Contemporary emancipatory internationalism: beyond peripheries, spheres of influence and afterlives of non-alignment
A conference taking place in the region once priding itself on leading the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and alternative ‘globalisation’ visions provides a platform to ask where visions of a polycentric world are rooted today. Recent years have presented a host of scholarly and activist output on NAM, semiperiphery, alternative development histories and prospects of a very different globalization to the contemporary neoliberal one. Revisiting historical and present-day visions of alternatives provides a prism through which to address economic, political, social, and cultural imaginaries that can practically and institutionally challenge the dominant hegemonic order, reimagine “core-periphery” relations and chart a path of self-determination free from the influence of growth-chasing power blocs in Eurasia and North America.
What alter-globalisation practices are active today? What alternatives to material and energy flows controlled by the contemporary superpowers are there? What are the examples of internationalist solidarity lived here and now, and proposed for a degrowth century?
Even people who agree that the pursuit of perpetual growth is a disastrous premise on which to base the collective planetary and our individual futures worry that that degrowth is a top-down, elite-driven transformation. Whilst degrowth’s plan is a reduction in the size of the global economy through careful planning and redistribution rather than austerity or intentional recession, putting degrowthers in the driving seat does not necessarily entail redemocratisation. Conversely, our recent experiences with winning power make it hard to imagine that the scale of the task can be addressed by localised leadership and participation.
On the other hand, by forging alliances with broad social movements, degrowth can contribute to and benefit from the impacts these have on society through collective awareness and the change in the way we live and work. As irreplaceable drivers of social change, social movements, envisioning post-capitalistic society, share a vision of a sustainable and just society in line with degrowth. But many popular movements don’t always welcome degrowth’s elite-driven total transformative vision, something degrwothers recognise.
What new alliances can be put together and what new strategies can be put forward among degrowth and post-development thinkers, social movements and civil society? How can degrowth envision new forms of sociability and social solidarity through new food systems, agroecology, solidarity economy…? How can it ally with working-class interests, both industrial and metaindutrial, and build alliances with organisations of industrial and reproductive labour?
Resilience building through degrowth: new alliances and real solidarities
Feminist, decolonial, anti-racist and anti-ableist ecologies
Within capitalism hegemonic ideologies and practices are established through domination which reproduces injustices and inequalities in environmental conditions, socioeconomic circumstances, gender, race and ability. In capitalist male-dominated narratives inequalities are not embedded only in economic distribution and legal framework, but also in values, meanings and symbols of everyday life.
How can degrowth support feminism’s performative and intersectional dimensions? What is degrowth learning from feminist, queer, antiracist, anticolonial, antiableist and other intersectional struggles on how to change dominant narratives on rights, freedom, economy, care and nature? How can degrowth represent/help/support these struggles and teach decolonisation of western imaginary, thought and practice? How can degrowth advance forces of ecological and social reproduction in the web of life?
There is a message propagated by powerful institutions that once we get the right kind of growth – a ‘healthy growth’ decoupled from capitalism’s sordid environmental record – the world won’t have to worry about growth per se, and will be able to turn our attention to persistent problems of material poverty eradication, social justice, emancipation and transcendence of exploitation. Apparently growth should be welcomed as the path to a more ‘inclusive’ capitalism and the means of paying for the coming transition to a techno-mediated decarbonised world. As degrowthers, we know that the carbon-fetishism of green growth is at best a distraction. In the words of Tim Jackson: ‘Growth means more throughput, which means more impact, which means less planet.’
How are researchers in various contexts deconstructing the mythology of decoupling? How to best operationalise research aimed at deconstructing the dominant capitalist worldview and normalising the counterhegemonic worldviews? Facing the faltering ambitions of hegemonic market-supported, technology-led response to climate and biodiversity crises, risking global warming well above 2°C and significant ecosystems collapse, how to articulate alternative environmental action to secure just and sustainable futures for all?
Hegemonic worldviews and degrowth horizon
Artistic ecologies and eco-social practices
What are the potentials of art in transforming the existing world? How can it spawn new degrowth subjectivities? How can the production and presentation of art be more responsible towards resources? How can art put forward new cultural practices committed to degrowth? How can art renew alliances between artistic ecologies, communities, institutional experiments and new forms of activism for social and environmental justice?
This stream explores what art, artists and cultural workers can do in response to the eco-social crisis. And what imaginaries, practices and tools can they develop to advocate more just, ecological and non-imperial modes of living? A special focus is on artistic ecologies, i. e. methodologies and strategies developed by the artists and cultural workers in order to engage with their environments, be that social, digital or ecological. Artistic practices with their transversal thinking are rich in examples of self-sufficiency, international solidarity and conviviality in the face of adversity. Thus, we look for concrete examples of practices that apply principles of degrowth outside and inside of the art field or are developed in collaboration with ecology, ecofeminism, land struggles and environmental defenders, as well as in dialogue with socially and ecologically reproductive practices such as farming, cooking, caring.
This is an in-the-moment stream that allows for the presentation of the work done and struggles unfolding around the time of the CfP. After having focused, in the previous iterations, on global financial crash, military interventions and civil wars, forced mass migration, epidemic outbreaks and the Covid-19 pandemic, the 9th International Degrowth Conference’s contextual thematic stream is on the present vulnerabilities from supply-chain, energy and cost-of-living crises, wars in Ukraine and elsewhere, and environmental catastrophes. We are experiencing fossil energy bottlenecks and climate disasters even in the affluent North and structural food supply interruptions in Africa and Eurasia. Whilst climate change is rapidly collapsing ecosystems we depend on and altering the supply of life’s bare essentials like water, nations are increasingly deploying armed destructions of livelihood infrastructure and stemming the distribution of globalised material flows. Rupturing experiences like energy shortages and wars most immediately place obstacles for a degrowth transformation in the public imagination. With their sight trained on the utopian horizon, degrowth thinking and practices are nonetheless immersed in the crises and contestations affecting the vulnerable violently and suddenly here and now.
What do degrowthers have to say about the origins of these diverse multiple regional tragedies? What immediate remedies does degrowth practice offer to those suffering now? What are different degrowth plans to avoid future violence and ameliorate unavoidable suffering? This is a thematic stream to talk about the contemporary political situation and to link the news cycle with sober transition plans.
Degrowth in the year 2023: cold, bombed and persecuted
Degrowth as a political project?
Degrowth conferences have seen a lot of research pointing to the conclusion that urgent decarbonisation and stabilisaiton of Earth’s biophysical processes is unattainable through ecological modernisation and that the world needs “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” (IPCC). Combined with calls for just and fair distribution of the planetary abundance, this makes degrowth a political project with the aim to place limits on destructive economic activities and redress inequalities in and between societies. Beyond the material flows and cultural attitudes, the urgent political question is how is this supposed to work.
What are the contemporary policy infrastructures on offer to shift to public and non-motorised transportation; institutionalise the circulation of second-hand products over new ones; move populations to plant-based diets and prioritise agroecology; and improve efficiency and reduce energy use in existing buildings? How can degrowth politics intervene in the recent energy and cost-of-living crises? How can the degrowth movement respond to the 2019-2020 electoral defeats of GND-proponents and the return of the green-capitalist agenda?
Degrowth theory has always been connected to the critique of the ‘society of the spectacle and of consumer society, of alienation permeating everyday life. Advertising of endless benefits of the next nugget of consumption, with hidden costs swept under the carpet, blunts the blade of this high-minded critique. Capitalist accumulation and exploitation are reflected and reproduced through urban spaces, popular media, social networks, and so on. As the Situationists noted, and recent degrowth books accentuate, our relationships are mediated through objects and media whilst individual expression takes the form of the consumption of commodities, rather than direct, authentic communication. Communicating degrowth ideas often hits a wall of growth-oriented and conditioned language and meanings.
How to talk about degrowth in public? How can educators, researchers and practitioners create a plausible and comprehensible narrative breaking through to fellow advertising-numbed consumers? How can degrowth question dominant western worldviews framed by social, institutional and economic structures that embody those worldviews and maintain current power relations?
Communicating degrowth within a consumerist common sense
Technology and science for degrowth
We know that green technologies should replace polluting technologies to the degree that is feasible to balance social and ecological stability, with gains in efficiency used for sufficiency to prevent ebound effects and the harmful expansion of production. And while critics on both the political left and right point to techno-aided efficiency solutions that don’t lead to macro-economic throughput expansions — opposite illustrations point to cases where empty promises of ecological modernisation and abundant eco-technical innovation without social innovation and contextualised implementation result in ‘technology creating more problems than it solves’. The current system of technological development and centralised high-end technical solutions are organised to support and are dependent on the capitalist growth-oriented system of extraction and exploitation.
How do we design science and innovation programmes that can universalize the benefits of technological advances and leave particular applications to localised democratic governance? Which of the existing and new technologies have the greatest potential to contribute to care for the planet whilst delivering egalitarian benefits to the greatest number of people? What are the technological designs that can maximise conservation instead of wasting of resources? What emancipating technologies are truly available to the world’s poor? What ideologies and institutions today can transform into curiosity-nurturing science programmes of tomorrow? What is really low-tech?
Even though new international climate policy frameworks keep on promising just transition towards decarbonised societies, what we are facing today are deep climate injustices both within nations and between them. The promised financial aid ‘packages’ are far from ensuring security for those who are undeservingly suffering the worst climate change consequences, and are implying continuing catch-up growth which inevitably creates more inequality. The current crises will exacerbate the already dire credit crisis, pushing many debtor countries into default. Workers in fossil intensive regions, women, citizens living below the poverty threshold, citizens losing their homes due to energy crisis and real-estate market crisis, (climate) migrants, traditional and indigenous communities,…. are all suffering deep-rooted injustices — which these old/new policies created by high income, western(-ised) decision makers are not addressing sufficiently.
Where’s justice in international climate policies? How truly effective are they, and what is their real impact on people’s lives, on communities and on societies as a whole? How aware are we of climate injustice both among and within societies? What are the new practices and policies proposed for ensuring a just transition to decarbonised society?
Transformational climate politics – is neutrality achievable outside the overdeveloped regions? (METAR)
METAR, a network for just and low-carbon transition, was recently established in Croatia and Southeastern Europe – bringing together research institutions, educational institutions, non-profit and for-profit organizations, civil society organizations, local and regional governments, state and municipal administrations and other stakeholders from across Croatia and Southeastern Europe. The goal behind the network is to jointly promote the principles of just transition and just adaptation based on scientifically verifiable results and projections of climate impacts, but also to recognise and advocate for the inclusion of vulnerable groups and promote the cooperation of different stakeholders and the importance of comprehensive social change based on democratic principles and the necessity of education for sustainability. This stream gathers topical insights from the METAR network and like-minded research initiatives from around the world.
Topics of energy poverty, transport poverty and food scarcity are especially relevant today in Europe and beyond. Can policies promoted under the EU frameworks remain viable and offer solutions to the combined crises for EU-27 well as the semiperiphery and neighbouring regions? Questions of institutional infrastructure for the cooperation of research and educational institutions, local governments and civil society organizations on low-carbon society, social cohesion and just transition must also be raised. What can different institutional networks do to transform current policies to offer real change? What can provide an impetus for change where you work?
For many years degrowth conferences have been claiming that degrowth is also about occupying the space of economics, diverting more time away from capitalist accumulation to a solidarity economy and changing networks of production and consumption with political action to let these practices flourish. The conference invites examples from various global instances of alternative economic initiatives, such as sharing schemes, clothes swapping, libraries of stuff, CSA, cooperatives or ethical banks. Today, however, we need synthesising narratives of how these instances add up to systemic altiernatives.
What are the hitherto invisible prefigurative potentials of alternative economic proposals and what obstacles have been identified? What creates a genuine alternative? Are all enacted alternatives a force for the good? Can localised practices driven by a profit motive still be in line with degrowth? How big a share of our lives vs our economic valuations do these alternatives occupy? How can alternative economies address inequalities of income, wealth and debt? What alternative economic indicators should be used?