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Feminism(s) and Degrowth: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Corinna Dengler, Camila Rolando Mazzuca and Renda Belmallem

The Feminisms and Degrowth Alliance (FaDA) network was launched in September 2016 at the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest. As an inclusive network of both academics and activists, FaDA aims at fostering a dialogue between feminists and degrowth proponents and at making feminist reasoning an integral part of degrowth activism and scholarship. Over the last two years, the network has mainly operated in form of a mailing list. In the summer of 2018, FaDA was able to continue this dialogue at both the 6th International Degrowth Conference in Malmö and at the 1st North-South Conference on Degrowth-Descrecimiento in Mexico City. In the following, we briefly present the main outcomes of FaDA’s activities at the two conferences and summarize the current state of discussion.

FaDA’s activities at the 2018 Degrowth Conferences

Both in Malmö and Mexico City, FaDA had its kick-off in a four-hour participatory session before the official opening ceremonies. The aim of these strategic meetings was to present the results of the FaDA survey circulated by Jolanda Iserlohn in January 2017 and discuss FaDA’s identity, content, logistics, common activities and – more generally – how to proceed. In Malmö, the strategic meeting was followed by three special sessions on Feminism(s) and Degrowth. A session on masculinities supplemented these sessions. In Mexico, while there was no specific FaDA special session, the topic of feminism(s) and degrowth was well present in both keynote speeches and general panels.

FaDA’s Identity

The survey showed that FaDA members are coming from and are located (nearly) all over the world, have an immense variety of activist, academic and professional backgrounds and diverse experiences in feminisms and/or degrowth in both a more theoretical and everyday-life perspective.

Following an intervention from Stefania Barca in Malmö, there has been a lively discussion whether the network’s name ‘Feminism(s) and Degrowth Alliance (FaDA)’ is misleading. Rather than a simple ‘alliance’, it was argued that feminist reasoning should be an integral part of degrowth. There was a suggestion to ‘rename’ FaDA to F&D (Feminisms & Degrowth) at the Malmö conference and many people approved. At the Mexico conference, on the other hand, there were voices who advocated for the term ‘alliance’, claiming that for now an integrally feminist degrowth approach is a project in the making, and that the term ‘alliance’ is more likely to allow for a thorough reflection of contradictions and dissent that will inevitably arise at least with some strands of feminist scholarship. We are happy to continue this discussion at future conferences, but we also want to keep in mind that the ‘name issue’ is only the tip of the iceberg and tackles at least two more fundamental concerns.

First, as Ariel Salleh pointed out in her presentation on ecofeminism in a FaDA special session in Malmö, it is clear that not all feminisms do align equally well with a degrowth paradigm. The liberal feminist agenda to integrate all women into wage work without questioning the very category of ‘work’, for example, has little in common with degrowth reasoning. According to Ariel Salleh, ecofeminism is the feminist strand closest to degrowth, even though there remains a lot of work to clarify its non-essentialist nature. In her presentation, Stefania Barca identified Maria Mies’ and Marilyn Waring’s work as fruitful for the degrowth discourse. Other likely ‘fellow travelers’ for degrowth are materialist feminism, postcolonial feminism and the more radical parts of feminist economics. A mutually enriching integration of feminist and degrowth scholarship is a project in the making and FaDA sees it as its task to contribute to this endeavor.

Secondly, both at the Malmö and the Mexico City conference, FaDA members were eager to emphasize that FaDA must not become one of the many streams within degrowth. It is of the uttermost importance to understand gender relations as cross-cutting theme that fundamentally has a say in how we conceptualize the transformation towards a socially just and ecologically sound degrowth society. The pervasiveness of unequal gender relations in the capitalist system is so historically grounded that it requires a constant and in-depth attention for its deconstruction in all degrowth-related topics.

FaDA’s Logistics

FaDA’s communication will continue via the FaDA mailing list (subscribe at fada-subscribe@lists.riseup.net). Degrowth.info will be the main platform for FaDA publications, the ENTITLE blog and the Research & Degrowth website will be used to spread the word. A FaDA reading list, a list of initiatives related to FaDA and a space to store syllabi, slides and other FaDA teaching tools are some first projects.

At the moment, the coordination group is the only solid structure of FaDA. Until the summer 2018, the coordination group was constituted by Jolanda Iserlohn, Camila Rolando Mazzuca and Corinna Dengler. Today, the coordination group welcomes its new members Renda Belmallem, Anna Save-Harnack, Mariam Abazeri and Elisabeth Skarðhamar Olsen. Both the coordination group and the FaDA network are open and inclusive – we are always looking forward to welcoming new members.

FaDA’s Tentative Research Agenda

Both the survey and lively discussions at the two conferences in Malmö and Mexico City provided us with some ideas of a tentative research agenda for FaDA. Among other things it includes questions like:

(1) ‘How can care be organized in a degrowth society? Should it be remunerated or de-commodified?’

(2) ‘What do feminism and degrowth mean in the context of Southern countries? How can we learn from these experiences?’

(3) ‘How does degrowth have to be implemented to promote gender justice?’

(4) ‘How does hegemonic masculinity reproduce the capitalist growth paradigm? How can we transform masculinities in a degrowth society?’ and

(5) ‘What are feminist visions of ‘the good life’ in a degrowth society? What does emancipatory work look like in a degrowth society?’

While some of these topics were well present in the FaDA special sessions in Malmö and Mexico City (e.g. Corinna Dengler and Miriam Lang’s presentation on ‘Commoning Care in a Degrowth Society’) and in the network, other topics remained underexposed. There was a consensus that the question how masculinities relate to (de)growth should be on the future agenda of FaDA. The participatory session ‘Transforming masculinities for the degrowth transition’ hosted by Matthias Schmelzer and Dennis Eversberger in Malmö raised great interest among participants and showed the need of discussing the topic in more depth. For the conference in Mexico City, FaDA members prepared “Let’s avoid dominant masculinities / Evitemos las masculinidades dominantes”-signs and a bilingual poster that explained that masculinities and growth are closely linked and we cannot move forward a degrowth society without also talking about masculinities. The signs were to be raised silently and respectfully if someone showed excessive behaviour of dominant masculinity as a FaDA intervention to raise awareness.

Future Conferences

For future degrowth conferences we hope to have both, FaDA special sessions, but also a focus on Feminism(s) in the general program. While regarding it worthwhile to have a strategic FaDA meeting at the beginning of the conferences, we would also like to have at least one FaDA open space throughout the future conferences. This slot should be announced in the official program and also attract people who are interested but not yet involved in FaDA. On more general terms, FaDA finds it crucial to work for a better inclusivity of women scholars and feminist perspectives at International Degrowth conferences. FaDA will be happy to support the conference organizers and/or the support group with guidelines for this and to support the support and/or local organizing group.

Last but not least, from a feminist perspective it is important to FaDA that degrowth conferences are not only spaces for intellectual exchange, but are also moments of conviviality. Participatory sessions and open spaces, influencing ‘cultures’ of communication (briefing moderators, having observers…) and an active participation in the reproductive work that comes along with conferences (chopping vegetables and serving the food we eat ourselves) constitute important steps towards overcoming the theory/practice divide. FaDA also deems it crucial for the local organizers of the future conferences to invite local activist feminist groups to actively participate in the conference.

In addition, FaDA hopes to become more visible in feminist circles. FaDA sessions at feminist conferences (e.g. the 2019 IAFFE conference in Glasgow), being present at feminist meetings, editing a special issue and making contributions in feminist journals are important steps that we are currently discussing.