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how to bring about social-ecological
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Degrowth actors and their strategies: towards a
By Andro Rilović, Constanza Hepp, Joëlle Saey-Volckrick, Joe
Herbert and Carol Bardi11
En el mundo que queremos nosotros caben todos.
El mundo que queremos es uno donde quepan muchos mundos.
In the world we want everyone ts.
e world we want is one where many worlds t.
e degrowth movement is complex and diuse. ere is no one
specic entity or gathering space from which to collect concrete
and denitive information about it; the international degrowth
conferences perhaps come closest. Nevertheless, in this chapter, we
oer an analysis of the current landscape of key degrowth actors and
their strategies, as seen from our position within one of the nodes of
international degrowth networks: the degrowth.info webportal.
e webportal provides information on degrowth as both
an academic concept and a growing movement comprised of
activists, practitioners and researchers. Our contribution towards
social-ecological transformation lies in the provision of degrowth
information and resources, acting as an important organisational
node and platform within wider degrowth networks. e current
degrowth.info team came together after an eort was made in
to give the web portal a more international outlook and reach,
11 e order of authors has been randomised
building from its German origins as the website for the International
Degrowth Conference in Leipzig (). During our time within the
degrowth.info collective, each of us has also participated in various
other degrowth groups, campaigns and research, mainly within
European degrowth networks. e perspective we oer in this
chapter emerges from these experiences and contexts.
In the language we will use to describe current degrowth
actors, there are many nuances, and we can start by considering
the characterisation of degrowth as a movement. With plurality,
self-determination and decolonisation as core principles, it
would be imprecise – and some would argue undesirable – to
describe degrowth as a movement, in the singular form. In
fact, it is more of a network, or movement of movements, and
an overarching discourse that touches upon and intertwines
with a myriad of social movements striving for social-ecological
transformation – as described, for example, in the bookDegrowth in
Movement(s)(Burkhart et al. ) – which makes for a challenging
terrain to navigate in an organisational and strategic sense.
Boundaries of degrowth networks are permeable since denitions
are either loose or non-existent and depend on who is observing or
describing these networks and for what purpose.
is degrowth network of networks remains largely unstructured
and functions mainly through personal connections, with loose
arrangements for communication, and virtually no overarching
coordination.While some of this exibility is intentional, we argue
that the current lack of organisational structure increasingly appears
more limiting than benecial for degrowth strategising. In this
chapter, we identify key existing degrowth actors and their strategies
based on our perception of their agency, which emerges from either
the respect they hold within the wider degrowth networks, their
resources (intellectual and/or nancial), or evidence that they have
played an important role in shaping the degrowth discourse and
movement(s). Based on our analysis, we propose moving forward
with the creation of an intentional organisational structure that can
facilitate more eective strategising amongst degrowth actors, while
also addressing problematic power dynamics, colonial attitudes, and
Before moving on to the more concrete description of current
degrowth actors, networks and their strategies, we start by providing
some important historical context of their development.
e academic-centred development of degrowth actors and
Degrowth as a concept has its roots in the s (Gorz ), or
arguably even before that. However, modern degrowth networks
emerged at the beginning of the st century. From our perspective,
the most clear and consistent strategy of degrowth actors so far has
been knowledge building, engaging in dialogue, and diusing ideas.
One prominent tool for accomplishing this strategy has been the
organisation of international conferences where all those interested
in degrowth ideas – activists, practitioners, artists, academics and
so on – can come together and build connections to work towards
social-ecological transformation(s). Accordingly, the actors that have
so far become important and visible nodes in degrowth networks
have – in one way or another – been associated with one of the
international degrowth conferences. Our collective at degrowth.info is
one such group. After attracting much interest as the website of the
International Degrowth Conference in Leipzig () (as degrowth.
de), the idea emerged to transform the domain into an international
degrowth webportal in order to proliferate the dissemination of
degrowth ideas and information.
From the very beginning, international degrowth conferences were
envisioned as more than purely academic gatherings. For example,
an early degrowth symposium in Lyon in included “protests
for a car- and ad-free city, the foundation of food cooperatives, as
well as communal meals in the streets” (Degrowth.info a). e
International Degrowth Conferences for Ecological Sustainability and
Social Equity – which started in Paris in – have continued in
this spirit, providing a space and time in which to engage with key
theoretical debates as well as to live a degrowth life for a week and
enact degrowth practices.
In a similar vein, since , the Research and Degrowth
collective, which is largely based at the Institute of Environmental
Sciences and Technologies (ICTA) in the Universidad Autónoma
de Barcelona (UAB), has hosted a popular annual Degrowth and
Environmental Justice Summer School (R&D a), that brings
together international participants to engage with degrowth research
and practices. Building from this, ICTA has launched the rst
master’s degree programme on the explicit topic of degrowth, which
incorporates dialogues and engagement with activist projects (R&D
While the issue of strategy has been present in degrowth debates
from the very early days of the movement’s emergence at the
beginning of the st century (see e.g., Videira et al. ), it was
not until the online conference in organised from Vienna
that strategy became a focused theme of any degrowth meeting. Yet,
organisers of other degrowth conferences have themselves adopted
dierent strategic orientations depending on the contexts in which
they operate, and their judgements regarding the most eective ways
for advancing a degrowth agenda. For example, broadly speaking,
the Budapest conference () foregrounded the academic rigour of
degrowth research, which would mark degrowth as a serious concept
in the eyes of policy-makers, whereas the Leipzig conference ()
aimed to draw links to social movements (e.g., climate justice) by
adopting a more activist tone (Brand ).
e above exposition could lead to the conclusion that degrowth’s
development is centred in academia. However, this academic work
should not be seen as separate from broader action for social and
political change. After all, academic and social/political engagement
are not binary and exclusive categories – and much of the work in
degrowth has indeed blurred the boundaries between the two.
Actors in the degrowth networks
Having provided some background context of degrowth’s
development, we now introduce the current landscape of degrowth
actors as we see it, whilst acknowledging that there may be more
relevant actors than can possibly be mentioned in this short
contribution. In line with our discussion of the key role of the
international conferences in degrowth’s evolution, in Table .. we
present a selection of notable actors that are active (albeit to varying
extents) in international degrowth networks, displayed in relation to
the conference they emerged from/around. Importantly, the table
does not suggest a specic sequence of causality.Some of the groups
existed prior to their respective conference or were set up to organise
it, while others emerged as outcomes of the conferences. It also must
be acknowledged that the “international” degrowth conferences have
so far reected closely degrowth’s European-centred development,
with only two conferences to date taking place on other continents:
one in Montreal, Canada in , and one in Mexico City, Mexico,
Year Conference location Groups/organisations/
Paris, France Research and Degrowth degrowth.org
Barcelona, Spain Research and Degrowth degrowth.org
Montreal, Canada Mouvement Québécois pour
une décroissance conviviale, now
transformed into Décroissance
conviviale au Québec
Venice, Italy La decrescita, MDF decrescita.it
Leipzig, Germany Konzeptwerk Neue Ökonomie,
Forderverein Wachstumswende konzeptwerk–neue–
Budapest, Hungary Cargomania, Ena banda,
Institute for Political Ecology cargonomia.hu
Malmö, Sweden Institute for Degrowth Studies degrowth.se
Mexico City, Mexico Descrecimiento Mexico,
Vienna, Austria Degrowth Vienna Association degrowthvienna.org
Manchester, UK e University of Manchester,
Steady-State Manchester steadystatemanchester.net
e Hague, Netherlands Ontgroei, International Institute
of Social Studies (ISS) degrowth.nl
Table 5.1.: International Conferences and the groups or organisations associated
Beyond those degrowth actors linked closely to conferences, a
selection of further groups active within international degrowth
networks is displayed in Table .. is is a non-exhaustive list,
considering the evolving character of the networks and the limits of
our knowledge. Because of its international scope, this list does not
involve the many groups active at national and regional levels (for
those, see sections “map” and “regional groups” on degrowth.info).
Name Description Website/Contact
Support Group Ocial promoter of international
conferences composed of organisers
of the previous conferences
Degrowth movement Connects people active in local
degrowth groups and people
engaged in international working
Academic/activist network email@example.com
Degrowth Forum Self-organised online forums www.centrosocioambiental.cl/
Degrowth.net Networking platform www.degrowth.net
Degrowth World Open mailing list Degrowth-world-subscribre@lists.
Degrowth.info Web portal run by an international
volunteer group firstname.lastname@example.org, www.
Table 5.2.: Other groups and relevant actors within international degrowth
While detailed descriptions of each of these actors and their
respective strategies go beyond the scope of this chapter (and
our knowledge), we will briey reect on a few of those listed
in Table .. e Support Group is the ocial promoter of the
International Conferences and is composed of representatives of
the Local Organising Committees of the previous international
conferences (Degrowth.info d). Its primary aim is to facilitate
the organisation of future international degrowth conferences, and
thereby the advancement and promotion of degrowth, both as a
concept and as a movement. e Feminisms and Degrowth Alliance
(FaDA) was launched at the Budapest International Degrowth
Conference () – it is an inclusive network of academics, activists,
and practitioners that aims to foster dialogue between feminists and
degrowth proponents, and integrate gender analysis and ideas into
degrowth activism and scholarship (Degrowth.info e). Our own
collective, degrowth.info, has its roots in the Leipzig conference, and
some members of our collective have been involved in the Local
Organising Committees of the degrowth conferences in Vienna
() and in e Hague (). As already mentioned above, we see
our contribution mostly in the provisioning of degrowth information
and resources, as well as serving as a platform for bringing together
the wider degrowth networks. Clearly, even the groups which are
not directly linked to the organisation of any particular international
degrowth conference (those listed in Table ..) are nevertheless, in
one way or another, closely tied to these conferences. Hence our
claim of the central role that the international degrowth conferences
play in degrowth’s strategic orientations.
Additional to groups such as those listed in the tables,
there are also several open mailing lists that act as nodes in
degrowth networks. e “degrowth movement” mailing list, for
example, focuses on connecting activists, particularly around the
annual Global Degrowth Day (Degrowth.info b), but is also used
to organise the movement’s assemblies: in-person meetings dedicated
to organising the degrowth movement beyond academia, which
coincide with the international conferences. Ahead of the Malmö
conference in , the movement assembly gathered in Christiania,
Copenhagen, and established several international working groups
(also called nodes), that were meant to foster the connections
between degrowthers around the world on interests such as activists
and practitioners, research, external and internal communications,
artists and designers (see Degrowth.info c). roughout the
pandemic, we perceived little traction within these nodes and no
concrete strategy beyond the fact of being in contact. is might
change after the assembly that took place before the conference in
e Hague in August , where some members of the degrowth.
info collective proposed the creation of a coordination or facilitation
body (terminology is being discussed). is idea is presently up for
debate, and the assembly concluded with the intention of meeting
Dynamics and structure of international degrowth networks
We have described degrowth actors as hard to pin down because of
the intangible nature of the networks, which exist through diverse
and often informal connections, without an overarching structureof
communication, coordination or cooperation. e Support
Group seems to be commonly perceived as being at the core of the
degrowth networks, although it is not intended – or willing – to
have an overarching coordinating role beyond the conferences. e
ambiguity of this position lies in the fact that we have described
before: so far degrowth’s development has been academically centred,
following a strategy based on the organisation of international
conferences. erefore the Support Group, albeit as a non-central
body, does control the most visible and substantial strategy within
degrowth networks and has a de facto leadership position.
Keeping the network diuse has often been perceived as a way
of maintaining decentralisation – a core value of degrowth – and
some have feared that pursuing greater structure might wither the
diversity of degrowth actors and lead to hierarchical dynamics.
Nonetheless, in recent years some eorts were made to establish a
more overarching structure and coordination, as is the case with the
international degrowth “movement assembly” we mentioned before.
Yet, the fundamentally unstructured character of the degrowth
networks has largely prevailed. is means that emerging initiatives
sprout spontaneously and self-dene as degrowth actors. Two recent
examples are the Latin American degrowth forum which brought
people together to exchange ideas, knowledge and experience to
reect on what degrowth means in the Latin American context
(Arahuetés et al. ), and the “New Roots” open letter (Barlow
et al. ) written by a group of self-organised degrowthers to
highlight the failures of current economies in responding to the
COVID- crisis, subsequently signed by over , people and
organisations and translated into languages.
While it is important to celebrate and encourage the spontaneity
and autonomy of such initiatives, the lack of structured
communication and coordination also means that a lot of energy
is lost in setting up each of these activities. Similarly to the global
nancial crisis in , when the degrowth movement spoke out
to say “this recession is not our degrowth”, the “New Roots” open
letter argued that the slowdown triggered by the pandemic was
also not our degrowth. But despite all the increasing interest in the
concept of degrowth since, the degrowth networks did not seem
more prepared and organised to respond to a crisis in than they
were in . Connections, strategies, working groups, mailing lists
and more had to be created on the spot. With poor communication
across degrowth actors, similar statements were written many times
by dierent people in dierent places (to name a few: degrowth.
info ; Chassagne ; Kallis et al. ), and there was little
reection on how to be inclusive, whose voices get the most visibility,
and what decision-making processes to use.
When we do not pay attention to such dynamics and we organise
hastily – with limited existing structures to rely on – it is easy to end
up subconsciously replicating patterns of exclusion, dominance and
patriarchy. We connect with those that we are already in contact with
and we refer and give voice to those who already occupy privileged
and high-prole positions – often meaning white European middle-
aged cis men.
e meetings of the “nodes” or the “New Roots” open letter,
which involved a predominantly white Western demographic, are
examples of activities that must prompt reection on the degree
to which engaging actively in the international degrowth networks
demands a privileged position. Several requirements for participation
came together in this instance to create barriers to entry: free time
during European daytime hours, a computer or smartphone with a
decent internet connection, and contacts with meeting organisers
or being up-to-date with information owing through international
degrowth networks. Another crucial point is that the vast majority
of degrowth organising is done on a voluntary basis, which makes
it less accessible to those with little nancial security. While the
international degrowth networks aim to be decentralised and non-
hierarchical, the reality is then a lot messier. We have witnessed little
collective reection on these important points and hence there are no
real strategies for inclusion.
In emergency situations, considerations of how to create
safe spaces and non-hierarchical, decolonial, anti-patriarchal,
participative structures are easily lost. Creating such dynamics
requires more considered processes contingent on unlearning and
deconstructing internal biases. Ever since the creation of degrowth.
info’s international team in , we have been working on our
internal dynamics and organisational structure. In our operation,
we strive to bring to life the kinds of collective processes we would
like to see proliferated throughout society more broadly: consensus
decision-making mechanisms, transparent processes and horizontal
structures. ese kinds of democratic and inclusive structures
could be nurtured throughout the wider international degrowth
networks,if there is the will to devote time and energies to this task.
ey will not simply appear by themselves.
To ensure that we create a movement that embodies the values
that we care about in degrowth and nourishes dynamics that make
every degrowther feel included, we need to be more intentional in
our actions. Establishing this greater intentionality will require better
communication across and between degrowth networks. is raises
another downside of the current diuse and uncoordinated nature
of the networks: the absence of dedicated structures through which
to engage in dialogue. is hinders not only communication and
strategising within degrowth networks, but also coalition building
with other movements and actors.
Whilst most degrowthers probably agree on the principle that
the networks remain decentralised, there is a dierence between
being centralised and being better coordinated, whilst still allowing
for the spontaneous emergence of local groups and being respectful
of autonomy. It is our understanding that the pitfalls of an
unstructured, strategically vague, and improvised way of organising
are now outweighing the benets and hindering the further
ourishing of degrowth networks by unintentionally reproducing
detrimental dynamics. To put it dierently, elements of greater
autonomy that could beprovided by this laissez-faire approach are –
in our experience – often being obscured by unhealthy reproductions
of hegemonic structures that need to be intentionally countered.
Next, we move the focus from internal dynamics within the
degrowth movements to questions of its wider strategies for
transformation. Finally, we outline a proposal for a Degrowth
International, which would incorporate both intentional internal
dynamics described above and the strategic direction we now present.
Strategy as a consideration in degrowth
As mentioned earlier, the issue of strategy has been present in
degrowth debates from the very early days of the movement’s
emergence at the beginning of the st century. By way of example,
we highlight one prominent, polemical, and controversial question
with regards to degrowth’s strategic orientation – the issue of how
to engage with existing structures of the nation-state. is question
has been (and is being) debated throughout degrowth’s short history,
particularly so in the Francophone degrowth literature, and more
recently in the English one as well (for an overview of this debate, as
well as a particular position within it, see D’Alisa and Kallis ).
However, notwithstanding all of the debates that in one way or
another pertain to degrowth’s strategic orientation, we point to two
very recent processes that have, in our view, centred the issue of
strategy as a whole on the degrowth agenda.
First, from January to October , degrowth.info
coordinated and published a ten-part blog series focusing specically
on the question of strategy in degrowth debates (Barlow ). e
series emerged from a sense amongst members of the degrowth.info
collective that considerations of strategy, or the how of bringing
about degrowth-oriented transformations of society, had so far not
been subject to systematic and substantive debate at a movement-
wide level. e strategy series thus aimed to foreground such
discussions and provide an initial forum to address degrowth’s lack of
clarity around strategy, as well as lingering tensions around dierent
strategic perspectives within the networks.
e enthusiastic response to the blog series at degrowth.info
provided evidence that concerns around the lack of debate on
strategy were shared throughout much of the wider degrowth
networks. It became clear across many of the contributions to
the series that there existed a large appetite for more concentrated
and systematic consideration of strategies, in order to enhance the
capacities of the degrowth networks to eect material societal
change. One notable contribution on this point came from Panos
Petridis (), who argued the need to develop a means for
evaluating dierent degrowth strategies for their emancipatory
potential, and that this could help address tensions within the
degrowth networks between those advocating more top-down and
bottom-up strategies respectively (see Chapter ).
Building on Petridis’ arguments, Ekaterina Chertkovskaya’s ()
article in the series considered how the sociologist Erik Olin Wright’s
framework of anti-capitalist political strategies could shape degrowth
thinking around strategies for social-ecological transformation.
Chertkovskaya argued that – while intertwining multiple strategic
approaches – degrowthers should give particular emphasis to
strategies that build power outside the capitalist system, and approach
with caution those that seek reform within existing systems and can
thus end up stabilising the status quo (see Chapter ).
Across the wide-ranging contributions, a key point revealed by the
series was the perceived importance of structures and mechanisms
that can facilitate the discussion, evaluation and coordination of
dierent strategies for degrowth transformations. Such movement-
level structures have so far been lacking in degrowth networks. It
should be noted, however, that the “movement assemblies” described
above, facilitated by the Support Group, have tried to move precisely
in the direction of building more coherent organisational structures
for the movement as a whole.
is issue also became a point of lively discussion at the
(online) Vienna conference on degrowth and strategy. Following
many conversations within the degrowth.info collective and wider
degrowth networks, one of our members proposed the establishment
of a Degrowth International during the panel “Advancing a Degrowth
Agenda in the Corona Crisis” (Rilović ; see also Asara ).
Envisaged as a more dened and transparent overarching structure
for global degrowth networks (perhaps taking the form of
decentralised local chapters that feed delegates into national and
international assemblies), such a Degrowth International represents
one possible means for facilitating the more focused consideration
and coordination of transformative strategies that many degrowthers
are increasingly recognising as necessary.
It remains to be seen, however, whether a critical mass of the
degrowth community desires such a development. Some will prefer
to retain degrowth’s current centre of gravity in academia. In this
case, the predominant strategic orientation is to inuence the actions
of policy-makers and grassroots activists through degrowth research
and writing, and so a more concentrated consideration of strategy
may be deemed unnecessary.
Alternatively, degrowth networks could choose to pursue pathways
oriented to social movements, which could themselves take
various forms. On the one hand, degrowth networks could seek to
proliferate degrowth as a frame for action, bringing in ever more
people and projects to take action under the degrowth banner. is
would require expanding considerations of strategy, in terms of how
to build the size of the degrowth networks and which actions should
be taken in the name of degrowth. Alternatively, it could be accepted
that the degrowth banner remains relatively niche whilst the
movement carves out a more agile approach, seeking to connect with
and inuence the direction of more high prole social movements
and political projects (e.g., Extinction Rebellion, Climate Justice,
Green New Deal(s)). Considerations of strategy are again vital in
this pathway, in terms of deliberating which movements, projects
and institutions degrowth should seek to inuence and how in
order to further its ultimate aim of social-ecological transformation.
Accordingly, if the degrowth community wishes to solidify itself in
a social movement form (on top of its academic stream), something
akin to a Degrowth International would undoubtedly be required.
In the next section, we outline some key considerations that the
construction of a Degrowth International would necessitate.
A Degrowth International
If a Degrowth International were to be developed, one of its primary
objectives would be to facilitate eective communication and
strategising amongst far-spread degrowth actors and networks.
Importantly, as argued above, this communication would need to be
conscious of and seek to address biases and power dynamics which
exist in society at large and also in progressive social movements. As
we have laid out in this contribution, thinking intentionally about
strategy and organisation in degrowth networks is not only desirable
but required, if we are to avoid the perpetuation of patriarchal,
colonial and hierarchical dynamics within our discursive practices
and organisational structures.
As a point of departure for this emerging conversation around
the idea of a Degrowth International, we oer a few key points of
. A Degrowth International can provide the structures necessary
for the degrowth community to communicate, co-create
multi-scalar strategies, understand each other’s strategies,
set priorities for the networks, and address tensions as they
emerge. e extent of decision-making powers granted to such
structures, or whether they would simply act as a forum for
communication, however, is something that must be debated.
. Acosta and Brand () have explained that economies
beyond the growth imaginary require dierent characteristics
for Global South and Global North countries. erefore,
dierent degrowth strategies need to be debated and
prioritised as appropriate for dierent contexts. ere is
a real danger that social-ecological transformations in the
Global North could perpetuate colonial and extractivist
relations with the Global South. Some authors already
point to an intensication of mining for lithium in Latin
American countries as the race to oer electric cars and
lower-carbon mobility options become more prevalent in
Europe, China and the US (Götze ). As such, even if
successfully inuenced by degrowth thinking, a Green New
Deal in Europe could mean worse living conditions for
Global South communities (Zografos and Robbins ).
erefore, a Degrowth International would need to include
dierent actors from the Global South aligned with degrowth
principles, even if they do not explicitly label themselves
“degrowth” movements, in order to move beyond the current
Eurocentrism of degrowth debates. ere is a correspondence
between degrowth and post-extractivist ideals and notions of
the pluriverse12 (Kothari et al. ). A Degrowth International
should strive to engage in discussions and actions that not
only consider problems of post-industrialisation, but also more
sustainable modes of living that do not mimic a minimalist
version of Western/Northern lifestyles.
. A Degrowth International, if created, could fall into the trap
of containing an over-representation of academia. is could
deepen our community’s current asymmetry and reinforce
(whether intentionally or not) an academic focus. A concerted
eort would need to be made to balance the representation of
academic with non-academic voices, strategic perspectives and
. We stress that intentionality is a crucial concept to keep in
mind if the degrowth networks – and a possible Degrowth
International – are to counter dominant power structures
within the behaviours and discourse of actors. e
predominance of cis-gender, white, and Western voices is still
a reality in the academically-centred degrowth community.
A Degrowth International would need to be carefully and
conscientiously constructed in order to pregure the more just
and egalitarian degrowth society we wish to create.
After reviewing the current landscape of actors in the international
degrowth networks and laying out the lack of strategic clarity, we
have argued that the creation of a Degrowth International would be
benecial, and must be centred on an intentional eort to unlearn
patriarchal and hierarchical patterns of behaviour and organisation.
We have also raised questions of inclusion, privilege and,
12 e pluriverse is a term that evokes a deep diversity of world-views. It refers to possible
co-existence of diverse ontologies, epistemologies and non-Western approaches. It was
rst described by the Zapatista movement (EZLN 1996) as a liberating alternative to the
homogenizing discourse of western capitalist development.
thresholds for participation in the degrowth movement. Underlying
the analysis and proposals detailed here, our core interest is: how can
we generate truly transformative degrowth networks and strategies
that are radical, decolonial, inclusive, and embody all the other
dynamics we want to see in our societies at large, where autonomy
is respected and cherished but communication and collaboration are
We envision a Degrowth International as a global degrowth
network that would provide dedicated structures for all smaller-
scale degrowth networks to connect together and collaborate around
strategies for social-ecological transformation and would help
participants to consciously and intentionally unlearn internal biases.
A Degrowth International would bring to life a diverse global network
of networks through creative collaborationand communication ows
that would help to nourish and sustain a pluriverse of movements
and actors striving for a good life for all.
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