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Scientific paper


Degrowth: culture, power and change

Susan Paulson

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Scientific paper

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Journal of Political Ecology


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Key words: degrowth, transition, climate change, socioecological systems

Abstract: Harmful environmental consequences of growth have been rigorously documented and widely publicized throughout the past half-century. Yet, the quantity of matter and energy used by human economies continues to increase by the minute, while governments and businesses continue to promise and to prioritize further economic growth. Such a paradox raises questions about how we humans change course. This introduction to a Special Section offers a new theoretical approach to change, together with glimpses of adaptations underway around the world. It directs attention away from individual decision-making and toward systems of culture and power through which socialized humans and socioecological worlds are (re)produced, sustained and adapted. Potential for transformative change is found in habitual practices through which skills, perspectives, denials and desires are viscerally embodied, and in cultural systems (economic, religious, gender and other) that govern those practices and make them meaningful. Case studies reviewed illuminate diverse communities acting to maintain old and to forge new moral and material worlds that prioritize well-being, equity and sustainability rather than expansion. This article endeavors to galvanize change by conceptualizing degrowth, by decolonizing worldviews of expansionist myths and values, and by encouraging connections between science and activism, north and south.

This is the introductory article in Lisa L. Gezon and Susan Paulson (eds.) 2017. "Degrowth, culture and power", Special Section of the Journal of Political Ecology, 24: 425-666.

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