The 8th International Degrowth Conference for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity

August 24th-28th 2021

The 8th international degrowth conference will be academic and activist in nature and will encourage the participation of artists, practitioners and policymakers, taking place over five days at and around the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague (an institute that is part of Erasmus University Rotterdam) in partnership with WEGO Innovative Training Network (Well-being, Ecology, Gender and Community) [funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 764908]

The ISS offers an ideal setting for the conference with its long-standing focus on critical development studies for social and environmental justice. The ISS hosts a large research group in political ecology and has a long tradition in critical agrarian studies. It is also closely associated with Development and Change as well as the Journal of Peasant Studies. The WEGO-ITN is coordinated at ISS as part of the Political Ecology research group.

The Hague, as the country’s political capital and as the hub of 150 international organizations, is a great place to make degrowth visible. Because the city hosts the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, it has been called the ‘Peace and Justice Capital of the World’, two attributes that match well with the goals of degrowth. On top of this, the fact that the city also hosts controversial companies like Royal Dutch Shell makes The Hague a very relevant place to open the degrowth debate as broadly as possible.

More generally, degrowth is attracting increasing interest in the Netherlands. While the term remains relatively rarely used (i.e. relative to France, Spain or Italy), it can claim old roots in the Low Countries, particularly through various autonomist, environmental and counterculture movements like the Provo movement of the 1960s. In 1991, Willem Hoogendijk published what was probably the first book on degrowth in the Netherlands (using the words ‘shrinking’ and ‘shrinkage’). More recently, anti-fossil fuel movements like Code Rood and Fossil Free Netherlands have gained in visibility and in 2018 Ontgroei (‘degrowth’ in Dutch) was created and organized the 1st Utrecht Degrowth Symposium in June of the same year. Building on a long history of progressive civil society initiatives, including those engaged in feminist political ecology, the Netherlands offer a fertile ground for the future consolidation of degrowth ideas and practice.

Thematic focus

The 8th international conference aims to highlight some of the themes that figured less prominently in the programmes of the past conferences, with specific focus on ‘community’.

First of all, the concept of the ‘community’ intersects with some of the core concerns of WEGO – namely feminism, care, well-being and the ‘good life’. The idea here is to explore, develop and share information on how communities respond to economic and ecological changes and how they organize for well-being in efforts to move out of situations of inequality and exclusion. In particular, we would like to encourage contributions on how gender relations are being shaped in emerging practices of commoning, community economies and how work of care for families and communities can generate successful strategies of ‘living well together’. The various conceptions of the ‘good life’ as culturally and ecologically specific sets of guiding principles for social change are another example of contributions we would like to encourage.

Second, drawing on specialties of the ISS and WUR, however, we don’t want to limit ourselves to the ‘local’ as communities have to be inserted into regional/global frameworks and North-South relations. Here, a focus on decoloniality and post-development will be central, drawing on the strides made in this field during the 2018 Degrowth Conference in Mexico. Colonialism was inherently a growth-based pursuit founded on racial hierarchies and creating dependency. As part of the conference we want to interrogate these hierarchies and attitudes as we think about decolonization and what it means for degrowth. We are further interested in the knowledge-systems erased or marginalized due to colonialism, that have much to teach us as degrowth scholars and activists.

Third, the ‘community’ is at the center of various movements and experiences – from Rojava to Chiapas, from Madrid to Gujarat – that could be gathered under the label ‘anarchism’, even if their exponents do not necessarily use the term. Other names have been used, like autonomism, anti-authoritarianism, horizontality, Occupy, Indignados, direct democracy or degrowth. They all share the same core principles: decentralization, voluntary association, mutual aid, the network model, and the rejection of the idea that the end justifies the means. For ‘anarchists’, one does not have to wait until ‘after the revolution’ to begin building what emancipation and sustainability might be like. Also, almost exactly 150 years after the historic split between Marxists and anarchists at the Hague Congress, we would like to ask whether degrowth reunites these two traditions.

Fourth, the ‘community’ has traditionally been at the center of anthropology and agrarian studies. Again building on strengths of the ISS and WUR, we would like to have more scholar-activists who identify with these fields taking part in the degrowth debates. Indeed, what can be learned from non-Western and rural contexts has thus far not received enough attention in the degrowth literature. Many crucial debates on food sovereignty, the ‘ontological turn’, resource grabbing, traditional knowledge systems, trans-national agrarian movements, sustainable rural livelihood, agroecology, economic anthropology, etc. should be more firmly rooted at the core of degrowth.

Fifth, the psychological and psychoanalytic aspects of (de)growth have not sufficiently been explored at the previous conferences as well as in the existent degrowth research more generally. We believe that ecological, economic and political issues are only one aspect of the questions that need to be investigated in a mature degrowth research agenda; degrowth must also enter the difficult terrain of values, internalized norms, unconscious processes, mental health, relationships to oneself and to others, and so forth. Put differently, degrowth must not only seek to offer ‘outer’ solutions but also provide tools and concepts for apprehending our own ‘inner’ selves.

Sixth, we would like to attract more scholars from the fields of philosophy and religious studies/spirituality. There is an urgent need in degrowth to include the humanities, especially since we are seeking deep shifts in consciousness and subjectivities. We will thus welcome presentations on the links between degrowth and ethics, degrowth and the sacred, degrowth and indigenous cosmologies, theological contributions to degrowth, degrowth and spiritual movements like Gandhism or Anabaptism, spiritual ecology, and related perspectives.

Supporting organizations:

Funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 764908

Affiliated organizations: