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Collective learnings from the 2020 Latin American Degrowth Forum

By: Gabriela Cabaña, Diego Arahuetés, Mariana Calcagni, María Paz Aedo, CASA - Centro de Análisis Socioambiental


Collective learnigns

A screenshot of a Zoom call.

What does degrowth mean in the Latin American context? In 2020, a series of six self-organized encounters attempted to dive into this question. Each meeting reflected the metaphor of the agricultural process: from sowing to harvesting. Among the conclusions was a unanimous desire to put into practice ‘other ways of inhabiting the world’, valuing the knowledge of the original peoples and inhabitants of the continent.

The Degrowth Forum emerged as a calling for people all over Latin America to exchange ideas, knowledges, and experiences, through the concept of degrowth. The Forum considered the need to rethink and transform our forms of co-habitation in our world in crisis, and to move towards the societies that we want. This has become even clearer in light of the social-ecological impacts associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, a situation that economic and political elites have approached with an extremely economistic perspective.

Facing the threat of an “economic reactivation” that reproduces and deepens the ideology of infinite economic growth and its impacts, it becomes necessary to make visible, share, and co-create alternatives to our current model of civilization.

Precedents for this Forum were the first North-South Degrowth Conference that took place in Mexico City in September 2018, and the open letter “New Roots For The Economy” written and shared by a large number of degrowth activists, and also signed by the Centro de Análisis Socioambiental (CASA).

A co-created, horizontal participation space

After the first meeting, which included a brief presentation by the Ecuadorian economist Alberto Acosta, we agreed to co-design an appropriate methodology for the discussion of our Forum. Based on the different phases of agriculture, we decided to carry out a cycle of six self-organized meetings between July and December 2020. We started with the preparation of the soil (July 4) and closed with the harvest (December 5), passing through the phases of sowing, plant growth, flowering, and fruit growth.

In each of these meetings, we created spaces for conversation and participation in plenary and small groups, encouraging listening and dialogue. Starting from the sharing of the conversations and the opinions expressed, we co-constructed concept maps collecting our principles, knowledge, initiatives, and perspectives. Deepening the principles of the international open letter from our experience as Latin Americans, the following appeared as fundamental: diversity, sovereignty, autonomy, reciprocity, sufficiency, simplicity, democracy, the exchange of knowledge, and respect for ecosystem limits.

In these six months, about 20 people participated in the process, mainly from social organizations, non-governmental organizations, universities, and training centers with a presence mainly in Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. In a context of respect, trust, and mutual appreciation, the participants shared their reflections, concerns, and proposals related to civilizational collapse, as well as their knowledge and experiences in different territories and collectives. This sharing generated connections and resonance that nurtured the inspiration and experiences of all of us who passed through this forum space, expanding our horizons and perspectives of ‘what is possible.’

One of the culminating moments of the Forum was the “Dialogue of Knowledge(s)” (Diálogo de Saberes) held in November. This dialogue was born from the need of each one of us to learn, listen, and discuss some of the issues that are on our minds in these times. Following another ancestral metaphor —the weaving— in a series of rounds of conversation we shared our “knowledge” (understood as what we can teach and put at the service of others), including in each new round what we had learned from our teammates from the previous round. In this way, we braided learning from different areas: feminism, economy, biodiversity, food, education, etc. The experience of “threading” knowledge was valued as enriching and moving by the participants. Adding to the “degrowth spirit,” this experience allowed us to remember that many of the options to transform our civilization are already found in our experiences and territories, embodied by actors from all sectors, both professional and traditional, as situated and pertinent knowledge.

The harvest

 As a result of this process, nine consensus points were reached. We called them “learnings”. Below is a summary of the final document which was collectively created during the last session:

Learning synthesis from the Latin American Degrowth Forum, December 2020

  • Latin America is experiencing a moment of mobilization and important political transformation. In this scenario, we want to bring the critique and degrowth perspective to the life / activity / political processes in which we participate and those we might join in the future.
  • We find that academic institutions do not address the perspective of degrowth as a field of research. Therefore, we want to open and deepen transdisciplinary spaces where we can exchange views and proposals in this area.
  • The food issue in its holistic sense is central in our lives, and has been a source of learning for many of us. We see this as a fundamental space in which to generate and put into practice other ways of inhabiting the world. Long-standing social movements, philosophical currents, and related practical experiences are our source of inspiration.
  • It seems imperative to us to question the technocratic paradigm of science and technology in force, unveiling false solutions to our social-ecological crisis. The technologies we trust are never neutral, but rather make up a socio-technical-political system.
  • We see the need to maintain a balance of autonomous spaces “outside” institutional power and the dispute of hegemonic spaces.
  • We are interested in sharing experiences and joining forces to incorporate the conversations in this Forum into other teaching / learning spaces as a horizontal learning experience, based on “learning by listening-by doing” in a broad and cross-sectional sense, inside and outside the formal educational institutions, and in all moments of life.
  • We insist on the need to move towards ways of living that learn from the knowledge present in the original peoples of our territories. We need to learn from their worldviews and their understanding of the civilizational crisis in order to learn how to navigate and go through it.
  • We want to continue participating in learning processes where the opinions of each of us matter, from the perspective of the Dialogue of Knowledge(s). We also understand that the criticism presented by degrowth is often received with ambivalence and that in many spaces we have come across a desire for “inclusion” in the existing developmental model. We see this as a challenge.
  • The issue of our worth and position as human beings has been put into question. We wonder how to revalue and position ourselves as part of nature without being above it. In this journey, we recognize the central importance of care and affection, the latter understood not only as human emotions but as the possibility of reciprocal influence between human and non-human actors.

The Latin American Degrowth Forum meets again in March 2021 to decide, always together, what kind of conversations and collaborations we want to continue articulating.

Everybody is welcome to join!

*This piece was originally published on 5 March 2021.

About the authors

Gabriela Cabaña

Gabriela Cabaña is a sociologist and PhD researcher in Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

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Diego Arahuetés

Diego Arahuetés is a psychologist currently living in Horcón, Chile.

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Mariana Calcagni

Mariana Calcagni is a sociologist and PhD student in Sociology at the Freie Universität Berlin.

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María Paz Aedo

María Paz Aedo is a sociologist and Master’s student in Ecological Humanities, Sustainabilities and Ecosocial Transition at the Universitat Politècnica de València and Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, and holds a PhD in education.

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CASA - Centro de Análisis Socioambiental

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