Some degrowth ideas have been part of philosophical debates for centuries, but it was in modern growth-oriented societies where the need to “de-grow” became most apparent. In the 60s-70s a number of authors warned that a kind of economy in need of continuing exponential growth could only lead to disaster, with the “Limits to Growth” report being especially influential. Within this debate, the word “décroissance” (French for “degrowth”) was already used, by authors such as Gorz and Amar, and in the title of a collection of writings by Georgescu-Roegen translated to French by Grinevald and Rens. The 70s-80s saw the transition from the intellectual debate to the flourishing of a radical green movement which introduced to the social and political arenas initiatives for a full transformation of society along anti-productivist lines, standing on values of social justice and democracy, but this movement was eclipsed by the “official” environmentalism gaining prominence in the early 90s. In the 2000s academicians and social movements launched “décroissance” as a “missile word” to spur a re-radicalization of environmentalism. “Décroissance” became an activist slogan in France from 2001, in Italy from 2004 (Decrescita), in Catalonia (Spain) from 2006 (Decreixement, and Decrecimiento).
The English term “Degrowth” first appeared at the First Degrowth Conference held in Paris in 2008, which also marked the beginning of degrowth as an academic research area and international civil society debate. Henceforth, there has been a rich production of academic literature and a number of international conferences assembling researchers and activists, among many other activities.
Degrowth is an idea that is debated in society, even in mainstream media, and receives much more support than usually believed if we remain at a disinterested political level. There is a constellation of groups and networks explicitly existing for degrowth. Practitioners, activists and researchers act and interact in multiple levels and dimensions. There are cases of small groups of people in organizations such as trade unions and political movements (or parties) that actively support degrowth. There is also a much larger group consisting of people and collectives which both have contributed to the rise and conceptualization of the movement and adopt degrowth as the horizon of their action in different ways. This includes collectives writing and working on agroecology, environmental justice, environmental conflicts and defense of territory (against infrastructures, real state speculation), neo-rurality, critical consumption, international cooperation, solidarity economy, local currencies, exchange markets, feminism, eco-villages, do it your-self, reclaim the fields and reclaim the streets, alternative mobility, urban gardens, non-violence and pacifism, anti-advertisement, preventive and alternative medicine.
There is great potential for alliances. The Degrowth movement has interacted in the Global North with other movements such as Indignados, Occupy Wall Street, Transition Towns, Permaculture, etc. Similarly, it exchanges views and knowledge, and shares priorities with movements in the Global South such as the Environmentalism of the Poor, Sumak Kawsay (Buen Vivir), Ecological Swaraj, Via Campesina, etc.