Academic journal article Environmental Values

Decroissance: A Project for a Radical Transformation of Society

Academic journal article Environmental Values

Decroissance: A Project for a Radical Transformation of Society

Article excerpt


Decroissance has established itself in Southern Europe as a significant and heterogeneous societal movement, which fosters a renaissance of traditional streams of thought in social and political philosophy while opening a field for new actualisations. While the term Decroissance can be traced back to an authorised translation of Georgescu-Roegen's 'declining state', the idea of Decroissance--as it is widely employed by social movements--encompasses more than the critique of GDP as a measure for well-being. It embodies a radical questioning of the way social reproduction is intended and frames a multifaceted vision for a post-growth society. The aim of this paper is the reconstruction and critical examination--from the point of view of social and political philosophy--of the main conceptual roots of Decroissance and its visions for a radical transformation of society.


Social philosophy, degrowth, autonomy


A new social movement (1) under the title of Decroissance (commonly translated into English as degrowth) has been establishing itself over the last decade especially in Southern Europe (France, Italy and Spain; see Demaria et al. 2011) and has recently reached the English-speaking world (Jackson 2009). Since the first international degrowth conference in Paris in 2008, (2) a vivid theoretical debate on economic growth and its alternatives has crossed the French border and given rise to a wide range of articles, special issues and books in different languages all over the world. (3) With some notable exceptions (see [section]3), the primary focus of the scholarly works on degrowth has been centred around the economic perspective and a critique of the growth paradigm, as well as the prospects of a degrowth or post-growth-economy. (4) At the same time, the French and Italian degrowth movements in particular are inspired by miscellaneous political and social sources, which, while including the critical perspective of ecological economics, exhibit a much broader scope in their criticism of the basic understanding and structures of society. The core of degrowth a la Francaise (or a l'Italienne) carries the potential for a new paradigm for social and political theory. By elucidating the sources of inspiration for the French and Italian decroissance, I will outline some core elements of this paradigm and analyse its potentials for the radical transformation of society.


Occasionally used by critical French-speaking economists as a translation for downshifting, the term decroissance appeared in the political and cultural arena of France in the early 1970s. After the publication of the report by the Club of Rome, Limits to Growth, in 1972 (Meadows et al. 1972), and the subsequent reactions in Europe to Mansholt's plea for a reorientation of the economy towards social utility instead of economic growth (see Duverger 2011a: 118ff.) (5) a vivid and controversial discussion arose among the French intelligentsia in particular. In 1973, Le Cahiers de la Nef dedicated a whole issue to this topic under the headline 'Les objecteurs de croissance'. In a paper of this issue, Amar introduced the term decroissance, which he intended in a rather unspecific way (not clearly distinguished from zero-growth). From a clearly 'culturalist' perspective, Amar considers the paradigm of growth as rooted in the spirit of modern Western Civilisation and criticises the moral and anthropological aspects of it (Amar 1973). (6) After the publication of some of Georgescu-Roegen's main papers in a collection appearing in 1979 (Georgescu-Roegen 1979; preface by Grinevald and Rens; Muraca 2010), the term decroissance finally established itself in a more specific sense as an alternative to 'zegisme' (the concept of zero growth). It was Grinevald himself who proposed the title Demain la decroissance! …

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