A few years ago, while writing a series about development politics in San Antonio, and specifically about alternatives to development as a conceptual paradigm, I signed up for a listserv called “Research and Degrowth.” And every so often, news of degrowth-related conferences and submission opportunities would congregate in my inbox in digest form.
I found it interesting, and frustrating, that almost all of these conferences and journals and events were based in Europe. Within the United States, arguably the most stubbornly and perniciously growth-minded economy in the world, there seemed to be little intellectual or political activity around the concept.
In Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era, the first English-language analysis of the movement, editors Giacomo D’Alisa, Federico Demaria, and Giorgos Kallis define degrowth as, “first and foremost, a critique of growth”:
[Degrowth] calls for the decolonization of public debate from the idiom of economism and for the abolishment of economic growth as a social objective. Beyond that, degrowth signifies also a desired direction, one in which societies will use fewer natural resources and will organize and live differently than today. … Our emphasis is on different, not only less. Degrowth signifies a society with a smaller metabolism, but more importantly, a society with a metabolism which has a different structure and serves new functions. Degrowth does not call for doing less of the same. The objective is not to make an elephant leaner, but to turn an elephant into a snail (3-4).
As a movement and as a paradigm, the origins of degrowth are largely European—the English term is a translation of décroissance, originally coined by French thinker André Gorz in 1972 and revived by Serge Latouche in a foundational article entitled “Pour une societé de décroissance” (“For a Degrowth Society”) which sparked a wave of translations of the concept across Spain (decrecimiento), Italy (decrescita), and Germany (postwachstum).
This largely explains the locations of the international conferences held to date; in 2008, the first international degrowth conference was held in Paris, at which the English word “degrowth” was used for the first time, followed by conferences in Barcelona, Spain (2010); Venice, Italy and Montreal, Canada (2012); Leipzig, Germany (2014); and Budapest, Hungary (2016).
Despite its powerful challenge to the hegemony of growth-or-die economic logics in the Global North, degrowth remains vastly undertheorized in the U.S. Likewise, significant and serious questions remain about the appropriateness of degrowth as a conceptual and policy paradigm within the Global South, which has its own indigenous (and Indigenous) critiques of modernity and development—in particular concepts of sumak kawsay and buen vivir and the movement to affirm los derechos de la madre tierra/the rights of nature, articulated in 2010 at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The convergences and divergences between these paradigms and movements and degrowth, then, have yet to be explored in a serious and sustained way.
For all these reasons, I was excited to receive the news via the Research & Degrowth listserv that one of the next international conferences on degrowth—officially titled the “1st North-South Conference on Degrowth/Primera Conferencia Norte-Sur de Descrecimiento“—will be held in Mexico City this year Sept. 4 – Sept. 6 (another will be held in Malmö, Sweden). With the tagline “decolonizing the social imaginary,” the conference promises to be “a forum to present the latest in thought and practice of degrowth in the world,” putting this thought and practice “in dialogue with the context of the countries of the American Continent of the twenty-first century.”
Click below to read more about the conference:
As residents of what Chicanx Studies scholar José Limon has called “greater México,” we are excited that the next international conference on degrowth will be held in Latinoamérica, after five conferences in Europe and one in Canada. And as a project inspired by degrowth as well as by movements for buen vivir and the rights of nature, we are excited too by the prospect of Deceleration attending this conference, so as to cover it and bring back fresh ideas that can inform movements for climate justice, land/water protection, buen vivir, and transition here at home.
Planning on attending? Got ideas for topics and ideas to watch out for, should we be able to attend? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.