Abstract: Degrowth is an academic concept and activists’ niche project in Europe and other early-industrialized parts of the world aiming to reframe the current sustainability challenge of declining environmental and unjust social conditions. Its emphasis is on the radical transformation of the current societal-economic structure in order to achieve inherently sustainable conditions. There are various degrowth approaches that target different levels and spheres of social change.
Discourse is one site of this struggle to achieve social change. Discourses shape and challenge societal conditions and indicate as well as foster social change. In this study, a critical discourse analysis is conducted to analyze the different strands of degrowth framings in the academic discourse and the dispersion of degrowth ideas in the public. The focus of the analysis is on how degrowth ideas are represented and perceived. Two discursive areas of the public are considered: the dispersion of degrowth ideas in newspaper articles of the mass media public, and the dispersion of degrowth ideas in social media posts.
The findings from the analysis of the academic discourse suggest that there is neither a shortage of understandings of the sustainability challenge, nor is there a shortage of ideas to solve it. Instead, radical degrowth ideas face some obstacles to unfold their transformative potential because there is a missing part in the communication of degrowth ideas between the academic and public discourse.
Discursive strategies of story-telling and framing in public discourses can empower people to challenge the social order. In the case of the mass media public it is shown that the conventional knowledge transfer of experts to a particular newspaper audience is not very effective to disperse transformative ideas. It has limited reach and does not significantly challenge the social order. The discursive practices of the social media public however develop a higher potential to achieve change because it is reached a broader audience and people get more engaged in the discourse.
Degrowth lacks a handy framing that is supported by story-lines which appeal to the people. The potential of change can be increased by unconventional discursive practices to bring already existing degrowth practices under the umbrella term of degrowth. The gap can be bridged by alliances between academic and public discourses to strengthen the inter-discursive exchange.
Master Thesis Series in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science MESM02 20161
LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)