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Provincialising Degrowth and Situating Buen Vivir: A Decolonial Framework for the Politics of Degrowth

Katharina Richter

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Goldsmiths, University of London


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This thesis presents an inter-epistemic dialogue between degrowth and Buen Vivir/sumak kawsay (BV/sk), a Latin American postdevelopment paradigm. It contributes to nascent, yet rapidly growing debates around decolonising degrowth. As field of study and social movement, degrowth responds to two pressing crises: one, the accelerated destruction of the natural world; two, inequality in resource access, use, and distribution. To live well within socio-ecological limits, degrowth advocates a democratic reduction of material production and consumption in affluent economies. It favours social and political approaches over technical climate change solutions. Policies such as Universal Basic Services or resource tax and dividend programmes would displace economic growth as primary social goal and redistribute resources equitably.

Cultural analyses, however, have been overshadowed by degrowth’s socioeconomic models. Allies from the Global South, for instance, criticise its Eurocentrism. In response, this thesis offers cultural and political alternatives to degrowth’s anthropocentric aspects. First, it historicises degrowth through the lens of modernity/coloniality. Second, it produces an empirical study of BV/sk in practice, conducted in Ecuador. BV/sk is an Andean-Amazonian conceptualisation of ‘Good Living’. Semi-structured interviews with social leaders, community members and politicians generate novel insights into the political economy, political ontology, and gender relations of BV/sk.

The results of the analysis are a decolonial framework for the politics of degrowth. First, the thesis proposes cosmological limits to growth, observed in Ecuador, as normative constraints to economic growth. This relational understanding of limits advances current debates that juxtapose external, physical boundaries with internal, morally constructed limits. Second, BV/sk produces affective abundance through reciprocity with non-human communities. The thesis suggests a de-individualised understanding of abundance for degrowth, beyond the provision of universal services. As a cultural and political framework, psychological wellbeing through relational justice re-embeds the natural into the social world, which corrects overly mechanistic ecosystem services perspectives within degrowth.

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