Convivial degrowth is a relatively new concept, especially in North America. Degrowth or decroissance has been around for a number of years in France and other parts of Europe, with some proponents even calling it a movement. It is not just (or even) about negative economic growth, as the English word might imply, but rather represents a complex paradigm shift away from our current industrial society and its model and culture of consumption and accumulation.
There are a number of similar currents of discussion with close affinity or at least similarities: post-development, steady-state economics, ecological economics, eco-socialism, sustainable economics, voluntary simplicity, slowcialism, frugal abundance and the (mainly Andean) indigenous concept of “buen vivir” or “sumak kawsay“, “living well but not better”.
As one would expect with any idea which proposes a radical rejection of and move away from our current industrial society, degrowth is a complex subject, with many elements and many diverse proponents arguing passionately about their particular interpretation and/or priorities for an urgently needed new society. In some ways, some of these arguments sound like differences over who has more angels on the head of his or her pin, rather than a celebration of the fact they are only slightly different “angels”, often with features adapted to the multiple cultures and identities that make up our diverse world. Fortunately, celebration and thoughtful collaboration on research, building and experimenting with elements of the degrowth paradigm shift is becoming more common.
Some of the many elements of degrowth being discussed around the world today include:
- How do we de-link personal incomes from wages in ways which foster growth of non-material leisure and cooperation while maintaining adequate and equitably distributed material production which does not exceed the material and energy equilibriums inherent in a closed, limited planetary system?
- Which social, cultural and value systems, traits, world views, epistemologies, etc. are more likely to facilitate a paradigm shift from our current industrial “model” to a degrowth “model”, while respecting the plurality of human and other life on our planet?
- What kinds of alternative currency and exchange tools can wean us from the existing ponzi scheme of monies dominated by banks and international financial institutions?
- What kinds of democratic power sharing and consensus building arrangements do we need to replace existing inequitable forms of local, regional, national and international “governance”?
- Which alternative indicators to the monolithic and strictly economistic measurement of GDP better point us toward progress toward convivial degrowth?
- How do we deal with issues of population and migration in a situation where human numbers already greatly exceed the earth’s carrying capacity, yet their impact is grossly skewed by huge, unjust inequities of distribution? How do we deal with the reactionary and racist proponents of limits on population and migration to protect their own status quo?
Many of these issues have been discussed at various international degrowth conferences: Montreal 1982, Paris 2002 and 2008, Barcelona 2010, Montreal 2012 and Venice 2012. The proceedings of many of these discussions are available in the bibliographies page of this web site. There is also growing interest in degrowth within North American and European ecological economics circles and in Latin America. The progressive news network ALAI has begun to publish new and valuable material on the related concept of “sumak kawsay” or buen vivir” – living well but not better – which has been incorporated into the formal Constitutions of Bolivia and Ecuador.
A recent overview article in the journal “Ecological Economics” by Joan Martinez Alier, Unai Pascual, Franck-Dominique Vivien and Edwin Zaccai provides a good comparative review of the various degrowth “schools”, including the French decroissance movement, steady-state economics, ecological economics and sustainable development – opting for a process they call sustainable de-growth and making recommendations for research, analysis, strategies for social change and other work necessary to move beyond the fragmented body of existing work to political strategy and change. For those who read Spanish, Uruguayan author Eduardo Gudynas has written a good synthesis of the Andean indigenous concepts of “buen vivir”. It is now also available in English.
A number of degrowth conferences and degrowth workshops within other conferences are planned over the coming year which will further enrich this work and hopefully create greater synergy and impact with respect to paths out of the multiple crises now faced by humanity and our planet. The events section of this site points to some of these meetings.