Steady State Manchester collective member James Scott Vandeventer was recently invited to speak on a panel at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting. The following piece is adapted from this talk, which was based on his paper ‘Organizing degrowth: The ontological politics of enacting degrowth in OMS’ (Available to download without paywall here) and contains several points that may be of interest to our readership.
In a recent paper written with Dr Javier Lloveras, we seek to understand how degrowth is crossing boundaries and being engaged with as an object of research in the study of organizations and management.
Drawing on Science and Technology Studies, we explore the research practices whereby scholars are using degrowth in their research. This required thinking about and discussing degrowth in relatively new ways. I use some of that discourse here, in hopes that it will help show how we might reflexively reconsider, and talk about, our own ways of engaging with degrowth.
Our findings identified at least three distinct ways in which degrowth, as a research object, is brought into being and sustained at present. These practices of enacting degrowth include: stabilizations that temporarily fix its meaning, reconfigurations toward different audiences, and projections that relationally link degrowth with established organizational concepts. In other words, degrowth is being stabilized as an object to which scholars can ascribe a fixed meaning; reconfigured in order to engage with particular groups (i.e. in specific disciplines or fields of research); and projected to make connections with other ideas. We offer multiple examples of these practices in the paper.
These findings have significant implications. One is that understanding degrowth as a flexible object means it is prone to different varieties. Ultimately, the longevity and validity of these versions depend on their uptake by others – whether in citations, paper downloads, conference presentations, and so on. This asks us to give due consideration to the performative effects of enacting degrowth and recognition of the ontological politics involved. To paraphrase Annemarie Mol, whose work we draw on extensively, ontological politics involves acknowledging that the conditions of possibility for degrowth are not given, but rather its possibilities are being made and remade in specific, contextual practices.
A second implication involves recognizing that degrowth’s malleability brings risks as its spread accelerates. In some cases, degrowth’s most radical edges are smoothed over to fit with existing knowledge. There is a strategic dilemma here: should ‘thinner’ versions of degrowth reach further into business contexts and research debates, or should degrowth’s critical potential be maintained? We don’t offer a priori answers, but encourage a more strategic approach to navigating this dilemma and ensuring degrowth remains politically actionable. This might involve slowing down degrowth, and being more reflexive about how we are using this object.
Finally, it is becoming clear that degrowth is being enrolled in the reproduction of academia, with perverse publishing dynamics and research productivity incentives that demand additional publications, citations, collaborations, research grants, and so on. Thus, degrowth’s future is tied to institutional pressures, such as the casualization and intensification of academic labour, and to existing institutional rules, whether ‘targeting’ highly ranked outlets or abiding the ‘publish or perish’ culture.
By recognizing these exploitative trends, which are characteristic of neoliberal capitalism, it is clear that organizing degrowth must be part of a broader call for political action to engage with, and transform, the sites where such organizing occurs, including business schools.
To conclude, we hope to have stimulated some thinking about how – and why – the degrowth object is circulating faster and further. Hopefully, this provides a language and, perhaps, a more reflexive gaze for examining the translation of degrowth and similar objects into new arenas, for discussing the contextual practices involved in performing degrowth, and for thinking about implications of these enactments.
While we showed how scholars make objects like degrowth more, or less, real through research, this is perhaps even more evident in teaching and our engagements with students. This question, how degrowth is being enacted in business school classrooms, is the focus of a project I am leading that is funded by the UK & Ireland Chapter of the UN’s Principles for Responsible Management Education. In that project, I am looking at the ways that degrowth is transforming, and being transformed by, the content and pedagogies of business school teaching.
This continues my efforts to encourage more reflexive stances toward degrowth scholarship, teaching, and activism. But there is much more work to be done. I invite you to join me in regularly pausing to look inward at our own practices of enacting degrowth, and their consequences.