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Utopia 4/13: “Degrowth”: History, Theory, and Praxis

13/13 Seminar Series

dateNovember 9, 2022 timeWednesday, 12:00pm EST locationVirtual Event
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
  • Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
Person browsing books in front of Librairie Utopia bookstore

Frederic Bosquet, Françoise Gollain, Télémaque Masson-Récipon, Camille (ZAD), Alex Robin, Clara Ruault, and Bernard E. Harcourt discuss the theory and praxis of the degrowth movement with representatives from Longo Maï, the ZAD of Notre Dame des Landes, and TERA.

La Librairie Utopia, 1 rue Frédéric Sauton, Paris 5e
18h Paris / 12 noon NYC

André Gorz first used the term “décroissance” (degrowth) in 1972 as a hypothesis in an international conference he had organized in Paris, and it sowed an idea. It was picked up in 2004 (not long before Gorz’s death in 2007) by the main movement of anti-advertising and anti-consumerism campaigners in France, as a “punch word” (un mot coup-de-poing) title for their activist newspaper. From there it quickly became a polarizing slogan and the name of a large and diverse movement, many of whose members recognize Gorz as an intellectual forebearer. One point of agreement within the movement is denouncing the fetishization of GDP growth by the vast majority of governments and economists, be they neoclassical or socialist, because it does not constitute a valid measure of welfare and often occludes detrimental costs to society.

A number of political philosophers and heterodox economists developed theories and strategies of degrowth, or “anti-growth,” or “steady-state economics,” putting forth concepts such as that of prosperity without growth, “sobriété heureuse” (blissfull sobriety) or Buen Vivir. These include economists following in the footsteps of Schumpeter’s protégé Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen in the United States, as well as thinkers like Baptiste Mylondo and Serge Latouche in France, Giorgios Kallis in Greece, or Christian Kerschner in Austria. In a recent manifesto titled Degrowth, Kallis explains that it is possible to vastly shrink consumption and resource depletion on Earth without having to sacrifice well-being: “It is possible to have meaningful employment and secure well-being with much less through-put and output than is found in wealthy countries today,” Kallis writes.

The degrowth movement emphasizes the need for radical redistribution of resources and a shift in values. The problems they identify include both the excessive use of resources and their unjust distribution. Some of the strategies range from UBI to forms of cooperative work and living, to ZADs and squats, and other forms of political disobedience.

To explore these ideas and praxis, we are delighted to welcome to Utopia 4/13, at the Librairie Utopia in the fifth arrondissement of Paris a brilliant panel of thinkers and actors: Françoise Gollain , the foremost expert scholar of André Gorz’s intellectual writings, author of his reference intellectual biography André Gorz, une philosophie de l’émancipation(L’Harmattan, 2018), as well as of an excellent short general introduction to his theories André Gorz pour une pensée de l’écosocialisme (Le Passager Clandestin, 2014); Clara Ruault, another brilliant scholar of Gorz’s thought, who edited the volume on Gorz-Marcuse and joins us from Columbia University; Frederic Bosquet, one of the main instigators and cooperators of the TERA eco-village project, with a long career in Social and Solidarity Economy, managing cooperatives and participating in different ways to the transition our societies to more sustainable and just ways of functioning, who has also spearheaded the “degrowth party”; and Télémaque Masson-Récipon, a doctoral student at the EHESS and militant-organizer around UBI.

We are also joined by representatives of Longo Maï, the ZAD Notre Dame des Landes, and the TERA cooperative to explore with them their concrete utopias.

The Librairie Utopia on the Left Bank in Paris was created by the Utopia movement, which is a popular education movement. The library is a “librairie associative,” that is mainly volunteer run and staffed, and the Utopia movement organizes a yearly gathering that they call the “Utopia summer university” over the course of 2 or 3 days (the term “university” here is meant to mean something very different than a conventional university, more like the gatherings that French political parties have at the end of summer).

More information can be found here:

About the 13/13 Seminars: Each year, the 13/13 public seminars focus on a different set of problematics at the very heart of contemporary critical thought. This year, we will focus on the concept of utopia at Utopia 13/13.