Themes of the Conference
The conference is organised around twelve themes with a set of subcategories (see bellow). The themes reflect the context of the conference and the open issues of the degrowth movement that were highlighted at the preceding conference in Leipzig und thus represent issues and challenges the degrowth movement needs to address.
1. The un-common sense
Researchers interested in working on degrowth inevitably come from one or more traditional academic disciplines, but these are increasingly becoming too narrow to exclusively address the concepts Degrowth covers. Consequently, underlying challenges appear which are common to different research disciplines, though they appear slightly different from their individual perspectives. This theme aims to bring together these key underlying challenges crucial to degrowth thinking and movement presented from multitude of research methods and approaches. It is also a thematic strand suitable for general discussion of applicability of different research domains and discourses to issues that are important for understanding the conceptual framework of degrowth, as well as direct resistance to blindness of conventional wisdom. What kind of thinking and what set of concepts promotes a break-out from the mould of common sense imperatives of development and value generation through material growth?
2. Historical socialism and post-socialism in Eastern Europe
The context of Budapest, and Central, North-Eastern and South-Eastern European region more broadly, is marked by legacies of both historical socialism (in multitude of forms) and post-socialist transition. These legacies provide different outlooks on the receptivity and expectations from Degrowth concepts and strategies. Understanding them allows for a concept and related movements that aim to be contextually relevant as well as sensitive to the overall global needs and potentials. Within this theme presentations related to better understating historical socialism in Eastern Europe, and its contemporary reflections will be clustered. We will also discuss taboo topics to do with the second half of the 20th century in the region, and lessons from growth along different modernisation paths. Questions of ahistoricity of degrowth movement are to be addressed under this theme. Finally, comparison of experiences colloquially known as transition in South America, Asia and Eastern Europe will be best suited to this thematic strand.
3. Exit from growth ≠ exit from capitalism?
The perennial question: without focus on growth can capitalism retain its spirit? Exit from growth is most likely exit from capitalism, but exit from capitalism is not the same as exit from growth. While many experts in mainstream political economy give little heed to degrowth, the degrowth thinkers learned a lot from critiques of capitalism. On the other hand, when charting imaginaries beyond capitalism how do we separate those meaningful to degrowth from those that are not? With a special focus on the context of the conference, connections between growth-fetish of societies and the internal contradictions of capitalism are to be explored. This is particularly important in the context of notional opposition to economic degrowth from worker unions in industrialized countries. What is the relevance of the internal limits to growth that are seen as part of capitalism’s structure to charting degrowth pathways through European semiperiphery today? How to bring degrowth into discourses on political economy? Where to include economic perspectives that respect real-life complexities and extend economic analysis to domestic, non-market activities? And how to open up discussions on ‘degrowth’ forced by environmental degradation through contemporary capitalism, and the future of dignified work which is not the environmentally devastating labour of today?
4. Environmentally sound economies
Degrowth is also about occupying space in economics, diverting more time away from capitalist accumulation to a solidarity economy, changing networks of production and consumption and driving political action to let these practices flourish. ON the ground, alternative economic initiatives, such as sharing schemes, clothes swapping, libraries of stuff, CSA, cooperatives or ethical banks are on the rise. They are a response to failures in the current economic system, an exit from the current economic model, and a start of a parallel one. These initiatives are socially responsible, ecological, and participative. But what creates a true alternative? What are the conceptual foundations and characteristics of the new economics? Are all enacted alternatives a force for the good? Can something that comes out of old motivation (e.g. creation of profit) still be in line with degrowth? How big or important part of the economic picture are the alternatives? How can we capture the meaning of parallel economic models? What are the indicators to use?
5. This is the 22nd century
Much of the search for solutions to current problems begins with two false assumptions; firstly, that the current socioeconomic and environmental crisis is solvable by re-jigging our economies and applying technological fixes, and secondly, given that humans are individualistic and utilitarian, that change should be fostered through the power of incentives. This stream rejects both of these assumptions, arguing instead that a reorientation towards sustainability is fundamentally a social challenge, involving changes of social practices, institutions and governance mechanisms. If that is so, then we are in desperate need of new imaginaries and thoroughly different narratives that will weave for us different horizons worth aiming for – emancipatory practices based in principles of degrowth, egalitarianism and democratic distribution of power. How to build a narrative that will inspire firm belief that things can be done in a different manner? What is the relationship between dematerialization of our needs, desires and social status, and our subjective wellbeing or capabilities? Are contemporary homo sapiens necessarily a homo faber as well? Can inspiration for a new narrative be found in the cultural past? How do we bring the old concepts of community, trust, cooperation, participation, sharing and solidarity into the new age, where their exact opposites govern society.
6. Global village
Whilst it is worth repeating that the degrowth transition is not a sustained trajectory of descent, but a transition to multitude of convivial societies, presentations in this theme explore the connections between global or regional transition strategies and the real-existing communities already along the way to living simple, in common, and with less. Exploration of the case studies of communities, projections of their broader social potential as well as discussion of strategies to allow whole societies to learn from distant communities will be centred in this theme. How to connect grassroots practices with degrowth transition politics? What are the connections between different geographical regions and different geopolitical contexts? How does a global movement learn to listen to the people from the ground to reinvent our imaginaries? What can we learn from struggles on the local level? How can the global village support local communities in their struggles? This session also wishes to deal with the question of how degrowth travels or does not travel to other geographical areas? Exporting the idea that we can solve poverty with growth is not acceptable, yet degrowth is not a concept that would sit well anywhere. How can we change this with new imaginaries, new visions?
7. The wrong way round
The European semi-periphery today is immersed in a complex mix of neo-liberal reforms, austerity politics, authoritarian populism and resurgent nationalisms. High levels of unemployment, poverty and widespread existential insecurity corrodes trust in the community, breeding instead a fear of tomorrow. In this context of forced downscaling it is particularly difficult to advocate sustainable degrowth policies which, at a first glance, look like a continuation of “negative growth” and hence the extension of precarious living into the future. While most will agree that growing commodification of ever more spheres of life should be opposed, transforming this frustration into a positive project of building something new remains a challenge. Austerity measures are slowly abandoned by their own advocates, but how is it possible to lessen the collective trauma of austerity driven damage? How to devise policies which, by promoting new patterns of production, consumption and investment, aim to ensure a fairer distribution of power and resources? In looking for new ways of living together in an ecologically beneficial and socially just way, the emphasis is on the grassroots where much of the innovation is taking place. For instance, practices of commoning that rely on self-organizing, social solidarity and participatory principles of managing resources can offer important lessons into imagining and encouraging such alternatives. Interpretations of sharing economies will be discussed here, including doubts of whether it goes toward commoning or mercantilization. How should we build on these lessons? How can we transform recession into degrowth?
8. New forms of democracy and new institutions
The rallying cry of current protests around the world is the overwhelming popular grievance over the lack of „real democracy”. This theme explores concepts of democratising power over decision making, both through the principle of common ownership and the principle of self-management, in search for a viable political programme for advancing democracy. For example, engaging with principles of ownership and governance, the commons expand social power and collapse the artificial distinction between the economic and political domains. In this way they embody resistance to the logic of capitalism – its growth-orientation, productivism, commodification; and at the same time resistance to top-down, bureaucratic, centralized, elite-based decision-making. Collusion among business and political elites and the resulting explosion of inequality have now become so obvious that discussions about this problem have entered the mainstream. Numerous studies have shown that inequality is an obstacle to human development, but many still believe that once economic growth returns, all boats will be lifted again. This is probably the most nefarious illusion produced by earlier periods of economic growth, since they successfully sidelined the question of power. Without a basic sense of shared humanity and true political equality, we are not able to engage in a democratic debate about the features of a desired future society. For this purpose liberal democratic frameworks will not suffice – as protest movements around the world have demonstrated in recent years. What are the characteristics of new institutions of political and economic democracy?
9. Degrowth and other movements
There is one world, but there seems to be many struggles. Whilst this democracy of action is at the heart of the degrowth understanding of personal emancipation within the realistic biophysical limits, successful phase shift eventually requires emergence of a critical mass and convergence on a set of key issues. This theme explores what those issues are, how they may be brought into closer contact and what differences are to be respected and celebrated. This theme concerns issues of scale or geopolitical situation, but also issues of conceptual alignment between new social and political movements. Presentation of other social movements (e.g. feminist movement, Transition, anti-globalization, anti-extractivist, Buen Vivir etc.) under this theme will also bring them into contact with the degrowth movement, opening issues of search for commons points with movements not intrinsically sympathetic to degrowth. Is the talk about the good old times and simplicity something that can reconnect people and create a bridge between many movements and initiatives?
10. Building on solidarity
Degrowth is about solidarity with those that are abused by the current system, be it through degradation and destruction of their environment or through inhumane working conditions and meagre earnings. It is not about ‘us’ and ‘them’, we are all in this together. However, the notion of solidarity has been erased from imaginaries of developed societies in the past decades and we need to rebuild it. This is particularly pertinent with regards to experiences of people seeking security and better life in Europe after expansionism and extractivism forced them to abandon their homes. Are refugees of all sorts welcome in developed countries harbouring degrowth thinking? Can we rebuild solidarity from the lessons of less developed, but still connected societies? Can we learn about it from the struggles on a local level? Is solidarity a sort of back-up system, a security network, a trust basis, which we miss in the western world and substitute with never ending accumulation of goods? Is solidarity a key global common good?
11. Empowering communities
This theme addresses the questions of empowerment of voiceless (powerless, marginalized) groups of society. It examines opportunities for empowerment and the role and limits of science, social movements, politics and policies in it. Empowerment processes are also to be examined from the perspective of degrowth. What is empowerment? How to achieve empowerment? What is the role of science, movements and politics in empowerment? How do different levels of empowerment (from personal through “community” to global) relate to each other? How do these relate to societal transformations? What type of empowerment and transformation could contribute to degrowth?
12. Degrowth 2016 in context
This is a special time-relative theme that allows for presentation of work done and struggles encountered at the time of the announcement of call for applications, and anticipated as still trending by the start of the conference in August 2016. Europe, Eastern Europe and Budapest itself are experiencing novel and unexpected moments from month to month, most of which have a clear relevance to the conference and the international degrowth movement, but are difficult to exactly pinpoint and describe in this call for papers. If you have a story to share concerning floods, droughts, Grexit, Brexit, refugee crisis, police brutalities or regional weather extreme catastrophes, bring it here!
The conference subcategories were selected from the experience of previous conferences, as well as the expectations of the researchers. Following the choice of the specific theme, each submitter is asked to select one of the subcategories below that best marks the topic of the presentation.
Democracy, political decision-making
Consumption and advertising
Social systems and politics
Social limits of growth, well-being and good life
Environmental limits to growth and North-South environmental conflicts
Social enterprises, cooperatives and the solidarity economy