Today’s guest post comes from Luis I. Prádanos, Associate Professor of Contemporary Spanish Culture at Miami University. Professor Prádanos’s research focuses on degrowth and environmental humanities in relation to Contemporary Iberian and Latin-American cultures. His forthcoming book, Postgrowth Imaginaries, combines environmental cultural studies, critical theory, and postgrowth economics.
My last post offered an outsider’s response to degrowth, and I wanted the readers at S-USIH to have an introduction to the topic from an expert source. Prádanos–who invites readers to know him as by his middle name, Iñaki–kindly provides this in the post below, which includes numerous hyperlinks to supplementary degrowth readings. Some of Iñaki’s recent publications focus on “The Pedagogy of Degrowth.” In 2017, he edited a special section on “Contemporary Iberian Ecocriticism and New Materialisms” and co-edited a special number on “South Atlantic Ecocriticism.”
Constant economic growth in the context of a limited biosphere is a biophysical impossibility that leads to biological annihilation. The faster growth-oriented societies appropriate planetary ecological space by expanding their economic metabolism, the faster the living systems of the planet collapse. It should not come as a surprise that a social system designed for constant expansion and growth becomes more entropic, necrotic, and carcinogenic over time.
The globalization of an economic culture that pursues growth as an ideal obeys a suicidal inclination. Actually, all existential problems faced by humanity today are caused or exacerbated by the ongoing globalization of an economic culture addicted to constant growth. The growth ideal justifies itself with a host of social promises. Constant growth destroys the ecological systems that support life on Earth while failing to keep those promises.
Our systemic addiction to growth also significantly damages our creative potential. By maintaining a dominant imaginary deeply ingrained in the logic of growth, societies’ energy and creativity are funneled toward a destructive task.
Degrowth aims to funnel that energy and creativity in a different direction. As its provocative name indicates, degrowth dares to challenge the dominant imaginary at its core by showing the many negative consequences of the growth paradigm. Despite its promises to the contrary, the growth paradigm’s actual tendency is to impoverish most human communities while depleting the socioecological conditions needed for sustaining their future livelihoods.
The fact that humanity is currently facing the ecological limits to growth at a global scale is certainly bad news. But it’s bad only if we maintain our society’s affective, material, and semiotic attachment to the growth paradigm, as well as to its associated violence, inequalities, asymmetries of power, and exploitative socioecological relations.
Degrowth reminds us that we do not have to perpetuate this toxic, growth-oriented inertia. It opens the possibility for a joyful way out that entails a reactivation of our political imagination beyond the stale debates about how to grow the economy at all costs. A desirable degrowth calls for a much better option for all: an “equitable downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions” (Schneider, Kallis, Martinez-Alier).
Degrowth promotes a repoliticization of economic, social, cultural, and environmental issues and an activation of a new set of values, vocabularies, and priorities. Given that the paradigm of growth is doubly destructive: semiotically and biophysically—for it’s destroying both our political imagination as well as the possibility of our biological survival—a postgrowth imaginary “engages not only our material but also our semiotic modes,” as Anthony Chaney rightly noticed in his recent post. Thinking in terms of prosperity without growth ignites our political imagination as it opens semiotic pathways that overwhelm and overcome what the dominant imaginary considers thinkable and debatable (the only meaningful political act, according to Jacques Rancière).
Within the dominant imaginary, politics has become confused with a kind of dead-end race to maintain the agonized order of things for just a little bit longer. Postgrowth imaginaries, which I call the emerging cultural sensibilities that delink themselves from the growth paradigm, abandon this race. They liberate our political imagination from the fearful and obsessive task of doing better or smarter within the same pathological game. Free of the problem of how to feed a destructive economy, postgrowth imaginaries invest their political energies in changing the dominant ways of organizing socioecological relations.
This repoliticization entails inserting several questions into the public domain: How do we live better with smaller economic metabolisms? What exactly needs to grow and what needs to de-grow in an environmentally sound and socially desirable economic culture? How much growth, how much degrowth, and for the benefit of whom? What are we, as a society, supposed to collectively guarantee, the accumulation of capital or the reproduction of sane and fair socioecological relations? What kind of economic culture can promote social and environmental enhancement?
In my forthcoming book I claim that, to be socially desirable, the ongoing global rise of postgrowth imaginaries is to be overtly postcapitalist, decolonial, feminist, and posthumanist. But more importantly, it has to facilitate a cultural transition from the boring, destructive, cruel, fear-infused mindset of the growth imaginary to a much more playful, proactive, convivial, and joyful politics of degrowth. As Chaney suggested in his post, a joyful political imagination will certainty possess a light touch.