Degrowth as Social Movement and Economic Strategy

By Kevin Pijpers

Degrowth is both a social movement and an economic strategy that presents a radical alternative to capitalist growth paradigms. Its researchers and practitioners are diverse and heterogeneous and are broadly united in their critique of planetary destruction for the imaginary gains of the few. The community brings together artists, activists, academics, politicians, and others who are committed to forms of economic organisation that are ecologically sustainable and socially just. I presented my doctoral research at the 6th International Degrowth Conference in Malmö. I have found coming at the theme of degrowth from the situatedness of my own research extremely fertile.

The degrowth conference was particularly special in that is was well organised and yet did not feel overly ‘managed’. It took place at the various venues of Folket’s Park, surrounded by open air and people visiting and passing through the park. It offered a stark contrast to some of the large conferences I’ve come to dread – those places filled with many small synchronised sessions in many rooms addressing themes incorporating A to Z, famous academics, and puzzles for programmes. The alternative conference organisation of degrowth reflects both themes in my own work, as well as in the degrowth movement more broadly – e.g. not losing touch with collaborations of care, collective mediation and the joy of bringing a diverse community together. The conference has been a way to do ‘science’ differently, more actively, and less stratified by a desire to appease external metrics of knowledge valuation.

My presentation focused on the sense of touch of archaeologists during excavations in Scotland and the English Midlands in the Summer of 2014. I looked at the relation between the practical and crafty ‘science’ of archaeologists, and the ways they produce knowledge together with (non-human) others. My research has been thoroughly invested in problematising prevalent imaginaries of science as a mostly rational, clean, masculine and accumulative enterprise. This is interesting for degrowth because a critique of purified modern science, and my research on doing science otherwise (e.g. as craft) coincides with a critique of neoliberal capitalism. The ‘knowledge economy’ for instance reflects the set of ideas I want to critique. Both knowledge in this sense, as well as capitalism as extraction and generation of monetary value, orbit strongly around a modern centre of splitting knowledges from knowers, and objects from processes. Hands-on archaeological excavation labour however easily uproots ideas of what science was, is, and should be, while highlighting the contingency of the excavation as a process with many collaborators.

The keen sensibility of archaeologists, and their practical and affectual relations of care for their local landscapes and intertwined timelines offer a practical resistance to the extractive force of modern science within the globalised academy. Archaeological labour in the field instead calls for caring and daring collaboration, and a collective mediation of patience. During their short stays at field sites, archaeology deals with a variety of ‘times’, the more interesting for me being the material temporal reality opened up by excavation work itself. Their labour intertwines archaeologists within alternative, new chronologies of understanding – and co-incidentally, the joys of doing fieldwork and engaging with these times. These chronologies are ‘alternatives’ due to them being additions to, and retractions and reinterpretations of a previously known and imagined partial past; they (re-)intertwine our own history, for instance concerning the arrival of the Vikings on Great Britain, through the very material boat burial on the island at Ardnamurchan. For Degrowth these alternative material chronologies can be critical events of resistance, as these new stories give a joyful sense that the world is not finished yet – and that knowledge of anything is subject to material and social reorganisation rather than set in stone

Other presentations during the conference reflected the diversity and commitment of the degrowth community, including themes like feminism and degrowth, poster exhibitions, musical interventions, degrowth and education, anarchist thought, the possible need for controlled destruction, plastics and the circular economy, a rethinking of the commons, and critical reflections on the value of mainstream concepts like sustainable development, more methodological concerns on ethnography and degrowth, meditation, yoga and ethical eating. The violence inflicted by European migration policies and their agents on migrants was a recurring concern during the conference. The conference finished with an invigorating march through Malmö to protest against the growth paradigm as the major enabler for many of these issues, as well as a political forum with local Swedish politicians from various parties.

Kevin Pijpers was awarded his PhD by the University of Leicester School of Business in October 2017. His doctoral research explored haptic encounters with archaeological knowing. He holds an MA in Critical Organisation and Intervention Studies from the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht, the Netherlands. He is interested in the senses and organisations, Science and Technology Studies, archaeology, philosophy of science, and societal and organisational change. He tweets at @kevinpijpers

Kevin Pijpers was supported by The Sociological Review Early Career Researchers Conference funding 2018

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