Reflections from the Degrowth Conference – Part 1

We did it – after 2 years of intense preparation, the 8th International Degrowth Conference took place in The Hague and online from 24-28 August 2021, and WEGO was involved on many levels to make it happen!

Under the theme ‘Caring Communities for Radical Change’, the conference brought together over 900 activists, academics and artists to collectively imagine economically, ecologically and socially just degrowth futures for a planet that is facing multiple urgent crises. 

As a starting point, the conference aimed to address these big questions – not necessarily with the expectation to find absolute answers but rather to further the degrowth movement by exploring and learning from already existing ways of being and practicing alternatives to the destructive growth paradigm:

  • How do we confront the contradictions between endless economic growth and the ecological boundaries of our planet?
  • What kind of society would ensure a good life for all, without wealth and power being hoarded by the few?
  • How can we enable a just transition that halts over-extraction, over-production and over-consumption?

WEGO members were actively engaged in the conference organisation from its very beginnings. Apart from our network’s substantial financial contribution to cover the costs of the event, many of us were involved in shaping the thematic content as well as the logistical tasks behind the scenes. WEGO PhD’s and mentors who either contributed to the conference as core organisers, hosts of thematic sessions or plenary panelists included Wendy Harcourt, Chizu Sato, Panagiota Kotsila, Giovanna Di Chiro, Stefania Barca, Seema Kulkarni, Rebecca Elmhirst, Ana Agostino, Constance Dupuis, Irene Leonardelli, Ilenia Iengo, Alice Owen, Marlene Gómez, Siti Maimunah, Dian Ekowati, Nanako Nakamura and many others of our colleagues who joined as participants. Not to forget our communications and social media manager Karin Hueck who made sure to share this collective WEGO endeavour with wider circles by actively twittering about the conference. I myself was part of the WEGO team organising the FPE key conversation, the Arts & Culture working group and the key conversation on Rural-Urban Dialogues whose coordination I took over in the work-intensive weeks before the conference during which I also joined the Facilitation and Coordination team. I completed my 3-month secondment at Wageningen University with mentor Chizu Sato.

When the preparations for the conference started, nobody was expecting a global pandemic to disrupt all our lives so drastically. Covid-19 and the subsequent travel restrictions meant that we adapted the conference to take place in hybrid format with a big part of it taking place online – thus also making participation possible to people in places far away from The Netherlands or who saw their mobility restricted due to health reasons. However we did not fully want to give up on a physical gathering and so put a lot of energies into setting up decentralised venues in The Hague – ISS and other cultural spaces – for the in-person activities to take place which were joined by 230 participants who made their to the Dutch coastal city.

And what a strange and beautiful thing to finally meet again face-to-face with colleagues and friends who for a big part of this journey had only been seeing each other on countless zoom meetings of the different organisational teams. “Oh, you do have a body, you’re not only a floating two-dimensional face on a screen!” was an exclamation we heard many times on the first day in The Hague.

WEGOers excited to finally meet in person again: Anna Voss, Wendy Harcourt, Margreet Zwarteveen, Chizu Sato, Nanako Nakamura and Irene Leonardelli. Photo by Julien-François Gerber

Thematically, the manifold panels sessions, interactive roundtables and workshops were organised under 8 thematic key conversations:

  • Feminist Political Ecology & Degrowth
  • Decoloniality & Degrowth
  • Anarchism & Degrowth
  • Rural & Urban Dialogues on Degrowth
  • Green New Deals & Degrowth
  • Cultural Politics of Degrowth
  • Embodying Degrowth
  • Dutch Social Movements & Degrowth

As it is impossible to list the huge variety of sessions here, if you wish to get an impression of our overall programme please have a look at the conference website: https://www.degrowth.nl/ 

Yet it was not all just intellectual talking-debating-discussing – the Arts & Culture working group coordinated by WEGO mentor Chizu Sato (that I was part of together with my PhD colleagues Irene Leonardelli and Alice Owen, and other engaged members) made sure that the conference also provided spaces to engage and experience degrowth creatively, both online and in-person. 

The cultural programme ranged from film screenings and debates, theatre and music performances, weaving workshops, an immersive forest walk, exhibitions and artistic installations. Even now that the conference is over, outside the cultural venue NEST in The Hague an earth-built sitting area is still standing to provide a space for the surrounding neighbours to meet and chat, and a pigeon tower created out of recycled oyster farms’ mycelium waste is now growing fresh mushrooms to be picked up by funghi lovers. 

WEGOers enjoying the interactive artistic installations in The Hague. Photos by Irene Leonardelli, Nanako Nakamura and Anna Voss

You can read Part 2 of this post here.

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