Exploring Degrowth

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* Book: Exploring Degrowth: a Critical Guide. by Vincent Liegey & Anitra Nelson. Pluto, 2020

URL = https://www.plutobooks.com/9780745342023/exploring-degrowth/


Vincent Liegey & Anitra Nelson:

"A sense of urgency pervades global environmentalism, and the degrowth movement is bursting into the mainstream. As climate catastrophe looms closer, people are eager to learn what degrowth is about, and whether we can save the planet by changing how we live. This book is an introduction to the movement.

As politicians and corporations obsess over growth objectives, the degrowth movement demands that we must slow down the economy by transforming our economies, our politics and our cultures to live within the Earth's limits.

This book navigates the practice and strategies of the movement, looking at its strengths and weaknesses. Covering horizontal democracy, local economies and the reduction of work, it shows us why degrowth is a compelling and realistic project."

Discussing the Principles of Degrowth

Vincent Liegey & Anitra Nelson:

"But what is degrowth? Fundamentally it is a movement of activists riding on the ideas of theorists such as André Gorz, Ivan Illich, Serge Latouche, Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, Cornelius Castoriadis and Murray Bookchin — a movement committed to forging a world in which we respect Earth’s limits and become more fully human. In this article, we introduce degrowth by unpacking four key terms developed and used within the movement: ‘frugal abundance’, ‘decolonising of the (growth) imaginary’, ‘conviviality’ and ‘open relocalisation’.

Frugal Abundance

Vincent Liegey & Anitra Nelson:

"The Covid-19 pandemic is already introducing people to the notion and practice of ‘frugal abundance’. Across the world, people and governments are asking: ‘what is really essential?’, ‘what really matters?’ and ‘how might we most easily satisfy our basic needs?’ This pandemic has highlighted the failures and weaknesses of capitalist economies harnessed to profit and growth, where production via long supply chains rupture, leading to unmet demand and widespread uncertainty and anxiety.

In contrast, ‘frugal abundance’ is a key goal and characteristic of degrowth economies specifically oriented to ensuring that all basic needs — food, clothing, housing and health —are securely met. The only abundance for degrowth activists is frugal, reversing the overconsumption and poverty of capitalist growth economies. Through economies of solidarity oriented around collective sufficiency in localised production and exchange, degrowth economies aim to meet every single person’s basic needs. This means that the first principle of degrowth reduction is a reduction in inequality." (https://www.plutobooks.com/blog/the-four-principles-of-degrowth/?)

Decolonising of the (growth) imaginary

Degrowth is a provocation that questions growth economies’ contradictory focus on quantity and scarcity to orient our economies, instead, to enhance our quality of life. Degrowth practices focus on achieving the real abundance that results from solidarity and working with nature. This is achieved through respecting Earth’s limits and engaging in its regeneration. Degrowth culture seeks a personal and society-wide ‘decolonisation’ of the omnipotent and multi-pronged growth ‘imaginary’.

In contrast to the false security sought through ‘bigger, better and faster’, degrowth nurtures a transformative culture of minimalism, of slowing down and valuing diverse human and ecological qualities and the perpetually cyclical dynamics of life. That is why the snail is a symbol of degrowth. In the process imperial, expansive and exploitative managerial and hierarchical drives wither under horizontalist approaches applied to collective governance, collective reliance and collective autonomy.


Vincent Liegey & Anitra Nelson:

"The term ‘conviviality’ has a broad and deep connotation in degrowth. It functions in both social and technical dimensions. In Tools for Conviviality (1973), Ivan Illich applies a cooperative, mutual and sociable approach in the technical sphere to refer to societies where citizens are not just experts and technocrats. Instead, he evaluates technologies for development on the basis of serving the common good.

Illich showed how capitalist technologies can be inefficient by breaching a ‘counter-productivity threshold’. In Exploring Degrowth we discuss his holistic cost-benefit calculations of the average ‘speed’ of a car. Taking a step back from the normal calculations of how long it takes to walk, cycle or drive between two points, Illich took into account the number of hours one might need to work to purchase and operate a car, the costs of the public infrastructure required for driving a car, and the ecological and social costs of dealing with the waste of ‘dead’ cars as well as injuries and deaths caused by car accidents.

This sophisticated approach to assessing the time that a car ‘saves’ showed it falling far short of a seemingly powerful device that travels 100 kph, to a device that actually achieves an average speed of 5 kph. In short, Illich’s calculations indicated that it is as quick to go on foot and even quicker to cycle. Therefore the conviviality of degrowth not only refers to enjoying other people’s company in deep and holistic ways but also applies the same approach to tools, so we surround ourselves with convivial tools rather than with the relatively useless devices that pour out of factories to be advertised and sold as commodities." (https://www.plutobooks.com/blog/the-four-principles-of-degrowth/?)

Open Relocalisation

Vincent Liegey & Anitra Nelson:

"The degrowth approach to the economy is also characterised by ‘open relocalisation’, which is a three-pronged — economic, political and cultural — strategy. Beyond localising production and distributing the collective product, and sharing the knowledge and skills required for low-tech and ethical local decision-making within a polity of direct democracy, open relocalisation calls for ‘glocalisation’.

In short, glocalisation is the reverse of globalisation, as it favours celebrating diverse cultures and environments to enrich life and biodiversity. In doing so, open relocalisation acts as a strong countervailing force against the reactionary protectionism of capitalism’s closed borders and cultural suspicion." (https://www.plutobooks.com/blog/the-four-principles-of-degrowth/?)