The 8th International Degrowth Conference that took place in The Hague between August 24th and 28th was an immersive and comprehensive event around the central theme of “Caring Communities for Radical Change”. During the five days of the conference, debates focused on care and justice as a way of thinking of degrowth as a collective project promoting sustainable, decolonial, feminist and post-capitalist modes of flourishing.
WEGO-ITN was one of the organizers and our PhD worked for months to guarantee that it would run smoothly – you can read Anna Katharina Voss’ insights here and here, for more details on the organizations.
Panels, plenaries, movie screenings and art installations helped deepen the discussions and broaden the ways that informations got spread. WEGO-ITN added another layer into this visual thinking by inviting artist Carlotta Cataldi to produce an artistic representation of three of the plenaries.
Feminist Political Ecology Perspectives on Degrowth:
Decoloniality and Degrowth Plenary: Resonating and Listening:
And the Closing Plenary:
You can take a look on how Carlotta creates her work on video as well.
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.
‘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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
The 8th International Degrowth Conference starts tomorrow!
Indonesia, the world’s largest coal exporting country, is facing critical challenges. After 76 years of declaring independence in 1945 and later turning economic growth as a measure of welfare, Indonesia has faced three significant challenges: severe economic disparity, socio-ecological crises in most big islands of the country, and its oligarchy, which is hijacking democracy. The economic gap data, provided by the Indonesian Statistic Centre (BPS) in 2011-2015, reveals that the wealth of 40 richest people is equal to 10,3% of the country’s GDP or 60 million of Indonesia’s most impoverished people . While in the last five months industrial catastrophes have continued to increase, big floods occurred in almost every island, including South Kalimantan, as well as a flood due to collapsed containers of coal mine waste in North Kalimantan and East Kalimantan. Unfortunately, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) leads the disclosure of the state loss by corrupt practices by political elites, hijacked by the oligarchy.
The course of economic growth and development, in reality, is never free from critique in Indonesia and globally. The story of the development policy with economic growth reinforces a few developed countries, whereas the rest is fighting socio-ecological crises to not fall behind.
In every part of the world, demand and struggle for alternatives to development are happening. One of the critical references which hold various ideas for alternatives to growth is the book “Pluriverse: A Post Development Dictionary.” For instance, Latin American countries proposed a concept originating from indigenous people movements, such as Sumak Kawsay, Buena Vivier, and The Life Project. In Europe, the academic and activists are bringing “Degrowth” as an initiative that expressed reversal from growth in the economic sector and other social sectors
As in Latin America, one of the critiques on economic growth in Indonesia came from the indigenous people movement. In Timor island, the Indigenous people’s philosophy challenges the development model that depends on the extractives project: “we will not sell what we cannot create,” means they do not sell the land, the water, and the mountains (Maimunah, 2013); it was meant both as a critique and an alternative to development with economic growth. Unfortunately, the state does not recognize the existence of the Indigenous people’s territory. Indonesian government granted the concession of extractive projects on Indigenous people’s land. It’s no wonder that, in 1999, indigenous people refused to recognize the state if they did not recognize them as well (AMAN, 1999).
Indonesia has various alternatives to development. One example happens in Mollucas, Sasi, in a ritual for the moratorium of collecting economic benefit from nature (Zerner, 1999). In other places, such as Mollo, in Timor island, there is a ritual called Naketi, a kind of self-reflection ritual to make peace with oneself, humans, and nature (Maimunah, 2005). Sasi and Naketi were just a tiny part of what had been practiced long before the birth of the Republic of Indonesia. Indonesia has many alternatives rooted in the archipelago nation with geohydrological, language, and cultural diversity.
Bringing the spirit of the ‘Pluriverse’ idea, which explores and discusses alternatives to development, is a crucial and urgent effort to respond to the failure of obsolescence of the development model with economic growth today. This is the reason behind establishing a collective among Indonesian scholars and activists, to create a group to start the conversation of an “alternative to development in Indonesia.” The first step of the collective was to organize a book discussion and an open call for collective translation of the “Pluriverse, A Post Development Dictionary” book launched on 3 July 2021.
“The ideas in ‘Pluriverse, A Post Development Dictionary” contain 100+ alternatives to challenging development as it is. This book becomes a reflection tool, a medium of learning and discussing: we reflect and know ourselves and discuss the alternatives. The activities in reflecting and conversing on this subject consist of two parts; first, a collective public translation of “Pluriverse, A Post Development Dictionary” to make it accessible in Indonesian. Second, collecting local stories on alternatives to development to discuss them with broader audiences. It might give us a way out of the shackle of development with economic growth and into a transformation model which allows various options to attain welfare, or even for practicing the Pluriverse, as stated by Zapatista as “a world where many worlds fit.”
Read the first paragraphs below and find the full text here.
We welcome this opportunity to participate in this important dialogue between political ecology and degrowth. We bring to this debate two issues: (1) perspectives on limits and scarcity, and (2) the histories and knowledges of feminist political ecology and decolonial feminism as a way of enriching degrowth’s political grammar and strategies.
Robbins and Gómez-Baggethun, citing Mehta’s The Limits to Scarcity (2010), both refer to the political ecology take on scarcity as a ‘construct that is allied with elite power, not emancipatory process’. It is important to note that Mehta and her collaborators draw not just on political ecology but also on non-equilibrium ecology, heterodox economics, political philosophy and anthropology to question scarcity’s taken-for-granted nature. Scarcity rarely takes place due to the natural order of things. It is the result of exclusion and unequal gender, social and power relations that legitimize skewed access to, and control over, finite and limited resources. As such, scarcity is a relational concept connected to market forces of demand and supply. This does not mean that scarcity is merely a social construct or only the result of power and politics. As argued in Mehta (2010), there are biophysical realities concerning falling groundwater levels, melting ice caps and declining soil fertility, and these biophysical limits need to be acknowledged. However, biophysical limits should not be used to deploy universal and blanket notions of scarcity that deny how women and men (especially the poorest and powerless among them) in specific localities perceive and experience scarcity. So-called limits and thresholds will always be perceived and experienced differently by different actors (cf. Luks, 2010). This means we need to discursively unpack what is meant by scarcity.
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?
Hoy me desperté a las 6:45 am, como de costumbre. Decidí que hoy sería un día productivo, como de costumbre, pero no lo fue. “Das Leben läuft nicht besonders gut, nicht nur für mich, sondern für alle”. Bueno, para algunos magnates de Wall Street la pandemia ha sido el mejor escenario para generar profits.
Hoy no me siento con ganas de escribir en inglés, entonces boté la tesis y comencé a escribir esto que prometí escribiría para nuestro proyecto de WEGO en español. We want to reach more audiences. Hace tiempo que quiero escribir en mi lengua natal, el español. Y es que, aunque es una lengua colonizadora, es la lengua que nos une a todes les latines! Cuando llegué por primera vez a The Hague, a formar parte de la red WEGO me topé con conceptos que nunca había escuchado en inglés. Uno de ellos fue Degrowth, o descrecimiento, como lo conocemos en América Latina. Yo me preguntaba, pues cómo que Degrowth, para dónde o cómo? Desde dónde se agarra impulso o cómo se va uno para atrás? Se me hacía tan raro escuchar esa palabra. Y es que yo me formé en teoría descolonial, estudié ciencia política y geografía, y aunque mi tesis la escribí con el economista Dr. Boris Marañon, nosotros no hablamos de Degrowth. Junto con él me di un clavado en los temas descoloniales, tenía yo 20 años. Para él la discusión del Degrowth no era tan relevante. Él es peruano. Para él era relevante teorizar sobre la economía solidaria, sobre trueque, sobre monedas alternativas, sobre el andino Sumak Kawsay y el Sumaq Qamana, todo desde América Latina. No descartábamos el descrecimiento, pero éramos conscientes de que retomarlo significaría agarrarle la mano a Europa, otra vez.
Yo desarrollé mi pensamiento a su lado. Trabajé con él en el Instituto de Economía de la UNAM. Juntos fuimos a encuentros de mercados alternativos, de trueques, de sentipensares. El español no reinaba, se hablaba Zapoteco, Mazahua, Tzotzil, y otros idiomas de los pueblos originarios de México. Ahí aprendí de diversidad, de practicar, de compartir y de sentir. También me hice consciente de mis privilegios, que aunque en mi familia vivimos tiempos de pobreza, yo salí blanca, y eso ya me da ventaja. Yo sólo tenía 20 años, y cada día aprendía algo nuevo y mantenía firme la esperanza de que otros mundos son posibles. Hablábamos de economía solidaria y de solidaridad económica no de Degrowth, no de descreciemiento.
Regresando a Europa, a The Hague, al doctorado. Hice mi marco teórico. Comencé a analizar food waste/desperdicio de comida, care, the commons.. I saw on the management of food waste/ desperdicio de comida the potential development of other economies. Y desarrollando mi marco teórico me encontré ante una gama alta de categorizaciones. La pregunta era: cómo teorizar esas prácticas de economía que identifiqué en las prácticas de gobernanza del food waste/desperdicio de comida? Me decidí por enmarcarlas en las teorizaciones de la economía solidaria. Decidí no utilizar el concepto de community economies o el de Degrowth por las siguientes razones. La economía solidaria pone en el centro de las relaciones económicas las prácticas de reciprocidad. Esto significa que un bien tanto material como inmaterial se mueve en direcciones multilaterales y genera relaciones de responsabilidad entre los sujetos. Es decir, el bien es entregado a alguien, ese alguien lo acepta, pero tiene la responsabilidad de regresarlo. En tiempos y espacios diferentes y en acciones o servicios diferentes al bien entregado, claro. Esto crea sin duda lazos de responsabilidad entre las partes y gestos de cuidado al procurar tener que devolver un bien. La economía solidaria teorizada en América Latina rescata la idea de la reciprocidad de sociedades originarias. La práctica fundadora de relaciones sociales se encontraba basada en las prácticas de trueque y reciprocidad. Eran otras civilizaciones, otra economía. En este contexto, la economía solidaria apuesta por la consolidación de otra economía, pero reconoce que el capitalismo es un mal que no es fácil de acabar ni de transformar. Es así que practicar economía solidaria significa consolidar un eje fundacional para la organización social, económica y política dentro de los linderos del capitalismo.
El degrowth en cambio pone en su núcleo la discusión del crecimiento económico y el consumo. Es un término atractivo como una apuesta para censurar o disminuir el crecimiento de sectores económicos y el reparto del trabajo. Es un proyecto político que busca reivindicar una vida otra. Busca una reorganización de la sociedad desde una perspectiva en la que se reafirma el rescate del derecho a la vida misma por sobre el consumo, la organización capitalista del trabajo y la explotación de la naturaleza. Se busca una desvinculación de la vida con respecto al dinero. Se busca recuperar lo local frente a la organización global capitalista. El degrowth busca repensar la organización de la vida por la vida misma. La pregunta aquí sería cómo comenzamos a hacer eso sin una base política que practique en su vida cotidiana gestos de intercambio y reciprocidad? Cómo imaginar sociedades en descrecimiento que no han generado vínculos solidarios entre los sujetos? Cómo imaginar una economía local sin caer en la reproducción de prácticas neoliberales?
En suma, el Degrowth es un proyecto político con una apuesta inmensa por un cambio social, mientras que la economía solidaria es un proyecto político acompañado por una transformación de valores que se construyen desde abajo. La economía solidaria no compite directamente con el capital, sino que comienza a apropiarse de sus espacios. Comienza a construir redes y busca consolidar lazos solidarios para la fundación de una sociedad basada en el cuidado entre los sujetos y entre los sujetos con la naturaleza.
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.
The Lalang river, in Indonesia, is a common property for the Murung people – almost all Murung activities happens on or around the river. However, catching fish has become more difficult for the Murung women when extractive projects such as coal mines operate in the region. Photo credit: Siti Maimunah.
With issues of commons and commoning, the more-than-human and care, all featuring in our PhD work, we were keen to learn about the diverse meanings of the commons, their intersecting power dynamics and transformative potential in the context of Asia. For instance, what similarities and differences are shared among commons studies in Asia? Do they go beyond hegemonic formulations introduced by Western concepts, which are often carefully attended to by Asian scholars and in Asian studies? Indeed, using exogenous terms and concepts entails challenges in terms of linguistic and epistemological incompatibility. So why is it necessary to translate locally embedded terms? Nanako touched upon this challenge through questioning the necessity of linguistic and semantic translations in relation to aging, a universal concern, and the specificity of Japanese rural communities and the associated traditional landscape or Satoyama.
Mai brought the topic of extractivism to the workshop, through the example from her fieldwork where indigenous communities who depend on rivers in Central Kalimantan to sustain their livelihood have experienced the spatial reorganisation of communal forests and agricultural lands, which are being converted into coal mining areas to pursue economic growth. She was interested in questions such as, how do experiences of extractivism relate to commoning practices? Do principles of degrowth support the struggles of people affected by extractivist projects?
This workshop therefore offered us an opportunity to learn and think with others about different commoning practices happening in Asia, and also tackle difficult, often uncomfortable questions about how they are being represented and narrated in degrowth and post-development scholarship. These tensions and our interest in confronting them were further articulated through Enid’s presentation of the idea that a just Degrowth is a Decolonial Feminist Degrowth. The plurality of thinking and praxis around Degrowth, the commons and post development, we found, like feminisms, are infused with constructive tensions and contestation.
We were particularly inspired by the way that the studies presented at the workshop embraced and enriched the practice of working, thinking and researching with situated knowledges. Among the many inspiring presentations, discussions and debates happening both on zoom and the online conference platform, Slack, there were, two presentations that resonated with us: “Gradual Stiffening through Making-Do: A Method of Hope for Degrowthing Shared Public Spaces” by Chris Berthelsen, Xin Cheng, Rumen Rachev and “Covid-19, Common, and Life within Society: Indonesian Case” by Nur Dhani Hendranastiti.
The former presentation was on the possibilities of collective hope in urban commons and commoning practices. Beyond visions of urban commons as fixed urban spaces, they suggest a re-orientation of notions of property and shared urban spaces and places, that are lived through a method of collective hope, thinking and operating beyond the human, and which is made and remade through the opening up of possibilities which can only exist in ambiguity and uncertainty. Related to this, earlier work by Xin Cheng and Chris Berthelsen explored how small co-habitations might work on a larger community scale through the below ‘hallucination.’ Their collaborations in themselves are inspiring to think through the multiple practices of knowledge co-production in relation to shared spaces and commoning practices – especially in their attentiveness to their more-than-human fellows! You can see more work by Xin Cheng on reframing urban socialities in Hamburg here and read her book on co-producing ‘human(e) shared spaces’ here.
The second presentation by Nur Dhani Hendranastiti, explored the correlations between Islamic ethical principles and degrowth principles. Ethical principles such as Amanah (trust), Adalah (social justice) and Ihsan (equilibrium through distribution) were at the core of the agricultural-financial system that supported farmers during the COVID-19 pandemic in Indonesia. Decentering capital, the system privileges multiple stakeholder equality, including non-humans. Ecological economics and degrowth thinking often refers to ethical principles from Buddhism, (often drawing on the work of Schumacher) but rarely other religions. Whilst the financial system described still worked within the confines of a capitalist system and norms of individual property ownership, Nur Dhani Hendranastiti challenged us to think beyond what may have become dominant narratives about the ethical principles that guide degrowth.
Through the full but enjoyable three days of presentations, discussions and online chats, we were able to connect to a variety of different scholars and artists who helped us to develop a deeper understanding of the debates and practices on commoning, degrowth and post-development in Asia. In that learning and interacting process, we were commoning our knowledge, re-imagining a world full of plurality. Through our own collaborative presentation, we introduced the different issues, concerns, activisms, communities and theoretical frames we are working with and offered a brief intervention from a feminist political ecology perspective on some of the key theory and ideas coming from degrowth, post-development and commons scholarship. The diversity of perspectives made visible at this workshop demonstrated the dynamism of these intersecting disciplines and practices, and created a hopeful and careful space to remain curious in these challenging times.
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