Call for Abstracts – Special Session Proposal – Degrowth and the Commons: Technology, Biophysical Resources and beyond

Degrowth Conference Malmö 2018

  • Melf-Hinrich Ehlers, Kassel University, Germany
  • Christian Kimmich, Masaryk University, Czech Republic
  • Christian Kerschner, Masaryk University, Czech Republic

Degrowth societies need to steer economic activity in ways that enable sustainable lives without continuous economic growth. Economic activity needs to operate within biophysical limits. This could be done within commons and through the practice of commoning, as it is often proposed (e.g. Helferich). In the Degrowth movement commoning is most prominently advocated by the “digital democratisers” (Kerschner et. al. forthcoming). Some Degrowth-related communities and projects even define themselves around notions of commons. Popular examples are digital commons, including the open source and hacking community (Hankammer, Kostakis, March, Likavcan & Scholz-Wäckerle, Vetter forthcoming), digital makerspaces and fab labs (March, Kostakis forthcoming). Also practices like squatting, bike kitchens (Bradley forthcoming), solidary farming and even sharing economies are often linked to the commons and degrowth.

The scholarly literature emphasises the social and political aspects of such notions of the commons, for example, when suggesting it supports democratisation as an aim of Degrowth. However, whether the economic activities underpinning such commons meet the aims of curbing economic growth down to its biophysical limits receives very little attention. Surprisingly, references to successful empirical cases are lacking, where communities are able to maintain their resource use at sustainable levels through common pool resource governance. These have been thoroughly studied and documented by Elinor Ostrom and associated researchers. Their findings have ample resonance today in research and practice communities, focusing for example on ecosystem conservation, mitigation of climate change or co-operative enterprises. The British green activist and scholar Derek Wall (2017) even suggests that Ostrom’s findings can help transforming our contemporary societies towards more democracy and sustainability. Moreover, Ostrom’s emphasis of democratic institutions and collective constraints to manage common resources sustainably matches core concerns of degrowth scholars and activists. However, until to date degrowth scholars focus mainly on conceptualising and theorising the digital and knowledge commons (Benkler and Bollier) rather than biophysical resource commons. Likewise, further scrutiny of the work of Elinor Ostrom and of associated researchers is required, because some scholars suggest that an uneven range of cases has been studied and that analytical methods are used that give little emphasis to the social embeddedness of commons and powers of the state and discourses.

This special session will draw together empirical and theoretical work that addresses the promises and pitfalls of commoning and common property governance to support a Degrowth Society, including applications to the technological sphere. Studies of practical attempts of governing common pool resources for degrowth are also welcome. Contributions can be from any disciplinary background and on any Degrowth concern. The aim of the session is to facilitate common perspectives on how researchers and activists can engage with the commons and options of common property governance that contribute to degrowth societies, both socially and biophysically.

Please send an abstract of 400 words with title and authors to by Thursday 11 January, if you are interested in contributing to this special session. We will select the best abstracts for a session with 4 contributions and might propose an additional special session, if we have about 8 high quality abstracts.

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