Reflections from the Degrowth Conference – Part 2

This is the continuation of the first part of the Reflections.

The set-up of the first 3 days meant that we had many parallel sessions taking place, many of them online, or here and there at the different venues in The Hague (with limited places due to Covid-19 restrictions) which initially felt, to me at least, that the conference was all a bit scattered and hard to grasp in its completeness. Especially as I and many others of the organising team were still busy working behind the scenes and problem-solving issues like speakers not having registered on time or cancelling last minute, providing IT support for the online sessions, preparing the plenaries etc. – all dealings that come with organising a hybrid international event. Whereas during the last 2 days it all seemed to come together, and I felt that I could finally engage more deeply with the actual content of our conference. For those of us who were in town in person, this was also a moment to all gather numerously at a central location. These last 2 days concentrated many of the key conversation plenaries as well as the closing session, all of them taking place at cultural venue PAARD in The Hague and being livestreamed with some speakers joining online. The plenaries’ themes and speakers were as diverse as the overall sessions and activities within the 8 thematic key conversations, and featured truly inspiring voices and stories from many different parts of the world. As a culmination of the key conversations on FPE and Decoloniality, WEGO organised the corresponding plenary sessions. ‘Decoloniality and Degrowth: Resonating and Listening’ hosted by Chizu Sato invited us to think-feel beyond Western academic forms of knowing and experience decolonial and anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-patriarchal ways of being-in-common by cultivating active listening. Listening to the knowledges inherited in stories, music, art, oral traditions and other-wise practices of inhabiting territories and cultures as a first step to really face and counter the continuing structural and cultural effects of colonialism. 

Chizu Sato hosting the Decoloniality plenary during which we were also delighted with a musical performance by speaker Max de Ploe and Mame N’Diack. Photos by Anna Voss

‘Feminist Political Ecology Perspectives on Degrowth’ was a dialogue between WEGO mentors Giovanna Di Chiro, Stefania Barca and Seema Kulkarni about their work on environmental and climate justice, gender, care and degrowth conceptually and in situated communities in the US, Brazil and India. Facilitated by Panagiota Kotsila and Ilienia Iengo we listened to them conversing about the importance of engaging carefully with communities their territories conflicted by ecological exploitation. As a core theme in FPE, this also means understanding how culture and gender roles shape these communities and to decolonise our ways of creating kinship to avoid patronising the land and its people as we strive to build solidarity connections – in Giovanna’s words, “to indigenise ourselves”. Bodies, territories, care and human and more-than-human wellbeing are intrinsically intertwined and our plenary gave a glimpse of how a FPE perspective can help embed these concepts within degrowth scholarship and activism on the ground. After our plenary I had several participants at PAARD approach me saying they were deeply appreciative of the insights they had gotten from the discussion – a welcomed feedback to realise that we had offered the audience inspiring food for further thought.

The FPE plenary with Wendy Harcourt and Anna Voss on stage in The Hague, and Panagiota Kotsila and Ilenia Iengo facilitating the debate online with our speakers Giovanna Di Chiro, Stefania Barca and Seema Kulkarni while sketcher Carlotta Cataldi was graphically capturing the discussion in her live-drawing. Photo by Irene Leonardelli

Finally, the grand finale of the closing plenary provided each of the 8 thematic streams a moment to reflect on the themes that had emerged during the past days as well as to look forward, asking the question of “Where do we go from here?”.

For the FPE key conversation Irene Leonardelli pointedly resumed why we need a feminist degrowth movement:

“Because a movement for social and environmental needs to include diversities: diversities of gender, race, class, ableism, and sexual identities; and these diversities need to be included in meaningful ways. Because including these diversities is the only way to counteract and dismiss the colonial and oppressive and exclusive continuities of our consumption patterns. Because a limit-full desirable inclusive future has to be shaped on reciprocity and responsibilities, to care for one another and for the planet that we are all part of. 

In this regard, the FPE Key Conversation also stressed the importance of learning from communities that are already practicing degrowth, communities, movements, collectives (and we heard many stories and experiences during the past days) that refuse to align themselves to the logic of capitalism and growth and of centralized oppressive market-oriented states; communities that are fighting every day for environmental and social justice, or more simply for their own well-being and survival on earth.”

Wendy Harcourt, Irene Leonardelli and Enid Still at the conference’s closing plenary. Picture by John Akerman Özgüç

Back in 2018, at the 6th International Degrowth Conference in Malmö, the Feminisms and Degrowth Alliance (FaDA) was launched to shape the degrowth movement from within. I believe it’s fair to say that through WEGO’s engagement we ensured that feminist and decolonial thinking and doing was embedded as a fundamental approach throughout our conference weaving through many of the discussion and other key conversations as well. Nonetheless this is an ongoing process in-the-making which requires us to continuously and critically question both our political visions and everyday doings as we try to give meaning to the idea of caring communities and the radical change they can bring about.  

Speaking on behalf of the Decoloniality key conversation, Enid Still gave a very nuanced reflection on the importance but also challenges that come with diversifying the degrowth movement:

“We think there needs to be a deeper engagement with colonial histories not just theoretically but materially, which means tackling questions of reparations and mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth, as well as challenging the sustained silencing of these histories and epistemologies from the south in pedagogic practice. This involves engaging with existing and ongoing work, particularly from scholars, activists and artists in the global south, on how global economic structures are deeply racialised and colonial. A sustained engagement in this way, will help the movement to better understand how the hegemonic way of living and being – capitalist, white, hetero-patriarchial, ablest – takes away space and possibility for other ways of being and living. 

 However, we also want to bring a practice of caution to the use of terms like care and decoloniality, particularly in spaces of white privilege. We need to question what actions the use of these concepts actually entail and what happens when these terms are used within forms of self-representation? Reflexivity is important here but is it enough? To avoid appropriation, co-option and paying lip-service to the important thinking and praxis of decoloniality, perhaps it’s helpful to come back down after this conference and start from our own situated, local, yet networked place and practice to think about these huge, globally entangled and often uncomfortable questions. Since to take these learnings into our everyday lives will be an important step in taking decoloniality seriously.”

Concentrated listening during the plenaries at PAARD and a festive audience thinking-feeling degrowth in their bodies at the conference’s closing session. Photos by John Akerman Özgüç

The conference in The Hague may be over, but in conversations with my fellow colleagues and friends who in one way or the other were participating in making it happen, it became clear that many of us are still processing, digesting and reflecting back on the whole process while also looking forward and asking ourselves: How to continue these rich and diverse discussions? And in all their diversity, did the amalgam of sessions and perspectives engage enough with the concept of degrowth as such, in its analytical but also practical, material aspects? How to grow the degrowth movement and make it speak to those who are not already in one way or another working on building alternatives? How to reach beyond academic circles and localised self-organised grassroots initiatives? Whose voices are missing in our discussions and imaginaries of radical change? How do we as WEGO want to engage further with degrowth, analytically and practically? (Hint: Some of these conversations will likely continue within our network and find their way into a collective book we are planning to publish next year). 

One apparent paradox that was raised during the closing plenary and that stayed with me afterwards, was how to reconcile degrowth’s celebration of slowness, of slowing down our hectic lives and counter the ever-accelerating capitalist pace, with the sense of urgency and the need to address the multiple crises our planet is facing. Don’t we have to speed up to radically change the destruction of the ecosystems and climate that sustain us (and that we are part of) and to tackle the deep socio-economic injustices that were only made more visible by Covid-19? 

Obviously, no conference as inspiring as it might be would ever be enough to solve the world’s pressing issues in 5 days. Rather, I like to think in terms of Donna Haraway’s idea of ‘staying with the trouble’ and staying with the inherent contradictions of any social and political movement or network. And cherishing that degrowth embraces so many different perspectives, voices and scales of action, ranging e.g. from anarchist system-subversive activism to trying to influence the policy arena. Maybe degrowth is an umbrella for a diversity of approaches, maybe it is just one amongst many alternative movements… In that sense, I loved how activist and artist Jay Jordan during the Cultural Politics plenary invited us to ‘Start from where you are and what you can do, and most importantly, have joy in doing it!’

Within the conference together with my colleagues Irene Leonardelli and Enid Still we organised a small film festival on ‘feminist and decolonial naturecultures to inspire degrowth imaginaries’ for which we had selected 10 documentaries that were originally showcased in the Rising Gardens Film Festival 2021 by the campaign One Billion Rising South Asia and the Indian feminist network Sangat and Kriti Film Club. The audio-visuals featured stories of women entangled in ecological realities which attend to feminist and decolonial ideas, practices and resistances. As film maker Nandan Saxena expressed during our panel discussion on how film as an art form can help us imagine liveable futures, sharing small situated stories is like planting “seeds of thought”. Trying to resist the feeling of helplessness and despair at the state of the world, I hope with our conference we planted a few new seeds while nurturing what is already flourishing.

Ultimately, what I take with me is the experience of having been part of a fantastic team organising such an international event in a non-hierarchical, self-organised manner and in a complex hybrid format during a global pandemic. A huge shoutout and congratulations to all my colleagues and friends, from WEGO and beyond, who made this degrowth conference possible, and to all the participants for enriching it with their contributions and discussions.

Thank you!

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.

The 8th International Degrowth Conference starts today

The 8th International Degrowth Conference, in The Hague, starts today. With dozens of academic sessions, plenaries, workshops and artistic contributions, the event aims to strengthen the debate not only on degrowth, but also on feminist political ecology, care, decolonialities, urban-rural dialogues and social movements.

To help navigate the extensive program, we prepared a selection of activities in which WEGO-ITN members  are involved, and also more highlight from today to Saturday, August 28th. You can see them all on this Twitter thread:

Collective Building of a Mycelium Pigeon Tower, by Arne Hendriks. Photo by Anna Katharina Voss

Video: What to expect from the 8th International Degrowth Conference?

WEGO-ITN’s partners and researchers have gathered to produce this video, as to prepare for the Feminist Political Ecology Key Conversation, a series of pre-event online discussions building up to workshops and a plenary at the 8th International Degrowth Conference, that will take place in the Hague between 24-28 August 2021.

Calls for contribution – in any form: articles, art, videos, perfomances – are still open until April 6th.

The conversations will explore feminisms, relations of care and well-being, with a focus on the following: How can we understand care as central within degrowth and at the core of our economies and societies? In what way can economies be rearranged in terms of provisioning that care, taking into account health, aging and ability, whilst degrowing? How can we change our relations of care among humans and more-than-human beings so that future societies are just for all living beings? How can we think about degrowth in relation to Covid19 and avoid essentializing nature when talking about these relations?

Stay tuned!

 

 

 

Invitation and open call for the 8th International Degrowth Conference

We invite you to participate in the 8th International Degrowth Conference “Caring Communities for Radical Change” that will take place in the Hague between 24-28 August 2021.

The Conference aims to connect activists, artists, academics, practitioners, students, and general public to create an open platform for discussing ideas and practices which can ensure wellbeing for all within the Earth’s limits.

You will find more information about the conference in our open call for participation in Dutch, French and English here.

For more information contact: info@degrowth.nl.

 

Degrowth is a movement and a research field that explores fundamental questions and proposes solutions confronting the roots of today’s crises: 

  • How do we confront the contradictions between (the pursuit of) 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?

More on degrowth by WEGO-ITN partner prof. Dr. Wendy Harcourt