Von Ben Robra and Timothée Parrique

Degrowth is a thriving academic field, but one without a home. It can be a struggle to publish degrowth-related articles in the current journal environment. If successful, authors must often surrender the ownership of their work to commercial journals. After more than a decade of degrowth research, and with a growing number of scholars engaged in the field, we believe the time has come to start our own journal. This blog post is an invitation to imagine how such a journal could be organised.

The degrowth discourse has found various academic outlets for publications since the early 2000s. We have seen a number of special issues on the topic, for example in the Journal of Cleaner Production (2010, 2013, 2018), Ecological Economics (2012, 2019), and Sustainability (2012, 2020). Beyond these, degrowthers often publish in journals like Capitalism Nature Socialism, Futures, and the Journal of Political Ecology.

More than a mere topic of study, degrowth has become a life-defining speciality for many of us junior academics. More and more of us engage with degrowth or even identify ourselves as degrowth scholars. This is not an esoteric concern: the COVID-19 crisis and public frustration with our current socio-economic system has catapulted degrowth to unseen heights of engagement, including outside academia. There has never been a better time to research degrowth.

A discourse looking for coherence

For someone new to the field, gathering key publications is a daunting treasure hunt, with articles scattered over various journals. A major concern is that not all of these publications are of equal quality. Worse, it is not uncommon to see inaccurate depictions of degrowth published in peer-reviewed journals. These misconceptions are problematic because they jeopardise the theoretical coherence of the discourse as a whole. For example, one can read about degrowth being compatible with for-profit businesses, ecosystem services, or even capitalism as a whole. We think these misunderstandings persist exactly because scholars freshly engaging with the topic are faced with a scattered array of articles and no way to quickly determine which publications align with degrowth’s foundational principles. Similarly, it is probable and understandable that peer-reviewers in broad academic journals also lack the specialised knowledge that would allow them to rectify such inaccuracies.

In the general journal environment, the rules of the publication game are stacked against counter-hegemonic discourses like degrowth. Under a publish-or-perish imperative, we are pushed to worship one single number: the Impact Factor. After myriads of books and papers on the danger of GDP reductionism, we more than anybody else should be aware of the danger of letting one single metric coordinate a social system as complex as science. Impact factors are conservative and disadvantage scholars researching new and particularly counter-hegemonic discourses. If we all strived to maximise our impact factors, a good way to do this would be to not write about degrowth.

Another problem has to do with the political economy of academic publishing. Today, most academic journals are owned by a few privately owned, for-profit corporations. These publishers hold an oligopoly on peer reviewed knowledge that they charge for. Paradoxically, the majority of work required for the publication process (i.e. editing and peer review) is done on a volunteer basis. Further, the research published is not funded by the journals but various funding bodies including the researchers’ universities which are charged to access their researchers’ publications. It is a tragic irony that we rely on capitalist firms to publish our critiques of capitalism.

A journal we can call Home

So why not create an academic journal dedicated to degrowth? This would be a place where degrowth ideas can be further developed without the need to constantly start from zero, arguing for the need and validity of degrowth (a constraint most of us face while publishing in other journals). It would facilitate engagement with and within the discourse, with not only research articles, but also review papers, book reviews, and commentaries. One journal to host a diversity of ideas found under the umbrella term of degrowth.

This specialised journal would create a space for theoretical development. Instead of reinventing the wheel in each article, we would be able to build on each other, expanding and strengthening the analytical power of degrowth ideas. It would also enable a clearer and more systematic demarcation between what is considered an accurate depiction of degrowth and what is rather a misunderstanding of it. This is not about protecting a dogma, but rather about creating a critical space where we can assess and sort the knowledge that has already been produced, and the knowledge we want and need to see produced in the future.

Would a degrowth journal jeopardise pluralism? Degrowth rightfully draws strength from its pluralism. However, an ‘everything goes’ type of pluralism is counter-productive to improving degrowth as a discourse. To be useful for research, concepts must be precisely defined and coherent; this requires making theoretical choices about what degrowth is and what it is not, choices that are often not made in defence of an abstract conception of pluralism.

Would it cut contacts with outside fields? Only if all degrowth articles are published in this specific journal – an unlikely scenario. What we envision is not a one-journal-to-rule-them-all strategy, but rather a further outlet that will provide a space that does not currently exist – a place to gather knowledge about degrowth. The goal is not to create another all-encompassing journal but rather to accept the fact that degrowth is a specialised topic and should thus have its own specialised journal.

Would publishing in a degrowth journal without an impact factor undermine the career prospects of degrowth scholars? Maybe, yes. But we believe this is a struggle worth having and that now is the right time to have it. Science cannot remain prisoner of the capitalist game, and we critical academics should not be the bystanders of an unfair enclosure of knowledge. This is not a call for heroic sacrifice; rather, we think that by collectively taking a stance, we can change the academic culture for the better.

In fact, the creation of the journal is a counter-hegemonic activity in itself: the goal is to decommodify knowledge, to go against the interests of commercial publishers and defend free access to science. This is why we envision an open access journal, free of charge for both readers and authors. The journal should further use an open peer review process, ensuring transparency by making under review manuscripts available.

Of course many questions remain, like who and how should the journal be edited? By whom and how should it be published? Our proposition: let’s discuss and answer these questions together. One thing is clear however, if the creation of a journal is crucial to the establishment of an academic field, we believe the time has come for degrowth to build its own home. But not any home. For-profit, private journals have no role to play in a degrowth society, we can do without them. Instead, let us apply the logic of commoning and create a knowledge commons to imagine life beyond growth and capitalism. This is a revolutionary project whose time has come.

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Ben Robra and Timothée Parrique ____________________________________________________________ Ben Robra (@BenRobra) is a PhD researcher at the University of Leeds’ Sustainable Research Institute. Ben’s research focuses on alternative economic organisations for Degrowth. Ben is particularly interested in the counter-hegemonic potential of organisations that utilise peer production. His research uses and combines Gramsci's theory of hegemony and Luhmann's social systems theory. Ben is a member of the Degrowth Organisation and Economy Research Group (@DegrowthOERG)._____________________________________________________________________ Timothée Parrique (@timparrique) holds a PhD in economics from the Centre d’Études et de Recherches sur le Développement (University of Clermont Auvergne, France) and the Stockholm Resilience Centre (Stockholm University, Sweden). Titled “The political economy of degrowth” (2019), his dissertation explores the economic implications of the idea of degrowth.