Towards an urban degrowth: Habitability, finity and polycentric autonomism

Abstract: Over the last decade, degrowth has offered a concrete alternative to eco-modernization, projecting a society emancipated from the environmentally destructive imperative of competition and consumption. Urban development is the motor of economic growth; cities are therefore prime sites of intervention for degrowth activists. Nevertheless, the planning processes that drive urban development have yet to be questioned from a degrowth perspective. To clear a path for a degrowth urban agenda, this paper rethinks the institutions governing urban development in growth-dependent contemporary economies. It starts by problematizing the regional territorialization of economic competition, ideology of land scarcity, and institution of zoned property rights, which together make urban development an engine of growth. It then outlines three transitions toward urban degrowth, arguing for a regional imaginary of polycentric autonomism, a paradigm of finity in development, and care for habitability as principle of spatial organization.

Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, January 2021

Degrowth Vienna 2020 – A Green New Deal without growh

Presentation [part of the standard session “Institutional Change 2”]

The Green New Deal offers a powerful vision for how to deploy industrial policies to coordinate the overhaul of a country’s energy system and decarbonize its manufacturing and agricultural sectors. However given the elusiveness of absolute decoupling degrowth policies must accompany this transition.

Presenters: Riccardo Mastini (Institute of Environmental Science and Technology, Autonomous University of Barcelona)

Language: English

Technical details: Standard AP1_RICCARDO_MASTINI_A Green New Deal without growth.mp4, MPEG-4 video, 45.6 MB

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Degrowth Vienna 2020 – A framework to move policy-making in the EU beyond growth

Presentation [part of the standard session “Institutional Change 2”]

The session introduces an online toolbox to guide policy-making beyond growth. Based on a literature review, we structure post-growth policies along 17 objectives, 101 transformative changes and 260 instruments. The framework shows what means other than economic growth can achieve political ends.

Presenters: Jonathan Barth (ZOE. Institute for Future-fit Economies)

Language: English

Technical details: Standard AP1_Jonathan Barth_A framework to move policy-making in the EU beyond growth.mp4, MPEG-4 video, 39.5 MB

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Pandemic Solidarity: Mutual Aid during the Covid-19 Crisis

In times of crisis, when institutions of power are laid bare, people turn to one another. Pandemic Solidarity collects firsthand experiences from around the world of people creating their own narratives of solidarity and mutual aid in the time of the global crisis of COVID-19.

The world’s media was quick to weave a narrative of selfish individualism, full of empty supermarket shelves and con-men. However, if you scratch the surface, you find a different story of community and self-sacrifice. Looking at eighteen countries and regions, including India, Rojava, Taiwan, South Africa, Iraq and North America, the personal accounts in the book weave together to create a larger picture, revealing a universality of experience.

Moving beyond the present, these stories reveal what an alternative society could look like, and reflect the skills and relationships we already have to create that society, challenging institutions of power that have already shown their fragility.

Degrowth Vienna 2020 – A legal approach to beyond GDP indicators: possibilities and limits

Presentation [part of the standard session “Institutional Change 1”]

How can law contribute to the use of indicators that measure progress in an alternative manner? What are the limits thereof? This session will explore legal definitions and operationalizations of “beyond Gross Domestic Product” metrics by examining concrete existing legislation.

Presenters: Norman Vander Putten (Université Saint-Louis – Bruxelles)

Language: English with translation to German

Technical details: Standard AP 2_NORMAN VANDERPUTTEN_A legal approach to beyond GDP indicators possibilities and limits.mp4, MPEG-4 video, 36.7MB

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First North-South Conference on Degrowth-Descrecimiento, México City 2018 – Ecological micro-economics: reimagining the institutional firm as an agent of change

How could the production-organizing institution(s) of the economy be reimagined so that maintaining ecological integrity becomes an integral goal and outcome of their operations?

Degrowth Conference Budapest, 2016 – Between the enlarged scope of neoliberalism and the socialism that mutates: The sustainability dilemma in China’s overheated market for ‘fictitious commodities’

Presentation by Xiaorui (Rae) Wang

Basing on Polanyi’s (cf. 2002 [1944], 1957) insights that are particularly pertinent to the arguments that have centred ecological economics, this paper sets out to investigate the Chinese context within which this kind of trade-offs have been made. The findings indicate that, the so called “socialist market economy” in China implies above all the State’s strong intervention of the seemingly self-regulated market, yet this intervention, notably the intervention of the ‘fictitious commodity markets’ conducted by the Chinese authorities haven’t work in the spirit of restriction. Rather, the free circulation of these fictitious commodities in China has been greatly facilitated by the state intervention for the purpose of boosting the economy; and this is precisely the main cause of the environmental and social crises that China faces today. Moreover, the ideological conflicts in regard with the nature of the Chinese economy appear to be problematic when it comes to conducting institutional changes towards sustainability in the future.

Degrowth Conference Budapest, 2016 – The interpretation of degrowth in local policy and planning

Presentation by Katarina Buhr

A significant share of the literature on degrowth focuses on macro-level units of analysis such as the global or national economy, to discuss aspects such as market logics as a central organizing principle in society or the relevance of GDP as a welfare measure or as a barrier for long-term sustainable development on the global scale. Studies on degrowth that focus on the local scale, on the other hand, have examined e.g. social movements or individual lifestyles. In addition, much of the degrowth literature consist of critical arguments about the need for, or the potential of, alternative development paths but there is a lack of empirically grounded understanding of the institutional conditions for working with degrowth as a conscious development strategy in a real world policy context. This paper directs its attention to local land use policy and planning to explore questions like: What does degrowth mean in the context of local city planning? How is local city planning affected by prevailing or changing norms and values about what is desirable? By which actors and on which arenas are matters of degrowth discussed? What tensions tend to evolve around degrowth matters at the local level? This paper presents a case study of the Swedish municipality of Alingsås in which growth as a given objective has been begun to be questioned in central planning processes. At the same time, the city planning is significantly influenced by Alingsås’ long-standing role as a commuting society and planning ideas to build for travelling. The paper combines qualitative analyses of central planning documents of Alingsås with in-depth interviews with local officials.

The Virtuous Circle of Sustainable Welfare as a Transformative Policy Idea

Welfare states are highly dependent on the economic growth paradigm. Especially in social democratic welfare states, growth dependence has historically been accompanied by the notion of a virtuous circle, which ensures that social policy measures do not conflict with economic growth. However, this policy idea ignores the environmental impacts that are now challenging human wellbeing and welfare goals. In this conceptual research article, I reframe the virtuous circle of the welfare state by revealing its unintended consequences and internal contradictions before introducing a more sustainable policy idea. I argue that this new concept—a virtuous circle of sustainable welfare—could have transformative potential in designing a planned and socially sustainable degrowth transformation. Drawing on historical institutionalism, degrowth, social policy and sustainable welfare state research, I advocate for the virtuous circle as a heuristic tool to provide an appealing and convincing narrative for sustainable welfare state beyond growth. The policy idea of virtuous circle addresses interrelated institutional reforms and positive feedbacks between different institutions and policy goals. It also emphasizes that a holistic approach is necessary to avoid trade-offs and contradictions between social, environmental, and economic policies.
Sustainability 2020, 12(1), 391

The state in the transformation to a sustainable postgrowth economy

The limits of the environmental state in the context of the provision of economic growth are addressed by applying materialist state theory, state-rescaling approaches and the degrowth/postgrowth literature. I compare state roles in a capitalist growth economy and in a postgrowth economy geared towards bio-physical parameters such as matter and energy throughput and the provision of ‘sustainable welfare’. In both cases state roles are analysed in relation to the economy, welfare, and the environment, as well as state spatiality. Finally, I address the state in a transition from a growth economy to a sustainable postgrowth economy. I argue that materialist state and sustainable welfare theories are capable of informing state-led ‘eco-social’ policies that, if integrated in a comprehensive policy strategy, have the potential to overcome the growth imperative in the economy and policymaking and break the growth-related glass ceiling of the environmental state.

Environmental Politics, October 2019

Global Climate Emergency: after COP24, climate science, urgency, and the threat to humanity

This Special Editorial on the Climate Emergency makes the case that although we are living in the time of Global Climate Emergency we are not yet acting as if we are in an imminent crisis. The authors review key aspects of the institutional response and climate science over the past several decades and the role of the economic system in perpetuating inertia on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Humanity is now the primary influence on the planet, and events in and around COP24 are the latest reminder that we live in a pathological system. A political economy has rendered the UNFCCC process as yet a successful failure. Fundamental change is urgently required. The conclusions contain recommendations and a call to action now.


Governance from below and environmental justice: Community water management from the perspective of social metabolism

The Mexican neoliberal political regime created a hegemonic governance model (top-down) which has tried to impose a single definition for the rules of the distribution of the costs and benefits (environmental and economic) related to the appropriation of “natural resources” (fossil fuels, forests, mineral, water, genetic). Social metabolism is a framework that highlights the contribution of indigenous communities in their struggles to build a movement of environmental justice and austerity (a regionally sensitive alternative to degrowth). By forging an indigenous communitarian identity, known as comunalidad in the Sierra Juárez of Oaxaca, they are forging a new form of “bottom-up” governance. We designed key components and indicators to understand the social metabolism related to three policy objectives: a) local governance; b) reducing water vulnerability; and c) social justice. Heterodox perspectives by Marx and Illich enrich the analysis. The analysis emphasizes the importance of the social control of the “tools” needed to protect their communities and their heritage, transforming the institutions that were imposed on them. The approach is critical for constructing a research program in “ecological economics from below.”

Ecological Economics, vol. 160, June 2019, pp. 52-61

Reflections on ‘rationality’ and ‘development’

For some time now, ‘development’ has been simultaneously the motto and theme of the official and ‘professional’ ideology – as well as government policies. It is perhaps useful to recall briefly the genealogy of the notion.

Text of a Conference paper given at Florence in 1974. First published in Esprit, May 1976. Reprinted (with a lengthy discussion, not  given here) in C. Mendes ed., le Mythe du développement, le Seuil, Paris, 1977.

Praxis International, Volume 4 no. 4, January 1985

Structured Diversity: A Practice Theory Approach to Post-Growth Organisations

Innovative forms of organising are a crucial pillar of post-growth transitions. Situated within a growth-based institutional context, actually existing forms of post-growth organising are ambiguous. Divisions across legal structure, market participation and sectoral focus do not suffice to single out post-growth organisations. Instead, this paper develops a more fluid notion which is based on the “thick description” of organisations. Conceptually, the paper borrows from diverse economies and practice theory literatures, allied in their appreciation of performativity. The latter in particular illustrates transition’s irreducibility to structural or individual agency and lends itself to a notion of post-growth politics: the practice of changing the rules of practice to support parallel and mutually enforcing processes of cultural and institutional change within the diverse meanings of post-growth. Studies of diverse economies remind us that market practices are only the tip of the (economic) iceberg. In conjunction with qualitative empirical data from a study of alternative economies in Stuttgart, Germany, a framework is developed to structure organisations’ diverse forms of relatedness to larger contexts. Identifying, besides economies, also communality, narratives, experience, governance and ecology as central patterns in the relationality relatedness of practices (logics), this paper proposes a structured notion of diversity to discuss the ambiguities, contradictions and compromises of actually existing post-growth organisations.

FRI_16:30h // Degrowth in the Parliaments

Panel discussion at the 6th International Degrowth Conference for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity in Budapest in 2016.
Speakers: Philippe Lamberts, Rebeka Szabo, Sabine Leidig

Degrowth 2016 – English youtube channel