What has an arts festival to do with a viable future?

Introduction

by Carolyn Kagan

An open air Chorlton Arts Festival Event with Jam Tribe

An open air Chorlton Arts Festival Event with Jam Tribe

Steady State Manchester’s keystone Viable Economy and Society points the way forward for a way of living that is environmentally, socially and economically viable. It points to a possible future where human flourishing is the focus of economic activity, within planetary boundaries – achieved through activity at different levels, from households and neighbourhoods to Governments and coalitions of Governments. A socially viable economy, inseparable from the economic and environmental economies is, in part, one founded on stewardship, of increasing human and social capital, that does not waste people’s energies and talents, including everyone; it is one with an increased space for non-commercial transactions, widely known as the collaborative or solidarity economy.

What are the social aspects of a viable future?

"Mini masters" from St John's Primary School - a display of many pictures

“Mini masters” from St John’s Primary School

A viable future will depend on acts of solidarity, connection, and living with abundance but not with current levels of consumption. It will be one where people’s needs can be met locally, in diverse and pleasant places.

Whilst much can be achieved through national and regional policy making, it is at the local, neighbourhood level that communities will develop resilience and become better places to live. This will be achieved through developing complex networks of contribution rather than exchange; care not individual advancement; shared purpose not competition and profit. We need to strengthen and build new social infrastructure – that is, the spaces and places that bring society together: a social infrastructure that enables conviviality – those forms of social organisation that enable social trust and mutual dependencies, not self interest.

One such activity that we have been involved with is the local community arts festival; the Chorlton Arts Festival.

The Chorlton community Arts Festival: a case study of building social infrastructure for a viable future

Graphic produced live by artist Jenny Leonard at the 2022 Festival launch

Graphic produced live by artist Jenny Leonard at the 2022 Festival launch

The Chorlton Community Arts Festival is an arts festival run by local people, for local people, involving local artists. It is not a festival that brings in elite acts to attract visitors from afar. It is a Festival in which everyone from organisers to artists to venue hosts are local and give their time voluntarily and are not paid.

This year’s Festival was throughout the month of May and involved 169 events featuring hundreds of individual, or groups of, artists; 7 schools and 45 local venues. In addition some community groups put on their own mini-festivals lasting a week or a weekend during the month.

Artists included visual artists; photographers; film makers; online graphic artists; musicians; singer songwriters; choirs; poets; dancers; literary artists; puppeteers; sculptors; environmental artists; crafters; performance artists.

Events included exhibitions; performances; plays; choral sessions; films; classical music; jazz; hip hop; world music; poetry slams; puppet shows; book readings; cabaret; comedy; DJ sessions; participative drumming; workshops.

Venues included: private homes; streets; cafes; bars; golf club; community centres; sports and social clubs; church halls; local parks.

Audience sizes ranged from 6 – 200.

How did the festival contribute to social infrastructure, conviviality and a viable future?

The carbon footprint of the Festival was tiny – we printed some leaflets and programmes, but being local meant transportation costs were very low. We collected information via surveys of artists, venue hosts and visitors, as well as from the volunteers attending events in situ. We found a number of things.

Both artists and visitors enhanced their sense of place – visiting parts of the neighbourhood they had not previously known.

The Festival was fully owned by the community – organisers, sponsors, patrons, and the great majority of artists were all local or had strong connections with the neighbourhood. The Festival built on strengthened and extended existing social networks and gave opportunities, in local places for people to meet and enjoy themselves, thereby building social capital. Many of the venues were commercial venues and audiences spent money on food and drinks, locally, rather than travelling out of the neighbourhood for social activities. The festival afforded opportunities for developing skills, for both artists and organisers and Festival volunteers. Looking through a well-being lens, the Festival was built on giving away expertise and talent and sharing with others; it enabled audiences to experience local art with wonder, taking notice of things they had never before experienced; some events opened people’s eyes and ears to historical threads of art or to the possibilities of learning new techniques, or to participate in a hands-on workshop; the festival enabled people to connect with friends and new acquaintances in convivial surroundings. As the Festival was local and everything was within a short walking distance, visitors to the Festival were able to keep active.

Craftwork making the link between art and food

Making the link between art, activism and food – Chorlton Craftivists

Most importantly the arts festival enabled people to enjoy themselves in the company of others – whether this as part of the organising team, meeting strangers in the same exhibition, talking to an artist, going with the family to drumming in the park or celebrating with other artists at the launch event. Cafes and bars and restaurants offered hospitable surroundings where art could be appreciated. For one month the streets of the neighbourhood resounded to joyous, thought provoking and often unexpected interactions and experiences.

One of the artists summed up the Festival:

It’s brilliant to be able to share in such a festival and to see and encourage all the talent in the area. A great opportunity to come together as a community

Conclusion

This micro example, a community arts festival, illustrates some of the features of a socially viable future. A local arts festival, open and inclusive, has a part to play in contributing to a viable future. Its elements prefigure, for a short time, different ways of living – ones built on care, sharing, conviviality, well-being, flourishing and resilient communities, a contribution to places that support good lives for all. It encourages a focus on collective well-being, on fostering connections with others and a sense of purpose not competition or profit. It enables people to experience in action values of stewardship, community and social justice.

 

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Places for Everyone hearings: the first week

post updated, 10 November

The Greater Manchester Places for Everyone Plan is now being examined in a series of public hearings by the Planning Inspectorate. As one of the parties that made critical consultation comments on the plan, we have the right to both submit written statements and to attend relevant sessions. This is a huge plan. There are three inspectors conducting the hearings which will continue until the end of March.

The venue for the hearings (via Google maps)

The first week has covered legal and procedural matters, the amount of land needed for building and the spatial strategy itself. We attended sessions on Thursday and Friday but also watched much of the livestream for the previous days. Our written submissions1 summarise and highlight points made in our “section 19” consultation response while our verbal contributions were able to focus and build on our submissions. We are told that everything submitted in both the consultation2 and in written statements will be considered as well as our verbal input.

The hearings follow a standard format with the inspectors asking questions, first of Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), whose team is fronted by a barrister, and then the other parties. The first three days illustrated the politics of development: massed ranks of developers, usually represented by their paid consultants or agents, sat along one side of the table, below the inspectors’ high table. On the other side sat community groups and individual citizens, mostly unpaid and voluntary. Despite the formal design of the hearings, they are conducted in a fairly informal way so that participants who are not used to such settings are encouraged and enabled to present their views. In fairness to all participants, the atmosphere is friendly and civilised despite our very real disagreements.  (Update: Place North West has an entertaining account of the first two days).

The procedural rules and agenda do nevertheless constrain the discussion, and this is a characteristic of the rules of the planning system itself rather than the individuals leading the sessions. So the discussion that we watched on day 1 of the flaws in the consultation process was limited to the question as to whether GMCA and the councils followed their Statements of Community Involvement (SCI) or not. This meant that questions of the quality of consultation were not deemed relevant, although the community groups did make their concerns known. An example: one authority placed a hard copy of the plan in each of its libraries. It did not make available paper copies of the supporting documentation. At the critical period, the libraries were apparently not open on Saturday or evenings, so someone working Monday to Friday would have great difficulty in accessing the plan. Because of the limited information and opening hours many people without broadband were unable to participate effectively in the consultation because 99% of the information was only available online. None of this apparently conflicted with the council’s SCI which committed to putting a hard copy of the plan in the libraries. Similarly the intelligibility of the very wide and long tables in the Integrated Assessment report, which would really require a multi-screen set up to scan and to make proper comparisons, and when printed have text too small to read, apparently did not contravene the legality of the consultation. As we have shown and argued elsewhere3, consultation on public policy is generally very poorly conducted.

We also watched the sessions concerned with how much land is needed for development. Clear evidence was presented by Save Greater Manchester’s Green Belt that the housing need figures used are inflated. CPRE endorsed the point that housing built recently exceeds the rate of household formation and there is a case for exceptional circumstances to be made for a different housing need methodology from the government’s prescribed standard one (we made the same call in our consultation response). GMCA reject this argument saying that they have adopted the “safe haven” of the standard methodology. That methodology uses 2014 population estimates which have since been shown to be inflated. Indeed we now have the far more dependable 2021 census figures. Some safe haven! Developers of course push for more and more building, reiterating that they support a higher figure. Lichfields for example pointed out that the standard method set the floor, the minimum need, not the number that will be built, which could be higher, yet they still advocated a higher level of economic growth as per the Plan’s rejected growth option 3. In this case the constraint comes from the government policy of using those outdated population figures to forecast housing need. No local authority to date has successfully argued the case for using an alternative method and there was a long process of lobbying by Greater Manchester leaders on just this point at an earlier stage of the process. Sadly they appear to have thrown in that towel and accepted the palpably absurd method.

We were similarly rather constrained by the parameters of the discussion on the sustainability appraisal (or more formally the Strategic Environmental Assessment, part of the plan’s Integrated Assessment). Here we had to argue that the assessment was not legally compliant, in other words not sound. While we think we, with colleagues from Save Royton’s Green Belt and Friends of Carrington Moss, did this, the argument from GMCA’s barrister was that so long as the assessment would be judged reasonable by someone (implicitly another professional) carrying out this assessment task then that was sufficient. In response we made the point that without any quantitative estimates of the carbon impact of doing all this building, it was impossible to either assess the environmental impact or compare spatial options adequately. Whether or not the sustainability appraisal met the requirement of legality, it did not provide GMCA with the quality of information needed to understand the environmental impacts of the plan. We will have to wait and see what the inspectors conclude. Meanwhile we have carried out our own evaluation which highlights the large carbon impact of all that building.

On this question of carbon impacts, there are some helpful precedents. Firstly, the sustainability assessment for the Cambridge Local Plan did make quantitative estimates of the carbon emissions from each of the spatial alternatives considered. While GMCA seemed to imply that this was an outlier, we would argue that it establishes a standard that other plans should follow.

Secondly, last year the controversial Tulip proposal in the city of London was rejected by the Inspectorate on the grounds that the very high levels of embodied carbon (i.e. carbon emissions that take place where the building materials are extracted, transported and processed) were not deemed to be justified by whatever benefit the tower might bring. The high, and difficult to mitigate levels of embodied carbon inherent in a programme as ambitious as Places for Everyone are a material consideration too in the light of the requirement to consider climate in Local Plans (Places for Everyone is a Joint Plan that covers the more strategic elements of the 9 districts’ Local Plans).

Update:  However, in two rather ominous developments, 1) we read that in West Oxfordshire, the Planning Inspectorate has decided to remove critical climate targets from the proposed West Oxfordshire Area Action Plan for a new garden village. The Town and Country Planning Association argue that the Inspectors have misunderstood the law in relation to carbon targets.  2) We have also been told that the Inspectors will not add our carbon impact report on Places for Everyone to the Examination documents database.

On Thursday, we were not alone in arguing that GMCA should have considered a spatial option that reflected current thinking in many world cities, that of the polycentric city or city region where citizens can meet most needs within their local area (often articulated as the 15 or 20 minute neighbourhood). Instead, GMCA persisted with what another participant characterised as a backward looking model with its specialist areas for housing, commerce and industry, which bakes in high levels of travel. While GMCA argued that they did not have to consider all possible alternatives, we contend that this is a well established alternative that forward looking cities should consider in these times of climate breakdown for improved liveability and attractiveness of localities.

One thing struck me with force: Places for Everyone would build on some 13 square miles of what is currently green space, much of which, but not all, is in the green belt that reaches into the conurbation, separating the distinct population clusters. Come the end of the plan, when that has been lost, should things continue in the same way (the threat of economic and social collapse4 suggests they might not, of course), then that green space will have gone, effectively for ever, and the developers will come again for yet more. Might we one day say, “the city is complete: let’s stop building”?

The sessions will resume after a two week break: there is a lot more to be said and covered, and we will be attending sessions on Sustainable and Resilient Places (Including carbon issues) and on Greener Places (Habitats Regulation Assessment).

1 Available on the Examination Documents List, from the inspection website: https://www.hwa.uk.com/site/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Examination-Documents-List-31-October-2022.pdf

2 Available on the Supporting Documents List, from the inspection website: https://www.hwa.uk.com/site/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Submission-Supporting-Documents-List-6-4-22.pdf see SD75 to SD 85.

3 A Viable Future (2021) section 8, ‘Done Deals: citizens and urban planning’.

4 See the Postscript to A Viable Future, our book referenced above.

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Progress Report on research project – Sufficiency in Housing: Exploring sustainability-oriented living arrangements

James Scott Vandeventer & Benedikt Schmid

Steady State Manchester collective member James Scott Vandeventer, together with Benedikt Schmid, undertook research into how sufficiency manifests in community-led housing in two German cities. The research, funded by the University of Huddersfield, involved visits to several communities in Freiburg and Heidelberg during the summer of 2022. Interviews were also conducted with residents and members of what we call ‘infrastructural organisations,’ which support the development and maintenance of community-led housing initiatives.

Thus far, the research has uncovered a wide array of sufficiency-oriented practices occurring in these housing initiatives. Particularly interesting are the multiple legal forms used by different groups, including ‘infrastructural organisations’, and the latter’s diverse orientations, concerns, and narratives.

Findings to date from the research have been compiled in a summary report, available here.

The research help us understand how practices of sufficiency emerge in housing, and the ways legal forms are mobilised to mediate relationship-to-profit of (post-)growth organizations (Schmid, 2018; Hinton, 2020) in housing contexts. These and other insights from the research will surely be useful for organisations in Manchester working towards a viable economy and society and for helping counter the growth-driven and developer-fueled housing market in the city-region.

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Trimtab* tactics to move civil society on climate

*A ship’s trimtab is a small narrow rudder on the trailing edge of the much large rudder. To start turning a huge ship, the trimtab is deflected, which initiates the process of turning the ship
by making the larger rudder easier to shift and which ultimately changes the ship’s course.
It was an analogy used by Buckminster Fuller as to how he regarded his own work.

by Richard A. Shirres

As the hope of the Paris Agreement recedes, with the UN reporting1 we are on track for a 2.8°C global temperature rise, and as the distant thunder of ever more amplified climate impacts mercilessly rolls on towards us, here in the UK serious government ‘climate action’ languishes, its credibility further undone by the ‘kick-the-can-down-the-road’ fig-leaf of its globally unjust target of ‘Net Zero’ by 2050. At COP26, the UK committed to reducing its emissions by 72% of 1990 levels within 8 years (2030). The current prognosis in the UK for local climate action, if stirred by civil society, suggests the 2030 target would be missed unless our civil society malaise around engagement about climate is systematically challenged.

Our, at best, casual approach to citizenship and civil society engagement in the UK has degraded considerably in the last four decades. Factors in that degradation include our neoliberal governance, with its stress on the individual, and the fuelled growth of consumerism partially enabled by our car-planned culture, which can be set alongside the loss of community interaction opportunities. On the latter, for example, we can point to decades of ‘house-box’ making with bleak-‘lets escape’- streetscapes and poor quality place-making meanwhile about 20% of libraries have closed in the last decade.

A recent public opinion survey2 suggests only 13% of the UK public do fully understand that climate change is entirely caused by human activity. This is an indictment of messaging by government at all levels and the main stream media [MSM] as a whole. Crucially, the relentless, and unquestioning, reinforcement of the growth paradigm across all MSM and leading political parties defies reality. After WWII, rates of total global material extraction began increasing exponentially. But since the start of the 21st century, global levels of extraction3 have shot past ecologically sustainable limits and now annual rates of extraction are increasing on an ever more rampant exponential trend (With direct implications for both emissions & global ecosystems). Ultimately in real life, exponential trends crash.

Yet around the planet, and even in the UK, there are communities reaching for a different paradigm; understanding that there is ‘another world’ but it needs to be this one; to paraphrase Paul Éluard. Climate scientists, western activists and, especially, indigenous peoples truly understand already the insidious impacts from global heating and ecological destruction. Most of the UK population clearly does not.

Whilst those who are focussed on the climate & ecological crisis mostly cross-fertilise knowledge and actions within our bubbles, we cannot turn our ‘huge ship’ towards implementing societal transformation unless there is a common understanding across the majority of civil society about the causes of the crisis, its actual status and the imperative to act. Only a culture of empowered communities and active citizenship can ultimately provoke a political shift towards the urgent societal changes needed. The first step is to achieve a common understanding by the majority of civil society about the nature of the crisis and actions needed.

The presentation: Towards a Systematic Inception of Civil Society Discourse: The Conjoined Envisioning of Global Climate Impact & Local Community Response, was first given at the Co-operative sponsored Ways Forward Conference in October 2022, in Manchester. Providing some useful graphics, it attempts to outline background and tactics that may help to bring communities together, so to begin adding to the crucially necessary civil society engagement because hope now lies in actions.

References

1. United Nations Environment Programme (2022). Emissions Gap Report 2022: The Closing Window — Climate crisis calls for rapid
transformation of societies. Nairobi. https://www.unep.org/emissions-gap-report-2022
2. BEIS (2021). BEIS Public Attitudes Tracker (March 2021, Wave 37, UK). Published 13 May 2021, Figure 4.
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/985092/BEIS_PAT_W37_-
_Key_Findings.pdf
3a. Bringezu, S. (2015). Possible Target Corridor for Sustainable Use of Global Material Resources. Resources 2015, 4, 25-54;
doi:10.3390/resources4010025
3b. Krausmann Fridolin, Simone Gingrich, Nina Eisenmenger, Karl-Heinz Erb, Helmut Haberl & Marina Fischer-Kowalski, 2009. Growth
in global materials use, GDP and population during the 20th century. Ecological Economics 68(10), 2696-2705.
doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2009.05.007

 

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Places for Everyone goes before the Planning Inspectorate

November is the month in which the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Places for Everyone Plan goes before the Planning Inspectorate for its “Examination in Public”.

Cover of the Places for Everyone report

Anyone can watch the hearings, which, as it’s a huge plan with many aspects, will take the best part of the month.

As SSM made critical comments in our section 19 consultation response last year, we have the right to speak at the sessions and will be going to several of them as will other community and environmental groups including Friends of the Earth and some of the constituent groups of the Save Greater Manchester’s Green Belt coalition.

Of particular note will be Friday’s morning’s session which will deal with the plan’s Sustainability Appraisal. This is part of the outsourced Integrated Assessment and we made a number of criticisms of it. Chief among these is the failure to provide any estimate of the carbon impact of the plan despite the legislation requiring that plans demonstrate how they contribute to the mitigation and adaptation of climate change.

Links:

Places for Everyone, the plan and the voluminous list of supporting documents.

The Examination website with links to all relevant documents, including our (and others’) written statements.

The timetable for the first part of the examination and the agenda for next week.

The live-streams of the sessions in the first week:

1 Nov AM: https://youtu.be/aX4O8TLzlFk

1 Nov PM: https://youtu.be/aX4O8TLzlFk

2 Nov: https://youtu.be/uphDSkLdHSU

3 Nov: https://youtu.be/VGEGi5OfuYA

4 Nov: https://youtu.be/vMjGwTq3IP

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Stitched Up: towards a Viable Economy, locally and globally

This is the second in our series of pieces about organisations that have received Steady State Manchester’s Viable Future Mark.

Bryony Moore spoke with Mark Burton about the work of the Stitched Up co-operative. You can listen to the full discussion (28 minutes) HERE.

Stitched Up members with some of their upcycled and repaired clothing.

The Stitched Up team at their sustainable clothing hub in Stretford, with some of their upcycled and repaired clothing.

Stitched Up was set up by a group of people with varied backgrounds to do with fashion, creative arts and well-being who shared concerns about the dominant model of the fashion business. The issues of waste, unsustainability and exploitation seemed to be so global and remote that it was difficult to take action. However, by focussing on reducing consumption locally, by promoting repair and upcycling and the skills to do that, they have been able to raise the issues with many people and make a distinct contribution to both understanding the issues and doing something about them.

In our conversation we noted the contradiction between the way people here were brought together to work in textile factories, thereby developing a collective consciousness, something that has largely gone (but being celebrated in one of the co-op’s projects) leaving its opposite, the isolated consumer, preyed on by the marketing function of the global textile and fashion industry. As research at the University of Exeter has shown, learning how clothes are made helps shift the relationship people have with fashion, helping us value how things are made.

Stitched Up is now a Community Benefit Society, with a membership, some 50 volunteers and a small staff team.

Stitched up runs workshops on upcycling, mending, making and also on repair (via its fortnightly Repair Café). They work with local groups and arrange clothing swaps too. Stitched Up joins with globally focussed campaigns and action calls. Fundamentally they work to increase the sustainability of clothing, keeping clothes in use for longer, thereby opposing the throw-away culture of the fashion industry, especially “fast fashion”. They also take donations of cloth and have prevented the destruction of some three tonnes this year alone.

Yet, like most innovative, community-led projects, Stitched Up faces challenges. It relies on small grants, earned income and volunteer time and lacks the cushion of ongoing core funding that would enable more planning, expansion and replication of their work. An immediate challenge is that the base in Stretford Mall (formerly Stretford Arndale) will close in March when the site is demolished. So they are looking for an alternative: maybe you can help!

Thanks to Bryony for an insight into a project in which we can see many elements of our Viable Economy and Society vision – convivial, ecologically sensitive, concerned with sharing and with social and economic justice, while maximising the capacities of citizens.

Listen to the full conversation HERE. Find out more at the informative Stitched Up website.

Viable Future Mark logo

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New edition of our Carbon and Planning Workbook

The Carbon and Planning Workbook is a guide for local campaigners who want to estimate the carbon (greenhouse gas) consequences of proposed planning developments on local land.

It takes you through the various aspects to consider and data that you can use in your estimates. It also aims to forewarn you of potential problems and uncertainties in making such estimates.

We have now updated it, building on our recent experience in calculating the probable carbon impacts of new developments. There are additional references, improvements to readability and some short additional sections on associated sources of carbon emissions (transport, aviation, water system).

Do take a look, try it out, and let us know how you get on.

Click here for the workbook page

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Book review: Degrowth as a desirable and possible future

Review

1) The Future Is Degrowth: A Guide to a World beyond Capitalism.
by Matthias Schmelzer, Andrea Vetter and Aaron Vansintjan. Verso, 2022. ISBN 9781839765841. £18.99 paperback, £11.39 ebook (publisher is currently offering both at the ebook price)

2) Political Friendship and Degrowth: An Ethical Grounding of an Economy of Human Flourishing. by Areti Giannopoulou. Routledge, 2022, ISBN 9780367757960. £120 hardback, £33.29 ebook.

More and more books are appearing on Degrowth. However, if you are looking for a clear, comprehensive, scholarly but practical overview, then I’d recommend The Future is Degrowth. Published by Verso, it does speak specifically to those of us on the left, but even if you are from a different political tradition, you could do worse than to read it.

Political Friendship and Degrowth is for a different audience, based on a PhD thesis from the University of Sussex, it is primarily directed to those with a grounding in philosophy, but it does make some interesting observations on degrowth and the kind of society that would restore solidarity and kindness among us.

The first book, by Matthias Schmelzer, Andrea Vetter and Aaron Vansintjan, has the following structure:

    • Introduction
    • Economic growth
    • Critiques of growth
    • Degrowth visions
    • Pathways to degrowth
    • Making degrowth real
    • The future of degrowth

The introductory chapter is particularly good at debunking the various misrepresentations and misunderstandings of degrowth. Degrowth, they note, is both a critique and a proposal, and later sections explore both aspects.

They begin by examining the concept of economic growth. Building on their statement in the introduction, “Economic growth, we argue, appears as the ideological, social, and biophysical materialization of capitalist accumulation”, they explain,

First, growth is a relatively recent idea, the hegemony of which is the core ideology of capitalism, justifying the belief that growth is natural, necessary, and good, and that growth, as the increase of output and the development of productive forces, is linked to progress and emancipation. Second, growth is a social process that has long preceded the current hegemony of growth in contemporary society: a specific set of social relations resulting from and driving capitalist accumulation that stabilizes modern societies dynamically and at the same time makes them dependent on expansive dynamics of growth, intensification, and acceleration. Third, growth is a material process – the ever-expanding use of land, resources, and energy and the related build-up of physical stocks – which fundamentally transforms the planet and increasingly threatens to undermine the foundations of growth itself.

While I would put the three points in the reverse order, this is one of the best definitions I have seen.

The next section surveys the various critiques of growth that come together in degrowth. Most will be familiar to readers of our work; they are (with my summary statements),

Ecological critique – growth destroys the very foundations of life on earth.

Socio-economic critique – growthism offers a false proxy for human well-being and stands in the way of a more equal society.

Cultural critique – growth destroys human relations, making them mechanistic, instrumental and alienating.

Critique of capitalism – growth is inherently bound up with the capitalist mode of production, that is with accumulation of surplus as a result of exploitation and expropriation.

Feminist critique – growthism, as an economic rationality, devalues other spheres of human labour and relies on gendered exploitation.

Critique of industrialism – growth is inseparable from the deployment of undemocratic technologies and structures.

South–North critique – foregrounds the exploitative and extractive relations between rich countries and the global South.

Moving on, the book considers what degrowth actually means. Having reviewed some of the definitions that have been offered, the authors suggest a synthesis,where,

A degrowth society… in a democratic process of transformation:

1. enables global ecological justice – in other words, it transforms and reduces its material metabolism, and thus also production and consumption, in such a way that its way of life is ecologically sustainable in the long term and globally just;

2. strengthens social justice and self-determination and strives for a good life for all under the conditions of this changed metabolism; and

3. redesigns its institutions and infrastructure so that they are not dependent on growth and continuous expansion for their functioning.”

So far so good, nice ideas but how can it be made to happen? The rest of the book is concerned with that key question. The answer can be contrasted with the simplified policy programme of the New Green Deal (to which the authors, while critical aof some aspects maintain a friendly orientation, emphasising the points in common). Rather than a single policy package, to be implemented by wise politicians, top-down,

“… degrowth proponents prefer a diverse policy platform and tend to approach the issue more holistically. This is because focusing on a single policy tends to minimize the amount of change needed in the whole system while failing to hedge against the possible negative effects of that policy taken in isolation.”

Focusing first on policy, six clusters are identified as covering the bulk of degrowth approaches, (1) the democratization of the economy, or, the strengthening of the commons, a solidarity-based economy, and economic democracy; (2) social security, redistribution, and caps on income and wealth; (3) convivial and democratic technology; (4) the redistribution and revaluation of labour; (5) the equitable dismantling and reconstruction of production; and (6) international solidarity.

However, in the penultimate chapter, the book also addresses the how of change. This is where many contributions to the debate fall apart. These authors do better. They begin by acknowledging a rift in the degrowth discussions between grand policy prescriptions and small-scale bottom up solutions (we ourselves position our distinctive approach between the two, primarily at the “meso-level”). The use this duality productively, seeing the bottom-up “nowtopias” as providing content, know-how, as vital for the more systemic interventions. Drawing on the work of Erik Olin Wright, his notion of “real utopias”, and taxonomy of strategies, they review the roles of nowtopias, non-reformist reforms, building counter-hegemony and transformative power, and the response to crises.

Will it work? We can only know by trying. The authors sum it up in these words,

Yet whether a degrowth society can and will become reality cannot be answered theoretically; it depends on the practices, relationships, and organizing of all of us. To make this vision real requires a massive, concerted effort from every corner of society – let alone those who consider themselves to be on the left. We have made some proposals for how to think about the strategies for systemic change, …. But to start this journey, we need a broad but unified ‘movement of movements’ for life and against capitalist growth to confidently take the first steps along this path of transformation. You don’t have to call this ‘degrowth’, but we hope that the core concerns of both the critique and the proposal of degrowth will be integrated into more and more struggles and transformative practices. There are endless ways to follow this path – from starting a workers’ cooperative to setting up a mutual aid centre or pushing for non-reformist reforms in your municipality. Whatever you choose to do, know that our trajectories are aligned.”

Degrowth as a movement of movements

Degrowth as a movement of movements


To conclude, The Future is Degrowth is a tour de force, it is well argued, and well referenced (although sometimes the references are to a whole text rather than the specific relevant part). It is unusual for me to read a text where I can hardly raise a quibble but these authors are extremely sure footed. I recommend you read it.

Political Friendship and Degrowth is a more difficult read. Only if you have an interest and some grounding in philosophy would I recommend it. It argues for the relevance of Aristotle’s concept of political friendship, a kind of extension of interpersonal friendship across the communities we live in, and potentially further. It is a concept that connects with the ideals and practices of solidarity, mutuality and accompaniment. Areti Giannopolou relates this idea, negatively to the writings of Adam Smith (the free market with its invisible hand), and more positively to Karl Marx (and economic equality) and Otto Neurath (a free, associational socialism). She explores the concept of the solidarity economy and discovers limitations in its political vision, it being tied to the logic of the market.

Finally, in the last chapter, and pulling in the eco-feminism of Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva, she comes to degrowth and finds in its convivial emphasis on necessary production and “relational goods” rather than the current system that emphasises of material goods. She sees a clear synergy with the life-orientated approach of degrowth and an extended understanding of political friendship.

Sadly, the book is extremely expensive, even as an ebook (on the highly restricted Vital Source platform), so few will read it. That is a shame as it does make some helpful connections between political philosophy and the degrowth project.

Mark H Burton

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