Degrowth

I recently stumbled upon the term Degrowth, and felt inclined to look further into it. Especially since I could sense that the term was positively charged, and thereby by definiton in opposition to the prevailing view on growth as something positively progressive.

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The term degrowth has its origin in the French word Décroissance, and was introduced at the first Degrowth conference in Paris in 2008 – which has been followed by an international degrowth conference in Europe every second year promoted by the network Research & Degrowth. The Research & Degrowth network defines sustainable degrowth as:

a downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions and equity on the planet. It calls for a future where societies live within their ecological means, with open, localized economies and resources more equally distributed through new forms of democratic institutions. Such societies will no longer have to “grow or die.”

Furthermore, the network emphasises that a degrowth society will focus on sufficiency rather than efficiency, and that innovation will be dedicated to new social and technical arrangements that will enable us to live convivially and frugally. The degrowth movement is generally critical of life-styles based on the “work more, earn more, sell more and buy more”-dogma of industrialised countries; rather it promotes the liberating qualities of voluntary simplicity and the reduction of individual consumption, and is, not surprisingly, inspired by Thoreau’s “Walden; or Life in the Woods” among other anti-materialistic, simplicity-promoting socio-ecological literature (DeMaria et al. What is Degrowth? From an Activist Slogan to a Social Movement. Environmental Values 22: 191–215. The White Horse Press. 2013: p. 195-197).

The major idea of the degrowth movement is that if less time is spent on formal work and consumption, more time can be dedicated to other fulfilling activities – and that such a shift potentially will be less environmentally harmful (Ibid: p. 202).  Degrowth does not mean stagnation or inactivity. It does not imply doing nothing. Rather, it is dynamic, in “reverse engineering” kind of way. As the above quote demonstrates, the idea of degrowth is that by limiting “formal” work and consumption, more time will be left for other fulfilling activities. Degrowth, in other words, involves a conscious choice to eradicate the 9-5 work-reality of the majority of people in industrialised countries, in order to make time and mental surplus for physically, socially and intellectually rewarding doings. Limiting expenses and consumption is a way to make this scenario possible. In my analysis of the degrowth movement, it includes a showdown of the assumption that human beings are what they work with, i.e. for example a teacher, a merchant, a doctor, or a waiter. A fulfilling life contains more than us limiting ourselves to our societal function. Or, as it is beautifully put in the book Degrowth – A Vocabulary for a new Era from 2015:

“In other words, voluntary simplicity involves embracing a minimal “sufficient” material standard of living, in exchange for more time and freedom to pursue other life goals, such as community or social engagements, more time with family, artistic or intellectual projects, home-based production, more fulfilling employment, political participation, spiritual exploration, relaxation, pleasure-seeking, and so on – none of which need to rely on money, or much money.”
(D’Alisa, Giacomo, Demaria, Frederico and Kallis, Giorgos (Ed.) (2015). Degrowth – A Vocabulary for a new Era. London and New York: Routledge: p. 133)

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