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A History Of Degrowth

The birth of the word „décroissance” (French for degrowth), and with this the beginning of an idea, can be dated to the year 1972. Already back then, the social philosopher André Gorz asked: “Is the earth’s balance, for which no-growth – or even degrowth – of material production is a necessary condition, compatible with the survival of the capitalist system?”. Today we answer this question with “No”, but this is another story. In the same year, “The Limits to Growth” was published by the Club of Rome. The publication sparked off a broad discussion, during which in France the word “décroissance“ repeatedly cropped up. Other intellectuals of that time influenced the debate: Among them Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, Jacques Grinevald and Ivo Rens. A few years later, with the end of the oil crisis and the expanding neoliberalism of the 1980s and 1990s, the discussions were pushed into the background. In the 1970s, the critique of growth received a name, but the critique and the thoughts about alternatives to growth had already been around for a long time. The first economists to talk about economic growth, for example, never thought of growth as a never-ending process, but regarded it as necessary only for a period of time.


What we today call the degrowth movement started about 30 years after the first appearance of “décroissance” in Lyon. In 2002, the magazine “Silence” published a special issue on the topic of degrowth, which received lots of public attention. It was reprinted twice, 5,000 magazines were sold. In the wake of the publication’s success, the topic of degrowth created a meeting point where environmental activists from Lyon could join Parisian critics of development. More and more voices were speaking of “décroissance”. The “Institute for Economic and Social Studies on Sustainable Degrowth” was founded in Lyon. The following year, the institute organised a symposium on the same topic. Many of the today well-known degrowth thinkers took part in the symposium, e.g. Serge Latouche, Mauro Bonaiuti, Paul Ariès, Jacques Grinevald, François Schneider and Pierre Rabhi. But it was not only scientific debates which were taking place in Lyon. There were also protests for a car- and ad-free city, and the foundation of food cooperatives, as well as communal meals in the streets. In 2004, the ideas made their way to Italy, and in 2006 to Catalonia and Spain. They were taken up as, “decrescita”, “decreixement” and “decrecimiento”. The newspaper “La Décroissance, le journal de la joie de vivre“ was founded in France and François Schneider received attention from both the public and the media by walking through southern France with a donkey in order to raise awareness about degrowth.


In 2007, a few years after the donkey tour, François Schneider, together with Denis Bayon and Fabrice Flipo, founded the academic organisation Research and Degrowth (R&D). This organisation has since then initiated and accompanied the international degrowth conferences. The first international degrowth conference for ecological sustainability and social equity took place in Paris in 2008. The English term “degrowth” was used in the conference and thereby introduced into the international academic debate. With the second degrowth conference, which was organized 2010 in Barcelona, the currently more active Spanish part of R&D emerged. Further international degrowth conferences took place in Venice in 2012 and in Leipzig 2014. Since 2008, the conferences have attracted more and more attention as well as participants, among them scientists from diverse disciplines as well as activists and practitioners. The conferences serve as a meeting point, a room for discussions, for learning and for networking, and at the same time create more public attention for the movement.


Thousands of academic papers on degrowth have been published in international journals since 2008, including several special issues. Furthermore, books dealing with degrowth are available in major parts of the global North and published in various languages. Degrowth has become a topic at Universities and is discussed in international media.