In a sign of the growing convergence of alternative economic movements, the Degrowth movement’s fourth international conference in Leipzig, Germany, last week attracted more than 2,700 people. While a large portion of the conference included academics presenting formal papers, there were also large contingents of activists from commons networks, cooperatives, the Social and Solidarity Economy movement, Transition Town participants, the “sharing economy,” and peer production.
By my rough calculation from browsing the conference program, there were more than 350 separate panels over the course of five days. Topics ranged from all sorts of economic topics (free trade, business models for degrowth, GDP and happiness) to alternative approaches to building a new world (Ivan Illich’s “convivial society,” permaculture, cooperatives, edible forest gardens).
Degrowth? For most Americans, the idea of a movement dedicated to non-growth, let alone one that can attract so many people, is incomprehensible. But in many parts of Europe and the global South, people see the invention of new socio-economic forms of production and sharing as critical, especially if we are going to address climate change and social inequality.
Some degrowth activists are a bit defensive about the term degrowth because, in English, it sounds so negative and culturally provocative. (The French term décroissance, meaning “reduction,” is apparently far less jarring than its literal transation as “degrowth.”) One speaker at the conference conceded this fact, slyly noting, “But unlike other movements, it will be exceedingly hard for opponents to co-opt the term ‘degrowth’”!
In a 2013 paper, “What is Degrowth: From an Activist Slogan to a Social Movement” (pdf), Frederico Demaria et al. write: “”’Degrowth’ became an interpretive frame for a new (and old) social movement where numerous streams of critical ideas and political actions converge. It is an attempt to re-politicise debates about desired socio-environmental futures and an example of an activist-led science now consolidating into a concept in academic literature.” A new beachhead of this academic inquiry is a book Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era, due out in November.