The third annual Global Degrowth Day on the theme of care will take place on 5th June 2021. Here, Corinna Dengler and Giacomo D’Alisa expand on the centrality of care to degrowth.
Degrowth is an activist and political claim supported by academic research that aims at creating global human well-being within planetary boundaries. Degrowth problematizes interlinking systems of domination such as exploitative societal relations with nature, patriarchy, coloniality/racism, and class relations. In trying to venture beyond these power relations, build alternative futures and an ecologically sound and socially just system, degrowth is anti-patriarchal, anti-capitalist and decolonial. An intersectional feminist degrowth approach envisions a society with different gender relations and roles, different distribution of paid and unpaid work among all members of society, different cultural interactions, and also different co-evolutionary paths between the human and non-human species.
Degrowth is an ensemble of discourses and practices aiming to steer the transformation of society while putting care for humans and the environment, as well as the vulnerability of life, at the centre of its political vision. A large part of socially necessary work is carried out unpaid by women on the margins of formal employment. Raising children, caring for sick and elderly people, and doing housework – summarized as care work, reproductive work, or social reproduction – are, in our current economic system, feminized, invisibilized, devalued and often externalized along the class-race-gender nexus. The Covid-19 pandemic has made all the more evident what feminists have long argued, namely that care work – especially direct care work which involves a relation between a caregiver and a care receiver – is the foundation of our economy and society.
The concept of caring can also be extended to caring for the environment. For example, we can consider the invaluable role that subsistence workers play in providing the biophysical conditions for human reproduction, thus keeping the world alive. It is necessary to recognize the importance care work has for the well-being of people and ecosystems in all societies. This work is not only domestic or provided via the market or the state, but it is also communitarian and ecological work. Care work structurally differs from other forms of work, because it includes an interpersonal relation between subjects and is thus inherently relational. The interdependent relation between caregiver and care receiver is usually characterized by emotionality and is often based on asymmetrical power relations, dependency of the care receiving person, and hence also vulnerability.
Taking a life course approach, it is crucial to acknowledge that care dependency is not exceptional but rather a common denominator that all our lives begin with and most of our lives end with. Throughout the life course, there are phases where we will need to receive or be able to give care. A life without pain and free from all kinds of caring obligations is the promise of the modern western capitalist world, but this only becomes a reality in exceptional and rare cases, and at the cost of systematic exploitation and inequality. For degrowth scholar-activists, the body’s materiality comes with the immanent vulnerability of what it is alive, and shows the condition of interdependence and eco-dependency of existence. In line with this, the life that degrowthers commit to sustain does not aspire to be a chimeric emancipation from nature, the body, and/or care-ful interdependencies, as the civilizing colonial project of capitalist modernity does. This implies questioning the boundaries of a capitalist modern epistemology that conceptualizes an always autonomous, self-interested, and rational agent as its central player. Rather, as degrowth scholar-activists, we should acknowledge that life depends on myriad relations and interdependencies, and that homines oeconomici and lonesome heroes are nothing more than an andro- and anthropocentric fiction.
Centering care and the sustainability of life is fundamental not only to overcome the social, ecological, economic and care crisis that many people face, but to promote an ecosocial transition towards a post-carbon society. The sustainability of life is promoted by collaborative and relational activities necessary to sustain life over time, including both its material and symbolic dimensions, the human and non-human forms of life and their interdependence. This is the reason why care is the main commons for instituting a degrowth society that wants to sustain life. Against this background, this year’s Global Degrowth Day proclaims: Care is central to the degrowth futures we envision, and in caring for change, our degrowth is intersectional!