Keynote lectures

29/8 18:00 MSU Diana Ürge-Vorsatz

The Climate Case for Questioning our Growth Paradigm

It was in 2022 when the IPCC first mentioned Degrowth in one of its reports. While some Degrowth activists may find this too little, too late, it is a significant move. There is a myriad of IPCC materials that clearly show that growth imperatives seriously hinder proposed solutions to fight climate change. And even when solutions within the growth paradigm can support the climate case, they shift the problems to biodiversity, microplastics, man-made material exceeding living material, PFAS increase and the like. At the same time, growth has not managed to increase our well-being. With increasingly elaborate planned obsolescence, ever faster and more obscure fashion forcing consumption on us, and with marketing employing more psychologists to rewire our brains and make us addicted to health-damaging consumptions, it is highly questionable if it is all worth it. On the other hand, there are shocking inequalities in emissions, and we cannot solve the climate crisis without addressing this inequality. Degrowth must start in the overconsuming North, leaving enough carbon space for the global South to flourish. Degrowth also needs to make sure that the proposed measures for redistribution do not reproduce the mistakes of our communist past as ample evidence shows that some egalitarian measures in the past resulted in even worse resource use and pollution.

30/8 9:00 ZV Kohei Saito

Marx Meets Degrowth: On the Origin of Degrowth Communism

The relationship between Marxism and degrowth was antagonistic for quite a long time. While Marxism criticized degrowth’s ambivalent attitude toward market economy, degrowth rejected Marxian productivism. This situation needs to change, however. Today, capitalism is clearly the root-cause of the climate crisis, and it is an absolute imperative to problematize the capitalist mode of production and to envision an alternative post-capitalist society. In this context, the Marxist tradition can contribute to enriching the idea of degrowth. The indispensable precondition is to abandon productivism inherent to Marxism. However, by carefully tracing his intellectual development, it becomes clear that the late Marx came to critically reflect upon his earlier native optimism about technological progress and eternal growth, and he came to even accept degrowth as the model of a future society to which Western societies need to “return.” In this sense, “Degrowth communism” is an alternative vision of the future society for Marx, and this idea is exactly what we need today in the Anthropocene.

30/8 15:00 ZV Roland Ngam

Degrowth in an African Periphery: Recentering Decoloniality around Ecocentric and Circular Ontologies

The hegemonic capitalist system likes to argue that endless growth is possible, that if you work hard enough, you too can have your mansion with blue swimming pool and lush green lawns, gas-guzzlers in the garage and maybe a football team in one of the top European leagues. Unrelenting cultural hegemony messaging is churned out to co-opt enough people to join the impossible rat race to the top of the consumerism matrix. But make no mistake: hegemonic
capitalism is both the creator and consequence of brutal exploitation of black, brown and white bodies, women’s backs, nature and all the commons that we were all meant to enjoy equally. This architecture of bottomless greed reorganised power relations pertaining to land, labour, capital and entrepreneurship away from people-owned circular, ecocentric commons in favour of selfish, soulless, individualistic & anthropocentric relationships.
There is no doubt that the climate crisis we are witnessing today is a direct consequence of hegemonic capitalism. The pervasive hegemonic anthropocentric ontology powered the British-centred food regime, the industrial revolution, post-World War II expansionism, the American-led food regime, the modern financialised food-regime and everything else in-between. The
climate crisis confluences with a multitude of other crises – mental crisis, solitude crisis, identity crisis, green colonialism and usurping of customary lands, etc. – to create a post-Covid reckoning in which more and more young people are saying: no more! Far from being limited to the Global North, capital and corporatisation has expanded its frontier of accumulation to so-called emerging and underdeveloped countries in the Global South.
In this perspective, the degrowth debate invites itself to the Global South, not in the sense of litigating levels of consumption in affluent societies, but rather to dismantle the global architecture of exploitation that sucks the lifeblood of the Global South in order to provide the Global North with cheap meat and cheap electronics. This paper argues that the current anthropocentric ontology is quickly taking us to the edge of a cliff – the point of no return – and the only thing that can help us avert certain disaster is an ethnocentric degrowth ontology within a new internationalism.

31/8 9:00 ZV Paul Stubbs

Decolonial Worldmaking and the Contradictory Ecological Politics of Non-Alignment

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), a partnership between decolonial states in the Global South and socialist Yugoslavia, was one of a number of anti-systemic or counter-hegemonic worldmaking projects that emerged after the Second World War. Although critical of the two power blocs dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union, NAM as, indeed, much of the world was largely silent on ecological issues in the 1960s. It advocated, instead, for a kind of „modernity otherwise“ based on national planning, rapid industrialization and efficient agro-business, seeking a new era of equality in international relations based on sovereignty, independence, self-determination, territorial integrity, and general and complete disarmament. As NAM, together with the G-77 and UNCTAD, turned, in the 1970s, more towards socio-economic justice and the articulation of a New International Economic Order, these discourses of modernity, sovereignty over natural resources, and challenging economic neo-colonialism operated in a space that increasingly focused on planetary limits to growth and the ecological impacts of multi-national corporations. This lecture seeks, in a tentative and exploratory fashion, to address the explicit and implicit ecological politics of the non-aligned in the 1960s and 1970s. It also explores the deeply contradictory role played by socialist Yugoslavia within this, including its political elite, intellectuals, and key personnel working within the UN and other international agencies, drawing lessons for ecological justice today.

31/8 15:00 ZV Françoise Vergès

Breathing: A Revolutionary Act

How do we turn the right to breathe into a struggle that is decolonial, feminist, queer, anti-racist, pro-Indigenous, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, and internationalist?
The right to breathe is a call for revolutionary action.

1/9 9:00 ZV Karin Doolan

The State, Class Inequalities, and Their Affective Reverberations: Considerations for a Degrowth Transition

This talk is inspired by stories collected over the last decade as part of several research projects based in Croatia. These are stories of everyday hardship told by people who eat in soup-kitchens, stories about persisting to work in civil society organisations in a political context antagonistic to CSO advocacy, stories told by owners of small businesses about their struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic, and stories of post-disaster recovery recalled by residents traumatised by flooding in rural Croatia. Emerging from these are three inter-related themes relevant for reflections on a degrowth transition: the contentious role of the state, the pang of class inequalities and their intersections, and cross-cutting affective reverberations. Indeed, both the role of the state and class inequalities have been characterised fairly recently as “gaps in the degrowth literature”. In order to unpick these three themes, I draw on voices with memories of socialism that are counter-hegemonic to contemporary expectations, and underline marginalized voices, especially those of the disempowered poor. In light of this, the overall intention of the talk is to expand our perspective on the constraints and affordances that define our shared aspiration to transition to a degrowth society.

1/9 15:00 ZV Alexandra Köves

The Role of Utopia in a Degrowth Transition

Degrowth activists and researchers are often dismissed on account of pursuing a utopia. But why should that be a problem in a world where it seems easier for people to imagine a planet on fire where we kill each other for fresh water and the remainder of our resources than an economy that transcends the current mainstream? Humankind seems to be acting like rabbits in the headlights, frozen by the prospect of complete annihilation and the incapability of moving towards adequate solutions to avert total destruction. The presentation will rely on the combination of behavioural science and systems thinking to suggest why the Cambridge dictionary’s definition of utopia, “a perfect society in which people work well with each other and are happy” is a great way to prod humanity out of this inactive state. Beyond the theory, the experience of a series of backcasting projects will be presented to show how diverse groups – even those untouched by Degrowth concepts – end up imagining Degrowth scenarios when given the time and space to deliberate on a normative future and to suggest ways to get there.