JPE Vol.24 Degrowth Abstracts

Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 24 2017

Special Section on “Degrowth, Culture and Power”

Edited by Lisa L. Gezon and Susan Paulson

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23. Susan Paulson. 2017. Degrowth: culture, power and change. Journal of Political Ecology 24: 425-448. PDF

Abstract: : Harmful environmental consequences of growth have been rigorously documented and widely publicized throughout the past half-century. Yet, the quantity of matter and energy used by human economies continues to increase by the minute, while governments and businesses continue to promise and to prioritize further economic growth. Such a paradox raises questions about how we humans change course. This introduction to a Special Section offers a new theoretical approach to change, together with glimpses of adaptations underway around the world. It directs attention away from individual decision-making and toward systems of culture and power through which socialized humans and socioecological worlds are (re)produced, sustained and adapted. Potential for transformative change is found in habitual practices through which skills, perspectives, denials and desires are viscerally embodied, and in cultural systems (economic, religious, gender and other) that govern those practices and make them meaningful. Case studies reviewed illuminate diverse communities acting to maintain old and to forge new moral and material worlds that prioritize well- being, equity and sustainability rather than expansion. This article endeavors to galvanize change by conceptualizing degrowth, by decolonizing worldviews of expansionist myths and values, and by encouraging connections between science and activism, north and south.

Key words: degrowth, transition, climate change, socioecological systems

24. Robin M. LeBlanc. 2017. Designing a beautifully poor public: postgrowth community in Italy and Japan. Journal of Political Ecology 24: 449-461. PDF

Abstract: : This paper examines images of desirable postgrowth communities pursued by activist architects in Bologna and Tokyo. Their visions are differently shaped by the distinct architectural and cultural environments in their respective cities. Nonetheless, they share an anti-growth, “beautifully poor” aesthetic that seems to challenge the dominant political values of liberal nations in the post-World War II era, redefining the democratic public in terms of spontaneity and conviviality. Conceptions of successful communities in rich countries have been shaped around the presumption that they must sustain citizens’ material wellbeing by sustaining economic growth. But given the global environmental and social justice problems that have resulted from a single-minded focus on growth, we need new imaginaries of communities that can thrive without economic growth, especially in the global north. Decades of low to zero growth and demographic decline in Italy and Japan are forcing community stakeholders from elected officials to urban planners to confront the question of how to maintain good communities even where material affluence is irrevocably diminished.

Keywords: degrowth, public space, urban planning, architecture, political ecology

25. Eric Hirsch. 2017. The unit of resilience: unbeckoned degrowth and the politics of (post)development in Peru and the Maldives. Journal of Political Ecology 24: 462-475. PDF

Abstract: : This article asks how people envision lives without economic growth in contexts where conventional development ceases to be feasible. It presents ethnographic research I conducted in Peru and in the Maldives, which policymakers see as two climate crisis frontiers. I argue for defining resilience as a grounded, necessarily local, actor’s theory of permanence; it is a theory people from diverse social classes and institutions generate in situations of vulnerability and crisis. In the Andes’ Colca Valley, which some residents predict has only several habitable decades left due to increasing water scarcity, sustainable development projects are attenuating their presence as their budgets shrink, while mining enterprises and their corporate social responsibility programs have emerged as development’s new agenda setters. The Maldives is one of the world’s lowest-lying nations, which rising seas could soon render uninhabitable. Between 2008 and 2012, President Mohamed Nasheed made addressing the climate crisis a policy priority by substituting conventional industrial development with a short-lived quest for national carbon neutrality. Examining this contrapuntal pair of frontier sites, I argue that defining the unit of resilience is a political act: forging this definition means prioritizing what, in a human-driven ecosystem, should remain permanent and what should be left behind.

Keywords: resilience, degrowth, climate change, Peru, Maldives

26. Ritu Verma. 2017. Gross National Happiness in Bhutan: meaning, measure and degrowth in a living development alternative. Journal of Political Ecology 24: 476-490. PDF

Abstract: : Narrow framings of development founded on GDP growth have led to multiple ecological, social and political-economic crises across the world that threaten the survival of humans and socio-ecologies. With the growing recognition that an expansionist trajectory is no longer viable, a burgeoning global discussion on degrowth has emerged. However, a limited number of living societal solutions exist in response the emergent crisis of over-consumption, deep inequality and resource depletion. The driving development philosophy of Gross National Happiness from the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan is a unique living alternative that challenges GDP metrics. With societal happiness as the primary lens for viewing human progress within planetary limits, GNH places socio-cultural, political-economic and spiritual-ecological wellbeing at the center of national development. Based on five years of research in Bhutan, the article discusses GNH as a holistic development alternative in relation to degrowth. It highlights the role of local insights, conceptual innovations, tested methodologies and policy experiences in constructing a unique society, as well as how GNH influences other nations and global debates. The article reflects on challenges that GNH faces in negotiating powerful forces of globalization, geopolitical shifts, climate change and skewed relations of power and privilege that influence scholarship, development and knowledge production.

Keywords: Gross National Happiness, degrowth, holistic development, Bhutan

27. Jonathan Otto. 2017. Finding common ground: exploring synergies between degrowth and environmental justice in Chiapas, Mexico. Journal of Political Ecology 24: 491-503. PDF

Abstract: : In this article I explore potential synergies between degrowth and environmental justice movements, with a focus on their shared goal of inclusivity. I turn to the case of the contentious San Cristóbal-Palenque highway project in Mexico’s southernmost state, Chiapas, and highlight the ability of such intersections to speak to the concerns of protesters of the initiative. Since the mid-1990s, critics of market-based development in Chiapas have provided a sustained critique of the Mexican government’s growth-oriented development agenda and related conditions of poverty and inequality in the state. These critics mobilized in 2009 and 2014 to protest the construction of a mega-highway designed to enhance agribusiness and tourism in the region. This opposition finds many points of overlap with perspectives of degrowth proponents in its critique of growth- based development, and yet is rooted in a unique socio-political and historical context. Given the situated nature of this opposition, I argue that a synergistic approach that takes into account the thinking of degrowth proponents and environmental justice advocates is needed, to address the concerns of highway protesters in Chiapas whose critiques of a growth society emerged from its negative effects to which they are disproportionately exposed.

Key words: Degrowth, environmental justice, contestation, Mexico

28. Ragnheiður Bogadóttir and Elisabeth Skarðhamar Olsen. 2017. Making degrowth locally meaningful: the case of the Faroese grindadráp. Journal of Political Ecology 24: 504-518. PDF

Abstract: : While the doxa of growth continues to dominate mainstream understandings of what constitutes a healthy economy, the concept and agenda of degrowth beg for theorization about how culture and power render some economic strategies more viable and meaningful than others. In this article we discuss the highly contested practice of Faroese pilot whaling, grindadráp. Through autoethnographic methods we identify and analyze forces challenging this deep-rooted practice, both within and outside Faroese society. Faroese resistance to abandon the practice, expressed in local pro-whaling narratives suggest that, in the struggle to legitimize the grindadráp as a sustainable and eco-friendly practice, Faroese people are simultaneously deconstructing central tenets of the global food system, and comparing grindadráp favorably with the injustices and cruelties of industrial food procurement. In this sense, we argue that the grindadráp not only constitutes a locally meaningful alternative to growth-dominated economic practices, but may also, in this capacity, inspire Faroese people to reduce engagement with economic activities that negatively impact the environment and perpetuate social and environmental injustices in the world.

Keywords: Degrowth, whaling, Faroe Islands, relational ethic, noncapitalism.

29. Joshua Lockyer. 2017. Community, commons, and degrowth at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. Journal of Political Ecology 24: 519-542. PDF

Abstract: : For centuries, intentional communities of various sorts have been formed to experiment with alternative socio-cultural and economic models. As we enter the Anthropocene and find ourselves in a world challenged to create a post-carbon economy that is no longer reliant on endless growth, such models are in greater demand than ever. Since the mid-1990s, hundreds of ecovillages around the world have been experimenting with ways to achieve prosperity without growth. Linking to three transition discourses, this article uses ongoing ethnographic research to describe how one intentional community – Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in northeast Missouri, USA – is forging such models by cultivating cooperative cultural values and behaviors, recreating the commons, and sharing their experiences and lessons with broader publics through media, research, and educational programs. Based on ongoing participatory action research, I present data on areas such as energy use, water use, solid waste production, and perceived happiness to illustrate that the community is achieving the decreased consumption patterns required for degrowth while maintaining a high quality of life for its members. Finally, the paper reflects on the role of the activist-researcher facing the dual tasks of helping the community move toward its goals while simultaneously translating the particular to more broadly applicable theory and practice.

Key words: commons, degrowth, ecovillages, intentional communities, participatory action research, transition discourses

30. Amy Cox Hall. 2017. Neo-monastics in North Carolina, de-growth and a theology of enough. Journal of Political Ecology 24: 543-565. PDF

Abstract: : This article examines one intentional Christian community’s attempts to live a life that eschews consumerismand material growth for a life focused on spiritual growth and collectivity. I articulate intentional Christian living, often referred to as neo-monasticism, with the de-growth movement. I do so to offer insight into the practice and pragmatics of de-growth’s broadly understood call to revalue the ideals of life in an effort to reduce consumption. Neo-monasticism and de-growth have much in common including the critique of consumerism, individualism and increasing inequality. Both also promote relationships, locality, sharing, slowing down and quality of life over efficiency and incessant work. Drawing on four years of research with one residential Christian community, I suggest that the most challenging aspect of sharing a life together and slowing down is not simply consuming less or pooling resources but rethinking and living social values not driven by a consumerist-growth paradigm. While some de-growth advocates, such as Serge Latouche, promote ideals of harmony and oneness, in practice, living simply and sharing a life together is challenging and conflictual, even when religiously inspired.

Key words: De-growth, neo-monasticism, emerging church, millennial generation, Christianity, sharing economy

31. Eeva Berglund. 2017. Steering clear of politics: local virtues in Helsinki’s design activism. Journal of Political Ecology 24: 566-581. PDF

Abstract: : Practical projects around the world are exploring and prefiguring ecologically feasible futures. The ideas informing these initiatives are familiar from degrowth discourses. But particularly where activists hail from the professional middle-classes of wealthy cities – architects, designers and other ‘creatives’ in Helsinki for example – they risk being dismissed by the media as well as by academics as vacuous life-style experimenters. Looking at Finland, the sense that this activity is not truly political or transformative can be further enhanced by activists’ own reluctance to enter into explicitly political debate and their preference for discussing futures in the neutral language of science. Connecting today’s situation to precursors in the 1960s, however, we can see how these local projects are embedded in local political culture, including a Finnish tendency to play up scientific rationality as a tool for managing collective affairs. This contrast with many other degrowth discourses shows the significance of local histories in influencing the space available for people to work out alternatives to the status quo.

Keywords: social movements; Finland; urban/DIY activism; design

32. Lisa L. Gezon. 2017. Beyond (anti)utilitarianism: khat and alternatives to growth in northern Madagascar. Journal of Political Ecology 24: 582-594. PDF

Abstract: : Madagascar has one of the lowest GDPs in the world. Colonization brought the country into the global economy, but left it at its margins—vulnerable to the hardships of structural adjustment and limitations of state infrastructure. This analysis reveals economic decision-making that defies the utilitarian logic of homo economicus and inspires creative thinking about alternatives to growth as a dominant paradigm. In northern Madagascar, the economy of the stimulant khat is part of one socionatural world characterized by low levels of production and consumption. Madagascar provides a case study for suggesting that “making a living” invokes an intricate web of material desires, cultural meaning, and social connections that do not necessarily revolve around a capitalist growth motive. This article proposes that a path to sustainability is not only in changing social imaginaries but also in valorizing and leveraging cognitive orientations and practices that exist but that may fall below the radar of traditional economic analysis.

Keywords: Madagascar, khat, utilitarian, degrowth, economy, urban

33. Emma McGuirk. 2017. Timebanking in New Zealand as a prefigurative strategy within a wider degrowth movement. Journal of Political Ecology 24: 595-609. PDF

Abstract: : A movement is gaining traction in New Zealand around timebanks, networks of support in which members exchange favors such as gardening, lifts to the supermarket, pet care, language lessons, career advice, or smartphone tutorials. An online currency is used to track these exchanges, with one hour of work earning one time credit. While each transaction may seem commonplace, when timebanks flourish they work to reshape motivations and opportunities for engaging in labor, and relocalize networks of solidarity, friendship, and resources. Participants reported examples of developing unexpected friendships and renewed enthusiasm for a larger collective project of building alternatives to the currently dominant growth-addicted economic model. These processes contribute to the establishment of foundational, mostly small-scale networks that are enjoyable to use in the here and now, while also creating the potential for these systems to be scaled up or linked together in response to greater economic, ecological, and social changes. Timebank developers in New Zealand are negotiating several structural challenges in their attempts to bring these networks to fruition. This article shares results of ethnographic research amongst seven North Island timebanks, and offers suggestions for future research in this area.

Keywords: timebank, community currency, activism, degrowth, New Zealand

34. Ulrich Demmer and Agata Hummel. 2017. Degrowth, anthropology, and activist research: the ontological politics of science. Journal of Political Ecology 24: 610-622. PDF

Abstract: : This article argues that scientific practice of all kinds does not simply represent but actively constructs social and cultural realities: it is involved in an “ontological politics.” It reflects on activist research and addresses the question of how science, and especially anthropology, can contribute to bringing degrowth alternatives into being. We suggest that to overcome growth society and build a new imaginary, we first need to denaturalize and decenter basic concepts of modern ontology. We then show how and why activist researchers in new social movements such as degrowth are involved in bringing about new concepts, imaginaries, and practices. Drawing on our experiences as activist researchers, we propose some basic strategies and tools for activist research, including deconstruction, and the creation and/or use of new concepts, such as translation and weaving.

Key words: ontological politics, activist research, degrowth, alternatives to modernity

35. Alf Hornborg. 2017. How to turn an ocean liner: a proposal for voluntary degrowth by redesigning money for sustainability, justice, and resilience. Journal of Political Ecology 24: 623-632. PDF

Abstract: : This article argues that many destructive aspects of the contemporary global economy are consequences of the use of general-purpose money to organize social and human-environmental relations, and that the political ideals of sustainability, justice, and resilience will only be feasible if money itself is redesigned. The argument is based on the conviction that human artifacts such as money play a crucial role in organizing society, and that closer attention should be paid to the design and logic of key artifacts, rather than devoting disproportionate intellectual energy to theorizing their complex systemic repercussions. What is generally referred to as “capitalism” is the aggregate logic of human decisions about the management of money. Visions of a post-capitalist society using money the way it is used now is thus a contradiction in terms. The article sketches a possible redesign of money based on the idea that each country establishes a complementary currency for local use only, which is distributed to all its residents as a basic income. The distinction between two separate spheres of exchange would insulate local sustainability and resilience from the deleterious effects of globalization and financial speculation. To indicate that the suggestion is not as unrealistic as it may seem at first sight, the article briefly and provisionally responds to some of the many questions raised by the proposal.

Keywords: Resilience, money, degrowth, capitalism

36. Karen Foster. 2017. Work ethic and degrowth in a changing Atlantic Canada. Journal of Political Ecology 24: 633-643. PDF

Abstract: : This article draws on interviews, observations, and surveys from two mixed-methods sociological studies of people’s relationships to paid and unpaid work to argue that the concept of the work ethic is a fruitful entry- point for exploring critical issues of work, leisure and consumption in rural places, and indeed anywhere there are efforts to realize degrowth strategies. Then, I survey some of the major themes about work in a selection of widely-cited degrowth writings and argue that the work ethic could use more attention—particularly the question of how the dominant work ethic at any place and time might constrain or enable degrowth as a political-ecological aspiration. This question is actually a hopeful one, because it suggests that in-depth studies of instances where something other than the Protestant, capitalist (i.e. expansion-oriented) work ethic dominates can (and already do!) show us the kinds of culturally-embedded relationships to work that are complimentary to a degrowth agenda. Moreover, such studies show that alternative modes of working are viable. In other words, sociological and anthropological studies can provide empirical evidence that vibrant, meaningful human life can continue in the absence of constant economic growth.

Keywords: Degrowth, employment, work, work ethic, sociology, anthropology, rural

37. Jonathan DeVore. 2017. Trees and springs as social property: a perspective on degrowth and redistributive democracy from a Brazilian squatter community. Journal of Political Ecology 24: 644-666. PDF

Abstract: : Questions concerning the maldistribution of property and productive resources continue to inform debates about how to bring about societies that are livable, equitable, and ecologically sustainable. In the diverse imaginaries of revolutionary, utopian, socialist, and anti-capitalist politics—together with their adversaries – the notions of “collective” and “private” property have often been conceived as mutually exclusive and exhaustive alternatives. Drawing from several years of ethnographic research with rural squatters in the cacao lands of Bahia, Brazil, the author brings together alternative ways of conceptualizing property that can help overcome this lingering dichotomy and fruitfully inform new political projects. The article examines local practices of property-making through two cases focused on the private ownership and stewardship of natural springs, and the processes whereby squatters convert forest into agroforest. The analysis highlights the ways in which these “private” properties are intersected by “public” interests and “collective” practices, while considering the different kinds of relations that these intersections afford among people and between humans and the non-human environment. Based on these cases, the author suggests that current conversations about “degrowth” may benefit by drawing together frameworks from political ecology, economic anthropology, and property jurisprudence. The presentation concludes by highlighting potential synergies between concerns for degrowth and claims for property democratization.

Key words: degrowth; redistributive democracy; squatters; agroforests; water resources; property rights; private property; commoning; cacao zone; Atlantic Forest; Brazil