilience within individual (and collective) agency. Bracke intertwines the subaltern (via Spivak, 1984) within a critique of resiliency, as a way to unpack the nature of agency and the road from resistance to resilience. While Bracke (2016b) sees a resistance-resilience shift, it does not mean that resilience is considered liberating. Instead, resilience is a way “to ‘make do’ with the conditions one finds oneself in, ways to survive, is something the subaltern does – until she does not” (2016b, 14). This idea of “making do” echoes Fanon’s sentiment about “the liberated” and points us in the direction that resiliency is simply a way to survive within the capitalist system – it does not allow for adaptation, it is static, and it is not liberating. What does this turn mean for us as ethnographic practitioners? How does it apply to our experiences in the field and interactions with our subjects? The task of the ethnographer, then, is to take a deep look into ourselves and our observations, interactions, and analyses.

Ethnographic Practitioners

The move from subjects to practitioners means that we must take stock of our positionality, alongside our ethnographic practice. We celebrate our praxis and position. Our methods are playful and human, they inspire poetry and creativity, shared support (through gestures both big and small), bring warmth, and hopefully critical honesty (Salami 2020). We lean into vulnerability in our ethnographic being to broker pathways towards shared recognition and human connection – past the survival that resiliency expects.

As women of color, nay, as Jewish women of color in the field, we have a specific set of life histories and experiences that we bring to the field – and to industry, which is still (despite many an effort) predominantly white European cis-male and exudes a white privileged-take on how the world, society, and products work. We are systemically undervalued and underpaid. To continue to exist within such a system, in itself, can create a feeling of loneliness and isolation – the classic “otherness” that is often explored in anthropological, sociological, and cultural studies texts.

Otherness and loneliness are not just the realm of social scientists or book-bound academics. In Lonely City, a text about the nature of loneliness, art, artists, and urban self-exploration, Olivia Laing (2016, 4) writes “Loneliness is difficult to confess; difficult too to categorize. Like depression, a state with which it often intersects, it can run deep in the fabric of a person, as much a part of one’s being as laughing easily or having red hair”. This carries into the field, where ethnographic practitioners – in academia or in industry, are often tasked with carrying out their research alone or in isolation. It can be while sitting in an empty apartment while working remotely or while traveling to a land wherein your only acquaintances are your subjects. You do not have to be single or a solo researcher to be alone – one can be partnered or traversing a team project and still be alone, lonely. As Laing (2016) points out, even Andy Warhol, with his lively Factory and tight knit group of hangers-on, still felt and wrote about feeling alone in New York City.



I finally found peace when I allowed myself to fight back against some members of my dissertation committee who claimed that the words that my subjects spoke about their identity and experiences with discrimination were not true or misinterpreted. All it took was for me to turn to my community of friends — some fellow academics and anthropologists, others were from the community that I had built in Rīga – to realize that it was OK for me to feel sad, angry, and frustrated with how the academy treats the words of women of color, as well as the fact that my subjects’ vulnerability (as shared with me and then readers of my dissertation) was also true and valid. This work that we do, it is important (and sometimes maddening), but we must not forget that we are not alone and that the powers that be may frustrate our acts, but they too can be pushed back.


“If no one is there to be an advocate, nothing gets done,” my mother stated in frustration. My father was going into the hospital (again), and with all the new pandemic precautions she wouldn’t be able to stand guard like she usually does. “He gets disoriented, he forgets, he gets agitated, what will happen when I’m not there?” Her voice broke as she held back her tears. I didn’t know what to do, there was nothing I could do. I just listened. Anyways, I had to get to work, today was another day “in the field,” even though the field now consisted of a virtual conference room, a digital journal, and never leaving my apartment. My phone chimed; it was one of our research subjects. After he completed his first digital journal, we had been going back and forth talking about the music and art he loved from the seventies. He wanted to know if I got the package he sent. Later that day, in a Context Lab a daughter-in-law shared with the group her experience taking care of her husband’s elderly mother who was losing her vision. “I struggle,” she shared. “You have to teach people, even the doctors, about what she’s going through, otherwise they don’t listen to me, they don’t see how stubborn she can be.” After our lab, we emailed back and forth. I thanked her for her honesty and grace, I thanked her for being open to listening to others in the group when they noticed how she centered herself in her mother-in-law’s care. I thanked her and then I shared my own story.

For us to truly face down the discourse of resilience within our practice, we must make a shift in our thinking. Not just a shift, but four shifts. These four shifts are also our calls to action. We invite and welcome others to join us to rethink how we position ethnography, the disciplines of the social sciences that shaped us, the status quo, and, of course, our relationship to vulnerability. It is our hope that these shifts act as a guide to how we can, as ethnographers, better engage with each other and those that we study. As marginalized subjects (as women and religious and ethnic minorities), we ask our community of ethnographers to join us and imagine past resiliency so we can enjoy our practice (and get some rest).

Shift one: Ethnography as a method and our solution

We know that our disciplinary foundations are not angels. Sociology and anthropology are complicit in the colonialist project and industrial rationalization of modernity that categorizes some people as winners and others as losers and requires resiliency as an individual tactic for survival. Our own personal and disciplinary histories of privilege, power, and domination therefore must be confronted and challenged in our practices. It is only then can we resist the urge to name and categorize people as resilient and reify that which harms us all.

Our method, thankfully, also gives us the answer. Doing ethnography is such a privilege, and we must leave room for joy and compassion. Ethnography drains us, but it also sustains us. The beauty we find in connections and encounters remind us that people matter, and that connections despite difference can happen. The quiet and rigor of analysis allow us to revel in and be in awe of the texture and creativity of human life even when it exists within the banal moments of the everyday. The act of translation and dissemination allows us to share what we have learned and, hopefully, speak truth to power. An ethnography based in vulnerability and an ethics of caring and reciprocity gives us as practitioners, not a way out, but a way through, and a way in.

Shift two: An embodied and participatory social science

Our instrument is what makes ethnography truly distinctive and beautiful. As Chicano poet-anthropologist, Renato Rosaldo (1994), detailed, (and which has mistakenly been attributed to Geertz in the referential practice of canon-building), our method requires “deep hanging out.” This involves the very subjective and singular act of immersing oneself in a space, cultural group, or social field and capturing poignant insights from actual people about their lives. An ethnographer makes a living on being present and capturing the texture of human life. “The data which ethnographers use is a product of their participation in the field rather than a mere reflection of the phenomenological studies, and/or is constructed in and through the process and analysis and the writing of ethnographic accounts” (Hammersley 1992, 2). While in “the field,” one immerses themselves, captures data through experience in the form of “fieldnotes,” sits with these “assets” and ephemera of encounter as the act of analysis, and then shares that information with others. We call all practitioners to extend their definition of the field. Even when things fail; a respondent is quiet, or doesn’t match the screener, or wants to derail the conversation, these are all learning lessons – roll with it. When clients question your methods, or the value of your small sample, listen, they’re telling you something. Our bodies are our analytic instrument, we must honor the rigorous and grounded foundation of our training and method that lives within showing up in our human-self and committing to ethnographic encounters.

Shift three: A grounded approach to confront the status quo

The goal of reflective practice is “to avoid creating new orthodoxies that are exclusionary and reifying” (Grewal and Kaplan 1994, 18). The ethnographer shares what they have learned, through their own lens, to expose assumptions for falsehoods, and orthodoxies. We bring hard truths to the table. We share human information as evidence to reveal the assumptions our clients hold. Our method can fuck you up, it can expose your own biases and assumptions and require new frameworks for understanding (e.g. Mahmoud 2004). The ethnographer must question the status quo to understand what lies beneath. This can only happen when we “work together, revel in difference, fight exploitation, decode ideology, and invest in resistance” (Halberstam 2011, 21). This also means casting the critical lens to the self. Be honest about the limitations of our methods, and the capabilities of the human body as an instrument., but know our value and push back on timelines that seek to domesticate our methods and work us in ways that limit our time for engagement and analysis.

Ethnographers, by practice are “never fully outside or inside the community” (e.g. Naples 2003, Behar 1997). Ethnographers, even when we are conducting auto-ethnography, or engaging with communities we see as our own, are always living “in between.” Our position as an analytic observer pulls us out of the moment. This gives us keen powers of perception. Because we are betwixt and between, we must be aware of positionality and power. Our own subject position shapes what we know, what we have access to, and how both research subjects, and our stakeholders perceive us and the legibility and validity of our findings (Naples 2003).

Without critical reflection, our method of “deep hanging out” can become voyeuristic, invasive, and extractive. Yet, when we draw from feminist methodologists, we can shift the power, and expand our possibilities. Instead of mastery, we can be humble. Instead of being extractive, we can be collaborative. A feminist practice examines the relations of power in what we ask, how we ask it, why we’re there, and what are the expectations of exchange. We must seek and create a form of cooperation in our methods that is not dependent on remunerative alliance, but on our shared position of precarity within the extractive systems of contemporary capitalism. Because we are all exposed and vulnerable. We too are failures, we too require softness, we too need systems to support us, we too are struggling.

Being betwixt and between is powerful because this is the space of translation, transformation, and as we believe, our superpower in imagining new worlds and possibilities. It is here where we can use reflexivity and compassion to imagine past resiliency to collective acts and systemic transformations. We need to do more than live – we need to collectively thrive.

Shift four: A rigorous method of affect, compassion and vulnerability

As ethnographers, we act as human griots — storytellers and world builders. We write and share about “what most links us with life, the sensations of the body, the images seen by the eye, the expansion of the psyche in tranquility: moments of high intensity, its movement, sounds, thoughts” (Sandoval 2002 21). Ours is an instrument of affect. We feel the challenges we hear, we carry those burdens, and work to communicate its significance. Ethnography is an instrument, as feminist methodologists explain, honed through praxis. If we use our method to extend compassion, we can break down power differentials and experiential differences. Instead of a practice of distance and clinically cold extraction, we can build relationships if we bring an ethic of caring. We believe we need to bring ourselves fully, as an offering to extend compassion and model vulnerability. This method of encounter, of witness, assessment and ultimately communication requires and demands trust and a sense of communion.

For us, this must go in three directions; first and always; those who give us their time and let us enter their worlds: our research participants and collaborators. That’s a big ask, and we must respect the immense privilege of being able to walk into someone else’s life and be “in charge” of translating that to others, mostly in positions of power. The second direction is to ourselves. We need to be kind to our community of practitioners and stand together to resist the automation of our practices, the shortening of timelines, and the dismissal of our value. The third is our stakeholders and business collaborators. They deserve our “best practices” to understand the ethics of their actions.


We are on a quest for new forms of community, recognition, and ways of being that do not demand resiliency. Resiliency isn’t liberating, nor does it give us strength; it’s exhausting and time consuming. While some resiliency can also be resistance, it almost never leads to liberation, because resiliency already inherently connotes subjugation. Resiliency rarely makes space for resistance without consequences and transformation without mass deliverance because it’s too wedded to the systems that bind, grind, and spit us all out. So, what is the alternative?

We look to our method for advice, ethnographic practitioners for support, and the communities we build across differences to reveal new ways of being in the world and in relation with each other. Our value is that we can build and stand outside conventional ways of understanding success and failure in our broken system. Our methodology of encounter, connection, and experience can show us the way. This manifesto is our attempt to build community and foster bridges between ourselves, our research subjects, our stakeholders and collaborators, and our financial backers. “We must risk being open to personal, political and spiritual intimacy, to risk being wounded” (Anzaldúa, 2002, 8). We know this is hard, we know this is more personal. But the moment demands this of us. It’s time to be wounded together.

Jillian Powers, PhD is an applied sociologist who works at JP Morgan Chase in Responsible AI. She earned her BA from Dartmouth College and her PhD from Duke University. She joyfully lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. She has lots of strong opinions, and is regularly called a “difficult” woman.

Lauren Monsein Rhodes, PhD is a Sr. Design Researcher at Cisco, currently based in Columbus, OH USA. She received her BA from Oberlin College, MSEd from Bank Street College of Education, and PhD from University of Washington. Her writing has appeared in, Echo Gone Wrong, and Journal of Museum Education.


1. “Real-world supply chain resilience, ” BCG, last modified July 29, 2021,

2. “Supply chains: to build resilience, manage proactively,” McKinsey and Co., last modified May 23, 2022,

3. “How to build more secure, resilient, next-gen U.S. supply chains,” Brookings Institution, last modified December 3, 2020,

4. Rosaling Gill and Ngaire Donaghue, “Resilience, apps and reluctant individualism: Technologies of self in the neoliberal academy,” Women’s studies international forum 54 (January-February 2016): 91-99.

5. The Nap Ministry (@TheNapMinistry), “Corporations and organizations love the word resilience…,” Twitter, November 4, 2020,

6. Michèle Montas, “How to escape the cycle of mismanaged aid in Haiti,” The New York Times, August 21, 2021, Section A: 18.


Anzalduá, Gloria and Keating, AnaLouise. 2002. The bridge we call home: Radical visions for transformation. London: Routledge.

Bachay, Judith B., and Pamela A. Cingel. 1999. “Restructuring Resilience: Emerging Voices.” Affilia, 14, no. 2: 162–75.

Barrios, Roberto. 2016. “Resilience: A commentary from the vantage point of anthropology”. Annals of Anthropological Practice, 40: no. 1: 28-38.

Beeghly, Marjorie and Cicchetti, Dante. 1994. “Child maltreatment, attachment and the self system: Emergence of an internal state lexicon in toddlers at high social risk”. Development and Psychopathology, 6:5–30.

Behar, Ruth. 1997. The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology that Breaks Your Heart. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Bracke, Sarah. 2016a. “Bouncing back: Vulnerability and resistance in times of resilience.” In Vulnerability in resistance, edited by Judith Butler, Zeynep Gambetti and Leticia Sabsay, 52-75. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Bracke, Sarah. 2016b. “Is the subaltern resilient? Notes on agency and neoliberal subjects.” Cultural Studies, 30, no. 6: 839-855.

Campbell, Wendy Sellers. 2008. “Lessons in Resilience: Undocumented Mexican Women in South Carolina.” Affilia 23, no. 3: 231–41.

Cervantes, Alejandro, Judith Flores Carmona & Ivelisse Torres Fernandez. 2019. “Nosotros importamos (we matter): The use of testimonios with Latino male adolescents in group counseling”. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 14, no. 1: 1-12.

Cicchetti, Dante and Toth, Sheree L. 1991. “The making of a developmental psychopathologist”. In Child behavior and development: Training for diversity, edited by Joan H. Cantor, Charles Spiker and Lewis P. Lipsitt, 34–72. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Cicchetti, Dante and Toth, Sheree L. 1992. “The role of developmental theory in prevention and intervention”. Development and Psychopathology, 4: 489–493.

Cicchetti, Dante and Rogosch, Fred A. 1997. “The role of self-organization in the promotion of resilience in maltreated children”. Development and Psychopathology, 9, no. 4:799–817.

Cicchetti, Dante, Rogosch, Fred A., Lynch, Michael and Holt, Kathleen. 1993. “Resilience in maltreated children: Processes leading to adaptive outcomes”. Development and psychopathology, 5:629–647.

Cowen, Emory L., Wyman, Peter Y., Work, William C., Kim, Julia Y., Fagen, Douglas B. and Magnus, Keith B. 1997. “Follow-up study of young stress-affected & stress-resilient urban children”. Development and psychopathology, 9: 564–577.

Dennison, Jean. 2012. Colonial entanglement: Constituting a twenty-first-century Osage Nation. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

Fanon, Frantz. 2021 [1963]. The wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press.

Fanon, Frantz. 1967 [1952]. Black skin, white masks. New York: Grove Press.

Fischer, Florian. 2021. “Response: building resilience through humor – positive impact on stress coping and health: “Party in the front”.” In Cases on applied and therapeutic humor, edited by Michael K. Cundall Jr. and Stephanie Kelly, 68-76. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Fisher, David and Law, Rebekah. 2020. “How to choose a measure of resilience: An organizing framework for resilience measurement.” Special Issue: Special Section: advances in the psychology of workplace coaching 70, no. 2: 643-673.

Frankl, Viktor Emil. 1962. Man’s search for meaning : an introduction to logotherapy. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Frankl, Viktor Emil. 2011 (1978). The unheard cry for meaning: Psychotherapy and humanism. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Fullilove, Mindy Thompson. 2005. Root Shock: How tearing up city neighborhoods hurts America, and what we can do about it. New York: One World/Ballantine.

Gill, Rosalind and Donaghue, Ngaire. 2016. “Resilience, apps and reluctant individualism: Technologies of self in the neo-liberal academy”. Women’s studies international forum 54: 91-99.

Glantz, M.D. and Johnson J.L. 1999. Resilience and development: Positive life adaptations. New York: Plenum.

Gordon, J.E., 1978. Structures: Or why things don’t fall down. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Halberstam, Jack. 2011. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham NC: Duke University Press.

Hammersley, Martyn. 1992. What’s Wrong With Ethnography? London: Routledge.

Heintz, Nathan. 2018. “Gaming evidence: Power, storytelling and the “colonial moment” in a Chicago systems change project.” 2018 Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings, no. 1: 566-590.

Iavokou, Eleftherios and White, Chelsea C. III. 2020. “How to build more secure, resilient, next-gen U.S. supply chains.” The Brookings Institute. Last modified December 3, 2020.

Johnson, E.Patrick. 2008. Sweet tea: Black gay men of the South – An oral history. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

Kafanelis,Vicki, Kostanski, Betty, Marion, Komesaroff, Paul A. and Stojanovska, Lily. 2009. “Being in the script of menopause: Mapping the complexities of coping strategies.” Qualitative Health Research 19, no. 1: 30–41.

Kaplan, Howard B. 1999. “Toward an understanding of resilience: A critical review of definitions and models”. In Resilience and development: Positive life adaptations, edited by M.D. Glantz and J.R. Johnson, 17-83. New York: Plenum.

Kennedy, Angie C. 2005. “Resilience among urban adolescent mothers living with violence: Listening to their stories.” Violence against women 11, no. 12: 1490–1514.

Kipnis, Laura 2004. Against Love: A polemic. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Klinenberg, Eric. 2002. Heat wave. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Klinenberg, Eric. 2012. Going solo: The extraordinary rise and surprise appeal of living alone. New York: Penguin Random House.

Laing, Olivia. 2019. The lonely city: Adventures in the art of being alone. New York: Picador.

Lee, Panthea. 2020. “Towards a politics of solidarity and joy”. Medium post, December 31, 2020.

Lister, Ruth. 2003. Citizenship: feminist perspectives. Second Edition. New York: New York University Press.

Litz, Brett T., Stein, Nathan, Delaney, Eileen and Leibowitz, Leslie, et al. 2009. “Moral injury and moral repair in war veterans: A preliminary model and intervention strategy”. Clinical psychology review 29, no. 8: 695-706.

Luthar, Suniya S. 1993. “Annotation: Methodological and conceptual issues in the study of resilience”. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 34: 441–453.

Luthar, Suniya S. 1999. Poverty and children’s adjustment. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Luthar, Suniya S., Cicchetti, Dante and Becker, Bronwyn. 2000. “The construct of resilience: A critical evaluation and guidelines for future work”. Child development 71, no. 3: 543-62.

McClintock, Anne. 2015 [1995]. Imperial leather: Race, gender, and sexuality in the colonial context. London: Routledge.

MacKinnon, Danny and Derickson, Kate Driscoll. 2013. “From resilience to resourcefulness: A critique of resilience policy and activism”. Progress in human geography 37, 2: 253-270.

McKinsey and Co. 2022. “Supply chains: To build resilience, manage proactively.” Last modified May 23, 2022.

Mahmoud, Saba. 2004. Politics of Piety: The Islamic revival and the feminist subject. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An account of native enterprise and adventure in the archipelagos of Meleanesian New Guinea. London: G. Routledge & Sons, Ltd.

Manzini, Ezio. 2011. “Introduction”. In Design for services: Key issues and new directions, edited by Anna Meroni and Daniela Sagiorgi, 1-6. London: Bloomsbury.

Martin, Andrew and Marsh, Herb. 2006. “Academic Resilience and its Psychological and Educational Correlates: A Construct Validity Approach.” Psychology in the schools 43, no. 3: 267 – 281.

Masten, Ann S. and Garmezy Norman. 1985. “Risk, Vulnerability, and Protective Factors in Developmental Psychopathology”. Advances in Clinical Child Psychology, edited by Benjamin B. Lahey and Alan Kazdin, 1-52. New York: Plenum Press.

Masten, Ann S., Best, Karin M. and Garmezy, Norman. 1990. “Resilience and Development: Contributions from the Study of Children who Overcome Adversity”. Development and Psychopathology 2:425–444.

Masten, Ann S. and Coatsworth, J. Douglas. 1995. “Competence, Resilience, and Psychopathology”. In Developmental Psychopathology: Vol. 2. Risk Disorder and Adaptation, edited by Dante Cicchetti and Donald J. Cohen, 715-752. New York: Wiley.

Masten, Ann and Coatsworth J.Douglas.1998. “The Development of Competence in Favorable and Unfavorable Environments: Lessons from Research on Successful Children”. American psychologist, 53: 205–220.

Mead, Margaret. 1928. Coming of age in Samoa: A psychological study of primitive youth for Western civilization. New York: W. Morrow and Company.

Moellenberg, Tamara, Morgan Ramsey-Elliot and Claire Straty. 2019. “The adaption of everyday work in an age of automation.” 2019 Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings, no. 1: 105-123.

Montas, Michèle. 2021. “How to escape the cycle of mismanaged aid in Haiti.” The New York Times, August 21, 2021.

Moraga, Cherríe and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds. 1981. This bridge called my back: Writings by radical women of color. Watertown, MA: Persephone Press.

Naples, Nancy. 2003. Feminism and method: Ethnography, discourse analysis, and activist research. London: Routledge.

Norris, Fran H., Stevens, Susan.P. and Pfefferbaum, Betty, et al. 2008. “Community resilience as a metaphor, theory, set of capacities, and strategy for disaster readiness”. American Journal of Community Psychology 41: 127–150.

Povinelli, Elizabeth A. 2006. The empire of love: Toward a theory of intimacy, genealogy, and carnality. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Radywyl, Natalia. 2014. “Service Designing the City”. Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings 2014, 1: 64-81.

Rhamie, Jasmine. 2012. “‘Achievement and underachievement: the experiences of African Caribbeans”. Race Ethnicity and Education 15, no. 5: pp. 683–704.

Richters John E. and Martinez, Pedro E. 1993. “Violent Communities, Family Choices, and Children’s Chances: An Algorithm for Improving the Odds”. Development and Psychopathology 5:609–627.

Rosaldo, Renato. 1994. Keynote talk. Presented at Anthropology and ‘the Field’, Stanford University and UC Santa Cruz, February, 18-19.

Rose, Emma J. and Robert Racadio. 2011. “Shining a light on agency: Examining responses to resource constraints to uncover opportunities for design.” 2011 Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings, no. 1: 298-310.

Rutter Michael. 1990. “Psychosocial Resilience and Protective Mechanisms”. In Risk and Protective Factors in the Development of Psychopathology, edited by Jon Rolf , Ann S. Masten, Dante Cicchetti, Keith H. Nuechterlein and Sheldon Weintraub, 181-214. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Salisbury, R Joseph 2018 ‘Black mixed-race men, perceptions of the family, and the cultivation of “post-racial” resilience’. Ethnicities 18, no. 1: 86–105.

Sandoval, Chela 2002. “Foreword: After Bridge: Technologies of crossing,” in This bridge we call home, edited by Gloria Anzaldúa and AnaLouise Keating, 21-26. London: Routledge.

Schuller, Mark. 2012. Killing with kindness: Haiti, international aid, and NGOs. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Schuller, Mark, 2016 Humanitarian Aftershocks in Haiti. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Schuster, Rainer, Nath, Gurav, Rodriguez, Pepe, O’Brien, Chrissy, et al. 2021. “Real-world supply chain resilience.” BCG. Last modified July 29, 2021.

Shaikh, Arshi and Kauppi, Carol. 2010. “Deconstructing resilience: myriad conceptualisations and interpre- tations”. International Journal of Arts and Sciences 3: 155–76.

Sims-Schouten, Wendy and Patricia Gilbert. 2022, “Revisiting ‘resilience’ in light of racism, ‘othering’ and resistance.” In Race and Class, 64, no.1: 84-94.

Steenkamp, Maria and Mash, William P., et al. 2011. “The stress continuum model: A military organizational approach to resilience and recovery.” In Resilience and mental health: Challenges across the lifespan, edited by Steven M. Southwick, Brett T. Litz, Dennis Charney, and Matthew J. Friedman, 238-252. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tarter, Ralph E. and Vanyukov, Michael M. 1999. Re-visiting the validity of the construct of resilience. In Resiliency and development: Positive life adaptations, edited by Meyer D. Glantz and Jeanette L. Johnson, 85-100. New York: Plenum.

Thame, Maziki. 2011. “Reading violence and postcolonial decolonization through Fanon: The case of Jamaica”. The Journal of Pan-African Studies, 4: 75.

The Nap Ministry. 2020. “Corporations and organizations love the word resilience…” Twitter, November 4, 2020.

Werner, Emmy E. and Smith, Ruth S.. 1982. Vulnerable but invincible: A study of resilient children. New York: McGraw- Hill.

Werner, Emmy E. and Smith, Ruth S. 2001. Journeys from Childhood to Midlife: risk, resilience and recovery Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Wells, Robert D. and Schwebel, Andrew I.. 1987. “Chronically ill children and their mothers: Predictors of resilience and vulnerability to hospitalization and surgical stress”. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics 18:83–89.

Zink, Therese, Jacobson, Jeff C., Pabst, Stephanie, Regan, Saundra and Fisher, Bonnie S.. 2006. “A Lifetime of intimate partner violence: Coping strategies of older women.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 21, no. 5: 634–51.

Video Icon

To watch the video presentation,

Learn about membership