Imaginaries of Hope: The Utopianism of Degrowth

One thought on “Imaginaries of Hope: The Utopianism of Degrowth”

  1. We are glad to receive a detailed response on our discussion from Giorgos Kallis, one of the authors of this paper, sent via email:

    Dear all,

    thank you for taking the time to engage so thoughtfully with our article. To respond to all your points we would need to write a second article, but here are some brief responses to only a few of your points.

    – The way development and growth are treated as synonyms troubled us. Is it possible to distinguish the two?

    Degrowth stems from the critique of the export of the idea of development to the third world, and aspires to continue the work of the ‘post-development’ school.

    Arturo Escobar’s Encountering Development and Serge Latouche’s Westernisation of the World are foundational texts. For a shorter version of this critique have a look at Castoriadis reflections on rationality and development:

    In sum, the idea of development is the way the West continued to colonize the rest of the world after the overthrow of strictly speaking colonial regimes.

    Of course, the word ‘development’ can take a new meaning (as people have tried to do with ‘human development’ or ‘sustainable development’). But it has always had a specific and dominant meaning, despite all the beuatifying adjectives, and this meaning (development as growth) is problematic and has to be discarded.

    Your reference to ‘improvement’ is no better. Improvement has also a problematic historical and intellectual baggage (see Polanyi’s the great transformation). The idea that we must be constantly improving, and that this is the meaning of life, is a very Western one.

    – How do the authors view the Gross National Happiness index of Bhutan within the discourse of degrowth?

    Not very familiar with it other than the romantic coverage of it by the press. I came across at some point of a very critical article, explaining how the index is a facade for an otherwise oppressive semi-feudal regime.

    From the other comments:

    – we did not pick Le Guin’s novel as the best expression of utopia, but as one of the best literary utopias that let us engage with some of the debates around degrowth. It is not depressing that Tolstoy or Dostoevsky have written some of the best novels of all times -and it is not depressing that Le Guin has written some of the best science fiction.

    – we did not read Le Guin’s book as a manifesto. We say this explicitly in the intro to the paper! We used it as a springboard to (re)think degrowth – we use Le Guin’s world as if it existed.

    – why should we constantly have better and better medicines? Don’t we have enough medicines to ensure that everyone can live a decent life up to 75 years old? Is the problem of the health system right now one of not having good enough medicines?

    – Utopia does not have to be static. We devote a big part of the article explaining Harvey’s idea of a process utopia, and then explain why the novel portrays an utopia in movement, rife with contradictions. The point is precisely that Le Guin’s utopia is not perfect – not even good necessarily. And the core of the utopia in Le Guin’s novel, as we explain, is in the travel of the protagonist and the comparison of worlds – not in the static depiction of the anarchist planet. We are disappointed if this did not come out this way to the readers.



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