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Hubert Buch-Hansen
,
Max Koch
, and
Iana Nesterova

Degrowth transformations cannot but start out from what currently exists, that is, capitalist societies. Thus, an understanding of capitalism is a prerequisite for theorising such transformations. Drawing on selected ideas of Karl Marx, supplemented with insights from a range of other social theorists, the chapter unfolds such an understanding. In doing so, it focuses on the capitalist growth imperative and on capitalism in relation to work, consumption and nature. It also takes up the question of whether egoism and greed are universally dominant human attributes. This issue is of key importance as deep social change beyond capitalism is only conceivable to the extent that human beings are able to manifest and nurture existing human qualities which transcend egoism and greed. The chapter argues that indeed human beings have that capacity.

in Deep transformations
Hubert Buch-Hansen
,
Max Koch
, and
Iana Nesterova

Civil society is where ideas challenging the growth paradigm could come to prevail and where a shift away from the current consumer culture could happen. Civil society is a space in which more citizens can experiment with alternative, sustainable forms of living. It is the site of degrowth activism, the site in which the degrowth movement can form alliances with other movements. And civil society is the realm in which broad consent to, and a demand for, profound eco-social transformations could arise, prompting policymakers to adopt more ambitious policies. In short, changes in – and emanating from – civil society are an essential part of degrowth transformations. Enriching the book’s theoretical perspective, the chapter conceptualises civil society and reflects on its scales and diversity in degrowth transformations. Moreover, it highlights the importance of individual self-transformation for civil society to become a sufficiently potent driving force towards degrowth.

in Deep transformations
Open Access (free)
The four planes of degrowth
Hubert Buch-Hansen
,
Max Koch
, and
Iana Nesterova

The theoretical perspective developed in the book suggests that for degrowth transformations to occur, actions in the sites of civil society, business and the state are necessary – and they are necessary also on all scales, including the local, the national and the transnational. For degrowth to materialise, in other words, activities of agents positioned everywhere are required. In conceptualising degrowth in terms of deep transformations, we also highlight that it would necessitate profound changes on all planes of social being: material transactions with nature, social interactions between people, social structure, and people’s inner being. The concluding chapter connects a number of the key arguments made in previous chapters and relates the perspective on deep transformations more systematically to the four planes. In this context, a new, holistic definition of degrowth is proposed. The view of human beings underpinning the perspective is also further explored before various issues meriting further contemplation and interdisciplinary dialogues are identified.

in Deep transformations
Open Access (free)
A theory of degrowth

As a research field, social movement and political project, degrowth is a multifaceted phenomenon. It brings together a range of practices including alternative forms of living and transformative initiatives in civil society, business and the state. Yet no comprehensive theory of degrowth transformations has so far been developed. Deep Transformations fills this gap. It develops a theory of degrowth transformations drawing on insights from multiple fields of knowledge, such as political economy, sociology and philosophy. The book offers a holistic perspective that brings into focus transformation processes on various scales and points to various mechanisms that can facilitate degrowth. These include, for instance, eco-social policies, transformative initiatives in business and civil society and alternative modes of being in and relating with the world.

Hubert Buch-Hansen
,
Max Koch
, and
Iana Nesterova

How may the book’s theoretical perspective inspire empirical studies into degrowth transformations? Previous chapters have identified eco-social policies as a key mechanism for degrowth transformations. Thus, the chapter applies a part of the book’s theoretical perspective in an analysis of the support for such policies. Specifically, it reinterprets recent quantitative and qualitative data from research projects in which Max Koch was involved in Sweden and relates these data to the various planes of social being. After a descriptive analysis of the support in the Swedish population towards selected eco-social policies, a more in-depth analysis of the social groups in favour of and opposed to degrowth transformations is provided. Finally, the chapter shows how the knowledge of researchers can be combined with the practical knowledge of citizens in initiating transformative change and presents corresponding qualitative data from deliberative citizen forums on needs satisfaction.

in Deep transformations
From capitalism to degrowth
Hubert Buch-Hansen
,
Max Koch
, and
Iana Nesterova

Due to its contradictory nature, capitalism depends on the existence of societal institutions beyond the market to temporarily stabilise it. This chapter builds upon regulation theory, which was designed to consider the specific social, cultural and institutional forms and frameworks within which economic growth in capitalist societies proceeds. According to this theory, accumulation regimes need to be stabilised by modes of regulation conceptualised in terms of various institutional forms: the wage–labour nexus, the enterprise form, the monetary regime, the state, insertion into international regimes and the social relation to nature. The chapter adopts the concept of institutional forms, relating it first to capitalism and then to degrowth transformations so as to contemplate what such transformations could entail. Moreover, the chapter brings up the issue of what capitalist diversity means for such transformations.

in Deep transformations
Open Access (free)
Leaving the path towards eco-social collapse
Hubert Buch-Hansen
,
Max Koch
, and
Iana Nesterova

Contemporary societies face multiple crises, most of which have the capitalist growth imperative as their root cause. Against this background, a fast-growing community of scholars and activists call for degrowth. The chapter accounts for the crises and notes that while the general idea of degrowth points in the right overall direction, it still lacks a solid foundation in the social sciences and their underpinning philosophies. Further to this, it highlights that degrowth transformations have yet to be theorised in a holistic manner, that is, in a manner systematically taking into consideration various interrelated and overlapping planes of social being, scales and sites on which transformations would have to unfold. The chapter proposes that the critical realist philosophy of science can underpin a theory of the deep transformations required for degrowth to materialise. The theory accounts for transformations on various planes (social interactions, social structures and transactions with nature and inner being), on multiple scales (local, national and global) and in different sites (civil society, states and business).

in Deep transformations
Hubert Buch-Hansen
,
Max Koch
, and
Iana Nesterova

In green political thought, including degrowth thought, it is not uncommon to see the state as part of the problem rather than the solution. Nevertheless, most of the eco-social policies that are typically suggested to initiate and deepen degrowth transformations would require a great deal of intervention by states and international organisations. Degrowth advocacy has therefore suffered from a tension between viewing the state as incapable of initiating transformational change and appealing to it to do precisely that. The chapter seeks to overcome the tension via a broad theoretical perspective on the state. It first analyses the state’s roles in the capitalist growth economy, focusing, for instance, on the welfare and the environmental state. Subsequently, it turns to the potential role of the state in degrowth transformations, considering the form and scales of state intervention, as well as its content in terms of sustainable welfare and eco-social policies.

in Deep transformations
Hubert Buch-Hansen
,
Max Koch
, and
Iana Nesterova

How can deep transformations be accomplished? To initiate the theorisation of this matter, the present chapter draws on insights from contemporary political economy scholarship, mainly in the historical materialist tradition, combined with insights from, for example, anarchism and scholarship on diverse economies. From such scholarship various prerequisites for deep transformative change are distilled: a deep crisis, an alternative political project, a comprehensive coalition of social forces and public consent. It is argued that whereas capitalism finds itself in a deep crisis and degrowth may be considered an alternative political project, currently no coalition powerful enough to bring about degrowth exists. Widespread popular consent to degrowth is also something that is currently absent. It is suggested that such consent would require self-transformation at the level of the individual, prompting people to come to view degrowth as something desirable and a sensible development.

in Deep transformations
Revolving doors and dogs with rubber teeth
John Bowers

There is now increased porosity in the boundary between the state and business, although some movement between private and public sector is by no means new. This used to be primarily at senior levels: for example, Edward Heath as Prime Minister brought in Derek Rayner from Marks and Spencer to advise on efficiency in the public sector. At the moment, there is an abundance of rules on the employment of those leaving public office, although only for ministers and those in the upper echelons of the civil service, and the rules are not necessarily meaningfully enforced. The system is presided over by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA), which can only advise and offers little by way of strategy. The Nolan Committee concluded that the system for civil servants after they left public service was tested and could be easily adopted for ministers.

in Downward spiral