Degrowth, positionality and decoloniality: reflections from the Masters on Political Ecology and Degrowth

In the Political Ecology & Degrowth Master, readings and topics for the classes often initiate
recurrent discussions amongst the students and teachers, touching upon the class material with
different critical lenses. Amongst the discussions that come up the most, there is the following
question; how to get out of the development discourse and enhance Degrowth without reproducing
the colonial or patriarchal patterns?

I completely agree that a thorough analysis and understanding has to be done to avoid repeating these patterns. Yet sometimes I feel slightly disconnected from what one might be expecting of
Degrowth. I don’t see Degrowth as an institution or a set of measures to be applied by a State to dictate what the new way of living should be like or acting as a chaperone to any movement. I feel
like Degrowth like everything else is imperfect. It is imperfect from its very core as all of its thinkers have their own personal imperfection; from their mere existences as humans-beings exploring life to their not yet deconstructed societal constructions. But what makes Degrowth particularly beautiful and distinguishes it – and some other progressive movements – from other human organisations is its will to continuously re-question itself, improve and expand its understanding of life, its plasticity of subjects of interest, and a free-flowing plurality of knowledge. Degrowth cannot be rigid and uniform. In my opinion, it can only be a platform of connecting ideas aiming towards a common goal of reconnecting to the living, where intellectual exchanges and sharing practices take place following mutual aid principles, where bridges and alliances are built, opening up to all of life’s possibilities and pieces of knowledge in the respect of the limits of the environment in which we live in.

In this sense, it must help to empower the movements and communities defending their rights to live and flourish in democratically horizontal ways. If it does so, how then can it reproduce colonialism and patriarchy? For if each and everyone gets a voice, access to knowledge, and debate, the latter two couldn’t survive in Degrowth prospects as all kinds of oppressions will continuously be outnumbered by the strength of the people emancipated and united. I understand – or at least listen attentively with the limits of my own constructions and positionality to – the frustration and anger that some hold regarding these long-time going issues, and I am aware my discourse here might seem a little idealistic.

Though what I am trying to say here is that even very progressive thinkers still remain within some systematic-oppressive constructions – and they will and we will always do to some extent – but their individualities shouldn’t be attacked as such and the movement(s) they belong to shouldn’t be condemned for it. The points of disagreement should be clearly stated, and the egos forgotten, to adopt intellectually honest conversations and go forward. Communicating with and trying to understand one another is not easy and can be a bit frustrating, even when we have similar Degrowth goals, but I still believe it can lead to great radical changes; as long as we try to adopt tolerant, open-minded and, nevertheless, determined postures.

LDG – student of 2020/2021 Political Ecology & Degrowth master

2 Comments on “Degrowth, positionality and decoloniality: reflections from the Masters on Political Ecology and Degrowth”

  1. A friendy comment. I find it irritating that although you refer (I guess) to the Master in Political Ecology (Degrowth and Environmental Justice) at ICTA UAB you leave the Environmental Justice part of the title and of the programme outside (at least explicity) from your comments. In fact, in the Degrowth movement there is in my view a trend to have a narrow euro-centric or euro-atlantic perspective and forget the BIPOCS of the world, even those inside Europe and the US and mostly those outside, billions of them. I think that precisely what you demand in your text is to consider much more in the Master (many more hours in class, in discussions and writings) the many historical and contemporary struggles for environmental justice (and for “degrowth in practice”) from women and men in the Global South, as the main protagonists of the academic subject of Political Ecology and the main practitioners of Degrowth. For instance, there are people at ICTA writing doctoral theses and publishing articles on WEDs around the world (women environmental defenders). They should be teaching you.

    1. Dear Joan Martinez Alier,

      Thank you for comment. I am sorry I did not mention Environmental Justice in the title of the master as of course it is an essential part of the course. It was not an intentional omission; I was just rapidly referring to the master in brief terms.

      Of course I certainly agree with you on the fact that there is a dominant euro-centric/euro-atlantic perspective in the Degrowth movement, and I would say this inevitably limits a wider understanding of Degrowth ideas as part of the Pluriverse. Regarding this, the Environmental Justice movements have indeed enlarged the perspectives and possibilities of what Degrowth can mean, enhancing the voices of the most devalued, oppressed and at the forefronts of the battles against the destructive capitalist world. However it has sometimes been remarked and criticised in our classes (in all subjects, including Environmental Justice) that the authors of the mandatory academic readings have often been from the Western world, and sometimes even when some writings were available from the people directly concerned. A general class response to that – of which I agree with – seemed to be that the choice of what is mandatory should be primarily put on the writings and other sources of knowledge coming directly from the ones most concerned by it, even when it doesn’t fit within academic criteria. So, as you say, I do think indeed that it is very important to consider “the many historical and contemporary struggles for environmental justice (and for “degrowth in practice”) from women and men in the Global South, as the main protagonists of the academic subject of Political Ecology and the main practitioners of Degrowth”.

      However what I especially wanted to emphasis in this text is that while Degrowth sympathisers might embrace the need to acknowledge the value of time and the need for slowing down, they should also consider that deconstructing the mainstream understandings – meaning those that directly or indirectly protect the status quo – is a slow transformative cultural process. Indeed, as we further improve our analyses and understandings of social constructions and power structures, and as we aim to deconstruct them, we can quickly get frustrated and angry when our pairs still remain within – what we might already consider as – limited understandings and should-be-overcome constructions. It can sometimes be hard to understand how one person can both be so progressive and open-minded on certain topics and yet still blocked into certain constructions or even reactionary on others. But I believe that it is exactly in this moment that we should try and understand why has this person not (yet?) come to our understanding, what is that person’s positionality and background, how did we get there ourselves, and what could we do to facilitate this understanding for that person? And trying to understand all of this while constantly re-questioning our own self and being careful to never consider our understanding as being the absolute truth because we might be – and most probably are to some extent – limited by other constructions. I would add to this that the objective is not to be an unconditionally loving saint either though; aiming to understand does not mean having to tolerate – or worst comply to – one’s intolerance. Instead the idea is to not fall in the trap of an over-intolerant response blocking any possibility for further evolution and common appreciation, but rather to give an adequate intelligent and intelligible response intending – if possible – to enable it.

      Bringing the focus back to the Degrowth movement, one can regret, constructively criticise, and should aim to overcome its over Euro-Atlantic focus – especially as it gains in importance worldwide. Yet I believe it should not come as a surprise that it has had such a Euro-Atlantic perspective because the very origins of the movement as such have come from this setting in a context of realisation and response by a white wealthy class to the catastrophic direction in which we have been heading. Adding to this, the predominance of men as the “founders” of the movement is not surprising either because of the patriarchal context in which we live in.

      I would like to precise here that when I say that the Degrowth movement originated in big part from this white-wealthy-male-western context, I most certainly do not mean that it solely came from it, and most importantly, I do not wish to diminish the great importance of the multitude and variety of contestations of all kinds of people, in any times and places to the capitalist system, and which have led to an understanding of the need for Degrowth in one way or another. Adding to this the Degrowth movement has not been the sole driver to reflect and bring upon Degrowth worlds. Different aspects of Degrowth already exist to some extent – and some have even existed for very long times – in many places around the world and have not waited for the Degrowth movement to theorise about it. So it would be a great mistake to think that people worldwide would be waiting for further academic theorisation of the movement as if there were nothing more than ‘aimless wondering souls’ waiting to be guided. In fact that would be reproducing Western mistakes of the past, thinking that the rest of the world needed its capitalism and development, or even its universal Marxism as a matter of fact.

      It is under this perspective that I meant that the Degrowth movement should not act as a “chaperone to any movement” but instead be a platform for connecting and sharing ideas, and seek to build alliances with other similarly-directed movements. This is especially true when considering Foucault’s idea of how one’s conceptions of utopias are limited by the constructions of the very system one wishes to overcome. It is one reason more why it is important to look outside of what we know and never aim to push our understanding on others. And in this sense I have the feeling Degrowth is currently heading in the right direction by embracing the wide range of possibilities and understandings of the world as a Pluriverse and with the objectives of building strong alliances rather than seeking to be the sole guide out of a decaying world. But the process of it drifting away from its Euro-Atlantic focus is slow and can only be taken on by an increasing multiplicity and variety of its scholars and activists considering all knowledges forming it, adequately acknowledging differences and positionalities forming it, and gradually expanding it with new deconstructed perspectives. For if we cannot indeed build one utopia for tomorrow that would not be limited by our own constructions and impose itself on others, what we can and should do is progressively conceive many utopias that might be the further-deconstructed settings for other utopias in the future(s).

      End note: The beginning of the comment is an answer to yours, and then I must admit I gradually took advantage of taking the time to answer to further my point in the essay.

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