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Reading Group report #6 – Degrowth

Reading Group Article // Degrowth // 29.04.2020

Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era

Imaginaries of Hope: The Utopianism of Degrowth 

In this reading group we were talking about the revolutionary topic: degrowth. We started of with a discussion about “what means degrowth to you?”. It was argued, A Vocabulary for a New Era also states, that degrowth functions as an umbrella term and therefore does not offer one clear definition or goal. Nevertheless, most of us agree that the degrowth debate centers around limiting our consumption, production and possessions. We perceive this as something liberating as it frees us from distraction through materialism, competition, status symbols and makes us focus on the essential things in life we really value, need to survive and appreciate having in our lives. At the same time we also all felt very strongly about emphasizing that degrowth is not only about scarcity and limitation but just as much about increasing growth in essential fields such as health care, education, access to financial means, housing, fresh organic food and security of human rights. Growth is often seen as the standard for everything in a capitalist society and this is strongly critisized by degrowth theory, because our needs for unnecessary luxury have reached an absurd standard which is causing both social and environmental injustices. Additionally, we shared the feeling that a sense for community, solidarity, rethinking the concept of gender and life in harmony with nature is an essential part of a degrowth society. 

The current times also give us an opportunity to slow down, to think about how an alternative system could look like. Corona makes it very obvious how quick our economical system crashes although we are still consuming and fulfilling our needs. It shows how much we overproduce and overconsume. It also shows our ‘vital’ jobs are actually undervalued and underpaid. It was argued that a degroth society, which is more focussed on essential work (such as food production, health care etc) automatically identifies these jobs as a central element of society and not something which is only valued in times of crises. Also one argued that during these times of crisis, we see a growth of community building where loads of volunteers are helping in all kinds of solidarity prijects. This  shows that people are more than capable of coming together and show solidarity with each other. It was hoped that this makes community based solidarity more ‘normal’ and less special in order to have a society which is more based on mutual aid. This becomes evident to more and more people these days. Therefore, it is tremendously urgent now to provide the public with an alternative to our capitalist system. Furthermore, our current dependence on the health care – and food system makes people realize that there is an urgent need to re-think the monetary value behind those “system relevant jobs”. Ideas like a universal basic income, limiting maximum salaries, increasing taxes, redistributing care work and reducing working hours seem to be less utopian now than before, or at least more accessible to a wider crowd. 

Another very essential conversation centered around the global north and global south dynamic. There is no doubt that a degrowth society should not become a hegemonic concept. It is the opposite: Everyone, every city, every state can define for themselves how this society should look like and how it will be termed. This can be very liberating for the people suffering from neo-colonial practices and economically created dependences on the global north. In fact it is important to emphasise that degrowth is not a ‘new’ idea: ideas reminding of degrowth already exist in the global south, e.g. Ubuntu or Buen Vivir .These are beautiful concepts from which we can learn and it is important to acknowledge and give space for these ideas instead of imposing degrowth ideas in a colonizing way. There is not such thing as a fixed degrowth movement but degrowth tries to open up the space to learn from already existing degrowth societies and ideas and is therefore a hybrid concept.. For example: decolonization of the imaginary, ecological dept, and environmental justice are necessary steps for western originated degrowth movements. Another aspect mentioned is the consequence of decreasing profit in the global north, cutting global supply chains, prioritizing labour rights over profit, a natural redistribution and liberation from neo-colonialism. 

In relation to the text of Imaginaries of Hope we believed that Utopia’s are a great way to imagine a juster society. An utopia was not seen as a fixed end state, but as a state of struggle and conflict. In order to learn from utopias in the present we need to start thinking on how to conceptualise certain utopias and take into consideration its struggles and conflict in order to learn from them and think how we can change our current system. Imaginaries have the potential to open up space to think beyond certain binaries as they may appear in current society and to make space for the non-binary and the in between.