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Life after Growth: A peek into values, needs, and time for degrowth

By: Life After Growth summer school participants



View from Kalentzi’s school, where the summer school was held

In the words of Ursula Le Guin “[the] power [of capitalism] seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings”. With this statement, Le Guin points to the ability of societies to rethink their structures, including the economy.


However, decades of neoliberal capitalism have planted a firm-rooted, unquestioned ideology of free-market capitalism, liberalism and eternal growth as societal common senses, eroding our collective capacity to think of alternatives. At the same time, with the increasing pace and intensity of the ecological crises, humanity must think of alternatives, if life on the planet is to continue. To do so, we must think of our values, structures of social provisioning, and communities.


Critiques of growth are often talked about in the West as an issue requiring economic solutions. However, as it has become clear that growth and its attendant social structure has shaped the core of the modern Western subject, it has also become evident that a break away from this model will require not merely an economic shift, but the root-and-stem refashioning of our very selves—our practices, common senses, needs and values.


With the above as a starting ground, in September 2023 we came together at the Life after Growth summer school in the northern Greek village of Kalentzi. The summer school’s aim was, first and foremost, to emancipate ourselves (participants and facilitators alike) from the dominant capitalist structures and common senses, both in practice and mind. Through this we sought to allow ourselves to not only reimagine the societal fabric but also to imagine how we might reach the utopia of a life after growth. In the following, we share some of our thoughts and experience from this endeavour.


The summer school was set up to be not only critical of the predominant capitalist paradigm in its content, but also in its way of teaching. While anti-capitalist ideals are preached in many educational settings, this is often done while tacitly reproducing the behaviour and values which are capitalism’s oxygen: the separation of work and care; humanity and nature; teacher and student; professional and personal; rational and emotional. In contrast, Life after Growth emphasized enabling self- and co-learning, while creating a setting for discussion and critical challenging of perspectives amongst participants and facilitators alike.


Through this, the summer school was able to foster courage in challenging the above binaries. Personal connection and collective care were prioritized as the essence of revolutionary thought. Days began with explorations of individual and collective feelings, which nurtured a communal consciousness and quietly defied academia’s disdain for the emotional. Lectures flowed seamlessly into group bonding exercises, as the built environment flowed into the flora and fauna of Kalentzi’s surrounding hills.


Through these quietly rebellious choices, the summer school located our struggle in everyday praxis, in the tacitly accepted ways we categorize and treat our world and each other. Unlike institutions which ‘talk the talk’ of degrowth, while leaving the implicit hierarchies and binaries of the dominant capitalist paradigm untouched, the facilitators showed themselves willing to do the deep work of excavating the roots of growth and attempting to reshape them through action, thus, offering a different rhythm of learning. This was not always successful, but in an academic world where rationality and correctness is everything, daring to try is truly a revolutionary act.


Life After Growth was all about creating a community of alternative ways of life, of existence, of well-being and happiness. To think of alternatives is not so easy in times of eroded imagination. It requires recognizing the uneasy fact that the world in which we live and the values we have held unquestioned are not working. This realization might be followed by feelings of distress, of emptiness and fear. But it is for this exact reason that imagining futures must be done collectively, in circles of care and comfort.


The summer school provided a place to do just that. The mountainous village setting offered a type of isolation that forced us to be fully immersed and interact with the landscape in a non-quantitative way, whether it be via the surrounding trails, the town square, or even a local traditional festival. The challenges of the area acted as an opportunity for self organisation: lack of public transportation led to organising group travel even before the session started, and without many food options, we organised an open house/kitchen to cook and eat together.


There was an air of genuine engagement, curiosity, and desire to explore new ideas that provided an open-minded base for our discussions and even our activities outside the organised sessions. In some academic or conference settings, it can be difficult to get a group of people (often strangers) to all take an activity seriously, especially when it involves challenging norms or reimagining what is commonly seen as unchangeable. However, this group felt wholeheartedly committed to dreaming and designing better futures, regardless of how vulnerable it made us feel to do so.


Life after Growth felt like an unlearning process. For four days our bodies de-automated their movement, our minds unlearned their thoughts. The time we were given was brief, but the connections we made continue. The moments of these four days were inhabited by habits, worries and daydreams somewhere beyond the lonely urban world and its directions. In Kalentzi we found a place to express and try thoughts and passions we had in mind, but up until this point,  were unable to unfold.


Our thoughts about our future were connected with our present moments and with our past experiences. The rhythm (or rather our many rhythms) created the desire and hope for a shift in the point where we have been located until now. Somewhere beyond the individual concern for growth and progress, we created moments all together and apart. The hope was created that the silence could be reversed (the silence of the auditorium after the lecture, the silence of the private residence, the silence of individual programming). The coexistence between us and also with the place, Kalentzi, meant the dependence of internal worlds and external environment/condition.


As a group of people who recognize the severity of the consequences of continuing to live as we currently do, it was the tasks and the space to imagine an alternative that shifted our feelings of fear to feelings of belonging. We continue our journey of belonging by staying in contact and working on bilateral projects and initiatives together. Additionally, there is a desire and aim to have further iterations of Life after Growth, including a website to hopefully broaden our community.


Because our memories from a Life after Growth shall not be images from a dream, bound to fade away. They are our special News from Nowhere, which like in the closing words of William Morris’ utopian novel, are not coming from a place that does not exist, but from one yet to be created:


“Or indeed was it a dream? If so, why was I so conscious all along that I was really seeing all that new life from the outside, still wrapped up in the prejudices, the anxieties the distrust of this time of doubt and struggle? [...]


Yes, surely! and if others can see it as I have seen it, then it may be called a vision rather than a dream.”


About the author

Life After Growth summer school participants

The Life After Growth summer school participants who contributed to this piece include Abby Chernila, Joe Lane, Maria Dimitriou Tsaknaki, Riina Bhatia, Sofia Adam, Ben Robra, and Alex Pazaitis.

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