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Scientific paper


Sustainable Development and the Cultural Contradictions of High Modernity: Beyond Brundtland and Limits to Growth

Thomas Wallgren

Entry type:
Scientific paper

Year of publication:

Degrowth Conference Venice 2012


Abstract: The new green movement that appeared in the 1960s and 1970s claimed that because of objective limits economic growth had become a false development goal. The claim is interpreted as a claim about an intrinsic tension between two cultural aspirations fundamental to the project of high modernity, ethical universalism and increasing material prosperity for all. Since the mid 1980s the idea of sustainable development has had a domesticating effect on the green agenda. Today, economic growth is again by and large seen as compatible with environmental and social responsibility. The new consensus is critically examined. A tension between affluence and self-determination as cultural aspirations of our times is identified and discussed. The conclusion is that the crisis of environment and development remains at its core a civilisational crisis that affects key aspects of the ambitions that define the cultural project of high modernity.

Contribution to the 3rd International Degrowth Conference for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity in Venice in 2012.

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