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Scientific paper


The fanciful capacity of capitalist culture to buffer our existential fears : a review and a plea to release

Sarah Koller

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Scientific paper

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Degrowth Conference Budapest 2016


Despite the repeated questionings of economic growth and the development of alternative economic theories, the growth imperative seems to remain unaltered. How can we understand this situation ? Would there be, beyond the institutional explanations, anything inside us that unconsciously agrees to preserve this dynamic ?

An increasing body of studies in existential psychology explore experimentally the influence of existential fears on our behavior. This influence is reported to act by two possible ways :

One is « defensive », and used when the idea of one’s death is abstract. In this case, individuals deal unconsciously with their fears by defending their own culture, and their self-esteem - that results from their adherence to the norms of this culture. Thus, some of these studies have shown that fear of death tends to reinforce materialistic values, greedy attitudes, or less pro-environmental concern, all behaviors that seem in line with the economic growth dynamic.

Unlike, the second way is used to deal with more concrete thoughts of one’s death, and goes through a conscious reflexion process. Studies that revealed this process support the idea that confronting with one’s death, rather than denying it, could lead to a happier and more fulfilling life. Especially, they have shown that this kind of confrontation could change individuals systems of values.

Based on that existential framework, I shall firstly present concisely the existing literature focusing on the existential roots of our dependence on capitalist culture, and secondly explore the existential conditions that seem required for the economic alternatives to emerge and spread out.

This media entry was a contribution to the special session „The fanciful capacity of capitalist culture to buffer our existential fears : a review and a plea to release“ at the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest in 2016.

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