Degrowth and the Unmaking of Capitalism
Beyond ‘Decolonization of the Imaginary’?
Degrowth is incompatible with modern capitalist socioecological configurations, and in fact requires their ‘unmaking’ to open space for post-growth and post-capitalist alternatives. The concept of ‘decolonization of the imaginary’ has captured an element of unmaking in the degrowth debate; however, this concept remains underdeveloped, and thus falls short of providing an analytical basis to understand the range of interconnected, multi-level, and multidimensional processes that make space for radical alternatives to modern capitalist socioecological configurations. This paper engages with literature from across the social sciences on various forms of deconstruction, destabilization, displacement, or unmaking of the social and socio-ecological order, most of which was preciously unexplored in the degrowth debate. By building on that literature, this paper suggests a richer and more insightful approach to conceptualizing the unmaking of modern capitalist socioecological configurations, thus specifying and refining the notion of decolonization of the imaginary. The insights are distilled in five propositions: (i) unmaking is a combination of emergent, situated processes; (ii) processes of unmaking involve both symbolic and material deconstruction; (iii) unmaking is a contradictory personal experience; (iv) unmaking is often hidden, but can be used strategically; and (v) unmaking is generative.
Asara, Viviana, Emanuele Profumi and Giorgos Kallis. 2013. Degrowth, Democracy and Autonomy. Environmental Values 22, 217–239.
Asara, Viviana, Iago Otero, Federico Demaria and Esteve Corbera. 2015. Socially sustainable degrowth as a social–ecological transformation: repoliticizing sustainability. Sustainability Science 10, 375–384.
Bina, Olivia. 2013. The green economy and sustainable development: an uneasy balance? Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 31, 1023 – 1047.
Boonstra, Wiebren J., and Sofie Joosse. 2013. The Social Dynamics of Degrowth. Environmental Values 22, 171–189.
Böhm, Steffen, Ana C. Dinerstein and Andre Spicer. 2008. (Im)possibilities of Autonomy Social Movements In and Beyond Capital, the State and Development. Working Paper No. WP 08/13. University of Essex.
Böhm, Steffen, Zareen Pervez Bharucha and Jules Pretty. 2014. Ecocultures: blueprints for sustainable communities. Abingdon: Routledge.
Brown, Dona. 2011. Back to the land: The enduring dream of self-sufficiency in modern America. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Carlsson, Chris, and Francesca Manning. 2010. Nowtopia: Strategic Exodus? Antipode 42, 924–53.
Castoriadis, Cornelius. 1997a. The imaginary institution of society. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Castoriadis, Cornelius. 1997. The Castoriadis Reader. Translated and edited by David Ames Curtis. Oxford: Blackwell.
Chappells, Heather, Will Medd, and Elizabeth Shove. 2011. Disruption and Change: Drought and the Inconspicuous Dynamics of Garden Lives. Social & Cultural Geography 12, 701–15.
Chatterton, Paul and Jenny Pickerill. 2010. Everyday activism and transitions towards post-capitalist worlds. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35, 475–490.
Darby, Stella. 2016. Dynamic Resistance: Third-Sector Processes for Transforming Neoliberalization. Antipode 48, 977–999.
Deriu, Marco. 2015. Autonomy. In: D'Alisa, Giacomo, Federico Demaria, and Giorgos Kallis, eds. Degrowth: a vocabulary for a new era. Abingdon: Routledge. 83-86.
D’Alisa, Giacomo, Federico Demaria and Carlo Cattaneo. 2013. Civil and Uncivil Actors for a Degrowth Society. Journal of Civil Society 9, 212–224.
Deshner, Claire and Elliot Hurst. 2018. Decolonisation and Degrowth. Retrieved from https://www.degrowth.info/en/2018/02/decolonisation-and-degrowth.
Drews, Stefan and Miklós Antal. 2016. Degrowth: A “missile word” that backfires? Ecological Economics 126, 182–187.
Drews, Stefan, and Gerhard Reese. 2018. “Degrowth” vs. Other Types of Growth: Labeling Affects Emotions but Not Attitudes. Environmental Communication 12, 1-10.
Escobar, Arturo. 2015. Degrowth, postdevelopment, and transitions: a preliminary conversation. Sustainability Science 10, 451–462.
Feola, Giuseppe. 2015. Societal transformation in response to global environmental change: A review of emerging concepts. AMBIO 44, 376–390.
Feola, Giuseppe, 2019. Capitalism in sustainability transitions research: Time for a critical turn? Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions.
Feola, Giuseppe and Richard J. Nunes. 2014. Success and failure of grassroots innovations for addressing climate change: The case of the Transition Movement. Global Environmental Change 24, 232–250.
Forster, John Bellamy. 2011. Capitalism and Degrowth: An Impossibility Theorem. Monthly Review 62.
Fotopoulos, Takis. 2007. Is degrowth compatible with a market economy? The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy 3, 1-16.
Fournier, Valérie. 2008. Escaping from the economy: the politics of degrowth. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 28 (11/12), 528-545.
Gibson-Graham. 2006. The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Gritzas, Giorgos, and Karolos Iosif Kavoulakos. 2016. Diverse economies and alternative spaces: An overview of approaches and practices. European Urban and Regional Studies 23, 917-934.
Hall, Cheryl. 2013. What Will it Mean to be Green? Envisioning Positive Possibilities Without Dismissing Loss. Ethics, Policy and Environment 16, 125–141.
Halvorsen, Sam. 2015. Taking space: Moments of rupture and everyday life in Occupy London. Antipode 47, 401-417.
Harvey, David. 2014. Seventeen Contradictions And The End Of Capitalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Illich, Ivan 1975. Tools for conviviality. Glasgow: Fontana/Collins.
Jackson, T., 2016. Prosperity Without Growth: Foundations for the Economy of Tomorrow. London: Routledge.
Järvensivu, P., Toivanen, T., Vadén, T., Lähde, V., Majava, A., Eronen, J.T., 2018. Governance of Economic Transition. Global Sustainable Development Report 2019. Invited background document on economic Transformation, to chapter: Transformation: The Economy.
Joutsenvirta, Maria. 2016. A practice approach to the institutionalization of economic degrowth. Ecological Economics 128, 23–32.
Kallis, Giorgos. 2011. In defence of degrowth. Ecological Economics 70, 873–880.
Kallis, Giorgos, Christian Kerschner and Juan Martinez-Alier. 2012. The economics of degrowth. Ecological Economics 84, 172–180.
Kallis, Giorgos and Hug March. 2015. Imaginaries of Hope: The Utopianism of Degrowth. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 105, 360–368.
Kallis, Giorgos, Federico Demaria and Giacomo D’Alisa. 2015. Introduction: degrowth. In: D’Alisa, G., Demaria, F., Kallis, G. (eds.) 2015. Degrowth: Vocabulary for a new era. Abingdon: Routledge, 1-18.
Kallis, Giorgos, Vasilis Kostakis, Steffen Lange, Barbara Muraca, Susan Paulson, Matthias Schmelzer. 2018. Research On Degrowth. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 43 (1), 291–316.
King Debra. 2005. Sustaining activism through emotional reflexivity. In: Flam, H., King, D. (eds.) Emotions and Social Movements. Abingdon: Routledge, 150-169.
Latouche, Serge. 1995. La megamacchina. Ragione tecnoscientifica, ragione economica e mito del progresso. Torino: Bollati Boringhieri.
Latouche, Serge. 2011. Come si esce dalla societá dei consumi. Torino: Bollati Boringhieri.
Latouche, Serge. 2010. Farewell to Growth. London: Polity Press.
Latouche, Serge. 2015a. Disaster, Pedagogy of. In: D’Alisa, G., Demaria, F., Kallis, G. (eds.), Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era. Abingdon: Routledge, 94-96.
Latouche, Serge. 2015b. Decolonization of imaginary. In: D’Alisa, G., Demaria, F., Kallis, G. (eds.), Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era. Abingdon: Routledge, 117-120.
Leff, Enrique. 2010. Degrowth, or deconstruction of the economy: Towards a sustainable world. Critical Currents 6, 101–107.
Maeckelbergh, Marianne. 2011. Doing is believing: Prefiguration as strategic practice in the alterglobalization movement. Social Movement Studies 10, 1-20.
Mahdavi, Arwa. 2015. Can cities kick ads? Inside the global movement to ban urban billboards. The Guardian, 12 August, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/aug/11/can-cities-kick-ads-ban-urban-billboards
Maniates, Michael and John M. Meyer. (eds.) 2010a. The environmental politics of sacrifice. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Maniates, Michael and John M. Meyer. 2010b. Conclusion: Sacrifice and a new environmental politics. In: Maniates, M., Meyer, J. M. (eds.) 2010. The environmental politics of sacrifice. Cambridge: MIT Press, 313-320.
Martínez-Alier, Joan, Unai Pascual, Franck-Dominique Vivien, and Edwin Zaccai. 2010. Sustainable De-Growth: Mapping the Context, Criticisms and Future Prospects of an Emergent Paradigm. Ecological Economics 69, 1741–1747.
Maxey, Larch, Tom Henfrey, Shaun Chamberline, Chris Bird, and Jesus Gonsalez. 2015. “Radical Civic Transitions: Networking and Building Civic Solutions”. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 14 (2), 431-41.
McGranahan, Carole. 2016a. Theorizing Refusal: An Introduction. Cultural Anthropology 31, 319–325.
McGranahan, Carole. 2016b. Refusal and the Gift of Citizenship. Cultural Anthropology 31, 334–341.
Meyer, Michael. 2010. A democratic politics of sacrifice? In: Maniates, M., Meyer, J. M. (eds.) 2010. The environmental politics of sacrifice. Cambridge: MIT Press, 13-32.
Mignolo, Walter D. and Catherine E. Walsh. 2018. On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis. Durham: Duke University Press.
Muraca, Barbara. 2013. Décroissance: A Project for a Radical Transformation of Society. Environmental Values 22, 147–169.
Muraca, Barbara. 2017a. Rethinking space and time with the Degrowth movement: a (concrete) utopia for the transformation of the Social Imaginary. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the International Society of Environmental Ethics, Pace University, Washington DC.
Muraca, Barbara. 2014. Gut Leben. Berlin: Verlag Klaus Wagenbach.
O’Hearn, Denis, and Andrej Grubačić. 2016. Capitalism, mutual aid, and material life: Understanding exilic spaces. Capital & Class 40, 147-165.
Pickerill, Jenny. 2015. Cold Comfort? Reconceiving the Practices of Bathing in British Self-Build Eco-Homes. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 105, 1061–1077.
Pickerill, Jenny and Paul Chatterton. 2006. Notes towards autonomous geographies: creation, resistance and self-management as survival tactics. Progress in Human Geography 30, 730–746.
Pickerill, Jenny and Larch Maxey. 2009. Geographies of Sustainability: Low Impact Developments and Radical Spaces of Innovation. Geography Compass 3, 1515–1539.
Princen, Thomas. 2010. The Logic of sufficiency. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Scott James, C., 1985. Weapons of the weak: everyday forms of peasant resistance. New Haven: Yale University.
Scott, James C. 1986. Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. Journal of Peasant Studies 13(2), 5–35.
Shove, Elizabeth. 2010. Comfort, cleanliness and convenience: The social organization of normality. Oxford: Berg Publishers.
Shove, Elizabeth. 2012. The shadowy side of innovation: unmaking and sustainability. Technology Analysis and Strategic Management 24, 363–375.
Shove, Elizabeth and Gordon Walker. 2007. CAUTION! Transitions ahead: politics, practice and sustainable transition management. Environment and Planning A 39, 763–770.
Shove, Elizabeth, Mika Pantzar and Matt Watson. 2012. The dynamics of social practice: Everyday life and how it changes. London: SAGE.
Schneider, Francois, Giorgos Kallis and Juan Martinez-Alier. 2010. Crisis or opportunity? Economic degrowth for social equity and ecological sustainability. Introduction to this special issue. Journal of Cleaner Production 18, 511–518.
Siltanen, Janet, Fran Klodawsky, and Caroline Andrew. 2015. “This is how I want to live my life”: An Experiment in Prefigurative Feminist Organizing for a More Equitable and Inclusive City. Antipode 47, 260-279.
Simpson, Audra. 2016. Consent’s Revenge. Cultural Anthropology 31, 326–333.
Streek, W., 2014. How will Capitalism End? New Left Review 87, 35–64.
The Guardian, 2018. The EU Needs a Stability and Wellbeing Pact, Not More Growth. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/sep/16/the-eu-needs-a-stabilityand-wellbeing-pact-not-more-growth.
Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. The mushroom at the end of the world: On the possibility of life in capitalist ruins. Princeton University Press, 2015.
Turnheim, Bruno and Frank W. Geels. 2012. Regime destabilisation as the flipside of energy transitions: Lessons from the history of the British coal industry (1913–1997). Energy Policy 50, 35–49.
Turnheim, Bruno and Frank W. Geels. 2013. The destabilisation of existing regimes: Confronting a multi-dimensional framework with a case study of the British coal industry (1913–1967). Research Policy 42, 1749–1767.
Urry, J., 2010. Consuming the planet to excess. Theory Culture Society 27, 191–212.
van den Bergh, Jeroen C.J.M. 2011. Environment versus growth — A criticism of “degrowth” and a plea for “a-growth.” Ecological Economics 70, 881–890.
Wapner, Paul. 2010. Sacrifice in an age of comfort. In: Maniates, M., Meyer, J. M. (eds.) 2010. The environmental politics of sacrifice. Cambridge: MIT Press, 33-60.
Ward, C. 1996. Anarchy in Action. London: Freedom Press.
Weiss, Erica. 2016. Refusal as Act, Refusal as Abstention. Cultural Anthropology 31, 351–358.
Weyer, Johannes, Sebastian Hoffmann and Jessica Longen. 2015. Achieving Sustainable Mobility. The Discontinuation of the Socio-Technical Regime of Automobility. Soziologisches Arbeitspapier Nr. 44/2015, Technical University of Dortmund.
Williams, Justin. 2010. Bikes, sticks, carrots. In: Maniates, M., Meyer, J. M. (eds.) 2010. The environmental politics of sacrifice. Cambridge: MIT Press, 247-270.
White, Richard J., and Colin C. Williams. 2016. Beyond capitalocentricism: are non‐capitalist work practices ‘alternatives’?. Area 48, 325-331.
Wilbur, Andrew. 2013. Growing a Radical Ruralism: Back-to-the-Land as Practice and Ideal: Growing a Radical Ruralism. Geography Compass 7, 149–60.
Wilhite, H., 2016. The Political Economy of Low Carbon Transformation: Breaking the Habits of Capitalism. London: Routledge.
Wright, Eric Olin. 2013. Transforming Capitalism through Real Utopias. American Sociological Review 78, 1–25.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Authors agree to publish their articles in ACME under the Creative Commons "Attribution/Non-Commercial/No Derivative Works" Canada licence. To read and review agreement, click here.