Degrowth, Post-Development, and Transitions

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* Article: Degrowth, postdevelopment, and transitions: a preliminary conversation. By Arturo Escobar. Sustain Sci (2015) 10:451–462



"This paper seeks to initiate a conversation between degrowth (DG) and postdevelopment (PD) frameworks by placing them within the larger field of discourses for ecological and civilizational transitions and by bridging proposals emerging from the North with those from the Global South. Not only can this dialogue, it is argued, be mutually enriching for both movements but perhaps essential for an effective politics of transformation. Part I of the paper presents a brief panorama of transition discourses (TDs), particularly in the North. Part II discusses succinctly the main postdevelopment trends in Latin America, including Buen Vivir (BV), the rights of Nature, civilizational crisis, and the concept of ‘alternatives to development’. With these elements in hand, Part III attempts a preliminary dialogue between degrowth and postdevelopment, identifying points of convergence and tension; whereas they originate in somewhat different intellectual traditions and operate through different epistemic and political practices, they share closely connected imaginaries, goals, and predicaments, chiefly, a radical questioning of the core assumption of growth and economism, a vision of alternative worlds based on ecological integrity and social justice, and the ever present risk of cooptation. Important tensions remain, for instance, around the critique of modernity and the scope for dematerialization. This part ends by outlining areas of research on PD that could be of particular interest to degrowth scholars. The conclusion, finally, envisions the dissolution of the very binary of ‘Global North’ and ‘Global South’ by adopting a pluriversal perspective."


From the conclusion, Arturo Escobar:

"As one of the most lucid and persistent critics of development put it in his most recent analysis of the concept, despite failures, development continues to be ‘‘at the center of a powerful but fragile semantic constellation’’. (Esteva et al. 2013, p. 1). So with growth, progress, markets, and the economy. If the consolidation of these constructs involved a veritable civilizational development, their theoretical and practical denaturalization similarly demands important civilizational rearrangements. Transition discourses, including degrowth and postdevelopment, intuit compelling and viable paths in this direction. Thinking from the perspective of the Earth as a whole, in the last instance, suggests that divisions between ‘Global North’ and ‘Global South’ (another modern binary), and hence between ‘degrowth’ and ‘postdevelopment,’ will tend to dissolve as pluriversal perspectives asserts themselves.

There are additional connections between DG and PD; for instance, arguments about the communal and the relational should be useful to enrich debates in the degrowth field concerning the extent to which the transition to a degrowth society can be accomplished within, or through, capitalism and liberalism. The current thrust in Latin America is that while engaging by necessity with capitalism, modernity, and the State, the struggles for transformation have to be conducted on the basis of an entirely different logic of socio-natural life, indexed provisionally as non-liberal, non-capitalist, communal, and relational. The emphasis on the re-invention of communities is a powerful argument to deal with the amazingly pervasive practices keeping ‘the individual’ (anchored in markets and consumption) in place as the pillar of society and for imaging alternative regimes of relational personhood, in which personhood is also redefined within the tejido (weave) of life always being created with non-humans.

Similarly, from the concept of the pluriverse one can raise questions about the re-constitution of the plurality of European worlds, away from the dominant version of Euromodernity, and envision perhaps ‘‘degrowing into a pluriverse’’ as part of sustainable degrowth, beyond the OWW structured by capitalism, liberalism, secularism, and the State. The centrality of questions about autonomy in Latin American debates could buttress DG arguments about the importance of re-thinking democracy from this perspective (Asara et al. 2013).

World-wide, the economic globalized civilization has taken on a tremendous force, seemingly relegating critical debates over growth and ‘development’ to the back burner; internationally, these debates are domesticated within the discourses of the millennium development goals (MDGs) and the post-2015 ‘sustainable development goals’. However, global movements continue to keep radical conversations alive, connecting development debates to questions of epistemic decolonization, social and environmental justice, the defense of cultural difference, and transition to postcapitalist, postgrowth, and non-anthropocentric societies. For most of these movements, it is clear that conventional development, in any of its forms—including ‘sustainable’—is no longer an option. In this context, the degrowth and PD/AD discussions are a beacon of hope. At least for many social movements and for transition advocates, whatever form ‘development’ or alternatives to development take will have to involve more radical questionings of growth, extractivism, and even modernity than ever before."