Abstract: Degrowth supports a sober and convivial vision of life through principles encouraging equality and social relations. The cultural perspective it proposes is conceived also as the starting point for a concrete political action, and political subjects based on such ideas has risen in several countries. These principles play a key role in favoring citizens’ participation in public life, which is a crucial issue in modern countries. In fact they are facing a decline of political participation, which is becoming more and more relevant because of its link with generational factors. Hence, according to recent studies, there are two different explanations for such phenomenon: the youth are moving from political to civic participation; they are withdrawing from public participation in general. Relying upon these perspectives, we can consider participation as affected by two separate notions. The first is political cynicism, which can be considered as the degree of mistrust towards politics. The second is the involvement in social activities that can become a source of flow of consciousness for individuals, that psychologists consider as a contribute to personal wellbeing. We claim that Degrowth can successfully develop in our societies if it will be able to intercept people quitting traditional political participation. We propose a psychosocial description of people engaged in activism that can fruitfully enlighten such transition.
We interviewed thirteen high level experts of Italian politics, gathered among journalists, historians and political scientists. The grid interview was built in order to explore positive and negative features of the national political system. The content analyses of the interviews allowed us to create eighteen items describing important features to be held by “good politicians”. Subsequently we administered an online questionnaire to 224 political activists including such items, a scale for political cynicism and a scale for flow of consciousness.
We performed a factor analysis on the eighteen items and highlighted three main components of contributing to achieve forms of good politics: engagement (passion experienced by the politician himself and passed on to others), success (being able to get votes and to advance his own career) and competence (having a good knowledge in a specific field and in the legislative domain in general). On the basis of such factors we performed the cluster analysis that led us to identify four groups. The analysis of variance showed an effect of groups for both political cynicism and flow of consciousness. Hence we can describe four groups of activists, based on the three factors, on political cynicism and flow of consciousness: technicians (focused on competence, opposed to success, they experience low rates of flow in politics and are rather high in cynicism), pragmatists (very focused on success, they give importance also to engagement, experience flow and are low in cynicism), idealists (mainly interested in engagement, they have the highest rates of flow and the lowest of cynicism), cynics (only interested in success, opposed to competence and engagement, they experience low rates of flow and highest rates of cynicism). As the first three groups represent different paths to positive forms of politics for our society, the latter embodies a threat to the political system.
As Degrowth principles are coherent with engagement and in part with competence, we argue that it can effectively attract activists and gain a growing space in public political debate.
Contribution to the 3rd International Degrowth Conference for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity in Venice in 2012.