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The four planes of degrowth

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 the preceding chapters, we have unfolded a theoretical perspective on degrowth transformations. We contend that for degrowth to materialise on a societal level, it requires transformations so comprehensive that no single actor, no single type of process, and no single type of mechanism will suffice to bring it about. In a nutshell, then, the perspective 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: (a) material transactions with nature, (b) social interactions between people, (c) social structure and (d) people’s inner being (Bhaskar 1986, 1993).

In this concluding chapter, we connect a number of the key arguments made in previous chapters and expand on our perspective on degrowth transformations by relating it more systematically to the four planes model. In this context, we propose a new, holistic definition of degrowth. We also elaborate on the view of human beings underpinning our perspective before we end the book by identifying various issues meriting further contemplation and dialogue.

Less and more: on the dialectics of reduction and growth

Unsurprisingly, given the name that was chosen for it, degrowth is widely associated with reduction, with less.1 This is unfortunate, because while degrowth is indeed about reducing various aspects of what currently exists, it is just as much about expanding other aspects. Degrowth is, in other words, also about more. Proponents of degrowth frequently call for growth in wellbeing (Hickel 2020), specific economic sectors (Jackson 2016), moral agency (Nesterova 2021c) and social justice (Demaria et al. 2013). Further to the distinction made between positive and negative needs satisfiers (Chapter 7), degrowth can be seen to entail both less and more on all the four aforementioned planes of being (Buch-Hansen and Nesterova 2023). In what follows, we first look at features that would need to be reduced on the various planes before turning to an elaboration of what would need to grow.

The early chapters of the book outlined how capitalism has adverse effects on all planes of social being. The capitalist organisation of societies and the capitalist growth imperative shape humans’ material transactions with nature. Under capitalism, nature is exploited, commercialised, reshaped and destroyed more than under any other economic system. Against this, degrowth aims for a considerably smaller throughput of matter and energy, with reduced greenhouse gas emissions and less waste and pollution. This outcome is to be accomplished via, for example, less production and consumption of unnecessary goods and services, less flying and fewer transportation miles (Hassler et al. 2019; Trainer 2012). Prerequisites for these and other reductions in the ecological footprints of humans, especially materially privileged ones, include a less exploitative and instrumentalist approach towards nature (Næss 1990) and that nature is to a far smaller extent transformed into industrial sites (such as monoculture plantations of food crops and forests) and built environments (Nesterova 2022a).

Capitalist structures shape social interactions between humans, as a result of which they come to be based on, for example, antagonism, competitiveness, instrumentalism and alienation. Degrowth entails that interactions come to be shaped less by these and other intersubjective attitudes and features, including, for example, racism, sexism, intolerance and climate change denial. Capitalist social structures also produce hierarchies and deep inequalities within and between societies. Degrowth implies less competition among companies and other organisations as well as among individuals. It also implies moving towards socio-economic systems on all scales with reduced social and economic inequalities, fewer hierarchies and less bureaucracy. This would involve, for instance, state steering different from the types prevailing in contemporary capitalism. For example, powers could be delegated from the national to the local scale, the idea being that this is the scale at which citizens could come to directly participate in shaping various policies affecting them (Chapter 5). Finally, while people are impacted differently by capitalism and internalise social structures differently (as seen in the analysis of habitus types in Chapter 7), capitalist structures instil greed and egoism in the inner being of humans, contributing to nurturing the mode of having orientation (Fromm 2013) towards the world. Degrowth, to the contrary, implies an altogether different outlook, that most people become less egocentric, entitled and hedonistic.

Bhaskar’s diagnosis was that our world finds itself in crises on all the various planes (Bhaskar 2016). On top of the ecological crisis on plane (a), the crisis of democracy on plane (b) and the inequality crisis on plane (c), comes an existential crisis on plane (d). While this is certainly a gloomy diagnosis, in a sense it does not capture the depth of the current crisis. That is, not only does the world confront a crisis on each plane, several intertwined, and mutually reinforcing, crises exist on each plane and across the planes. To give but one example, the climate and biodiversity crises unfolding on plane (a) amplify one another and have ramifications such as mental health issues on plane (d) (Cianconi et al. 2020). It follows from what was said in the preceding paragraphs that, seen from the vantage point of degrowth, the capitalist organisation of society and the capitalist growth imperative constitute direct or indirect causes of most of the aspects of contemporary societies that need to be reduced or altogether abolished if an eco-social collapse is to be avoided.

Yet as we observed above, degrowth is also about growth, expansion, more. Indeed, it is helpful to see reduction as standing in a dialectical relationship with growth. A smaller throughput of matter and energy (plane [a]‌) requires not only various forms of reduction, it also necessitates that more clean energy forms are used and that more behaviour comes to be informed by respect and regard for non-human beings, biodiversity and life (Næss 1990). This involves, for instance, that more economic activities become more nature- and place-based, that increasingly the specific constellations of natural structures existing in specific locations are taken into consideration (Nesterova 2022b). If social interactions (plane [b]) are to be premised less on antagonism, they need instead to become based more on values and principles such as tolerance of diversity, respect and concern for others, empathy, sufficiency, gentleness and care. If social structures are to involve fewer hierarchies, deep inequalities and competition, they need instead to involve more flat hierarchies and a more equal distribution of economic and other resources, as well as more collaborative relations (plane [c]). Finally, if the mode of having is to become less prevalent, substantial inner growth is required (plane [d]) so that the mode of being can become more prevalent (Fromm 2013). Most people would need to change themselves, becoming more attuned to joy, reflection and mindfulness, becoming more capable of feeling oneness with the world as a whole (cf. Fromm 2022; Næss 1990). In Table 6 we summarise some of the items on the four planes that would entail reduction or growth with degrowth; additional less and more items can be found in the analysis of, respectively, negative and positive needs satisfiers in Chapter 7.

Less More
(a) Material transactions with nature Matter and energy throughput, extractivism and instrumental treatment of nature, waste, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, production and consumption of unnecessary goods, transportation/food miles, built environments Cleaner energy forms, regard for nature, preservation of biodiversity and life, place-sensitivity, place-based activities/localisation, nature-based economic activities
(b) Social interactions Competitiveness, greed, individualism, intolerance, racism, sexism, climate change denial, homophobia, xenophobia, hate, fear, alienation, instrumental treatment of humans Empathy, compassion, peacefulness, solidarity, sufficiency, kindness, generosity and tolerance of diversity, spontaneous right action, fellow-feeling, respect and concern for others, care, mutual learning, democracy
(c) Social structures Growth imperative, competition, inequality, patriarchy, rigid hierarchies, bureaucracy, structures of oppression, exploitation, domination, poverty, suffering Collaboration, equal distribution of economic and other resources, flat hierarchies
(d) Inner being Egoism and ego-realisation, egocentrism, equating the ego with the self, short-term orientation, entitlement, possessiveness and materialism (‘to have’), hedonism Love, creativity, oneness, gentleness towards being and beings, awareness, curiosity, transcending the narrow ego/self, seeing oneself as part of the broader existence, self-realisation, fulfilment, harmony, joy (‘to be’)

An advantage of our ‘less and more perspective’ is its ability to highlight that, although it implies deep transformations on all four planes, degrowth would still build on forms, practices, ideas and values that already exist. Indeed, everything in the ‘more’ column in the above table already exists. For example, multiple degrowth-compatible initiatives, movements and modes of being already can be found alongside or even within capitalist economies, as well as alongside consumer societies (Burkhart et al. 2020; Gibson-Graham and Dombroski 2020). Yet they do not yet exist on the necessary scale. It is paramount for degrowth practice and research to identify niches of such initiatives and modes of being and identify the structural preconditions within which they may be expanded to become ‘dominant’ in their own right.

A related advantage of the perspective is that it makes it possible to avoid viewing degrowth in overly crude and reductionist terms. We come back to other aspects of this below, but one aspect is that it becomes clearer that it is not the case that what currently exists will entirely disappear so that something entirely new can appear instead. Just as the items in the more column to a (typically limited) extent exist in contemporary capitalism, so the items in the less column would not right away, if at all, be obliterated in a degrowth society. For example, a certain matter and energy throughput is an inevitable part of human existence and activity. Still, degrowth transformations would entail that the balance tips decisively in favour of the items in the more column.

In Chapter 3 we pointed to various prerequisites for degrowth to materialise on a wide scale. Building on political economy scholarship, we identified a major crisis as a first prerequisite, noting that currently capitalism finds itself if not in a systemic crisis, then certainly in a multidimensional structural crisis. As a second prerequisite we pointed to the need for a political project that can inform political decision-making, suggesting that at least in some important respects degrowth may be considered such a project. In this context we pointed to some of the many policies that are being discussed in degrowth circles. A third prerequisite we identified was the mobilisation of a comprehensive coalition of social forces (a power bloc) pushing for degrowth. We suggested that currently no coalition powerful enough to bring about degrowth exists. We also noted that whereas coalitions are typically analysed in class-based terms in political economy scholarship, degrowth entails transformations of a depth and magnitude necessitating the combined actions of myriad actors positioned in states, civil society and business. Indeed, just as transformations would require democratically adopted policies implemented by local, national and transnational state apparatuses, so they would require a wide range of bottom-up civil society and business initiatives on the same scales.

As a final prerequisite for degrowth transformations, we highlighted the need for widespread popular consent to it, something that currently also does not exist. We observed that such consent would require self-transformation at the level of the individual, involving that people come to view degrowth as something desirable and a sensible development. In the absence of such self-transformation, it is difficult to imagine the rise of a pro-degrowth comprehensive coalition of social forces and electoral majorities consenting to degrowth policies. Importantly, as the analysis of data collected in Sweden shows, not all degrowth policies are equally (un)popular. Moreover, different habitus groups exhibit different degrees of susceptibility to degrowth policies on the various planes of being (Chapter 7).

In our view, for degrowth to materialise on the four planes, pervasive and sustained gentleness and care for and towards non-human beings and nature, other people, society and one’s inner being are required. In other words, we see gentleness and care as underlying principles that can guide transformations across the various planes (Buch-Hansen 2021). As we understand it, gentleness involves a felt sensitivity to the condition and suffering of humans and non-humans (Bhaskar 1993; Sayer 2011; Næss 1990), a reflective and genuine concern and intentional humanness and kindness towards being and beings manifested in our actions (see also Dufourmantelle 2018). As for care, we understand it ‘as a species activity that includes everything that we do to maintain, continue, and repair our “world” so that we can live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, our selves, and our environment, all of which we seek to interweave in a complex, life-sustaining web’ (Fisher and Tronto 1990: 40). Several scholars have pointed to care as an aspect of degrowth, highlighting, for example, care for nature and that care work should be recognised as work (Spash 1993; Dengler and Lang 2022). Yet we understand care to be at the heart of what degrowth transformations entail and regard it as an act or practice that is exercised when gentleness constitutes one’s core attitude towards the world.

Further to the above observations, we conceptualise degrowth as deep transformations occurring on all four interrelated planes of social being, on different scales and in all sites, guided by gentleness and care, towards a society co-existing harmoniously within itself and with nature.

Plane thinking: avoiding reductionism and binaries

In thinking of degrowth transformations, and in practising degrowth, it is crucial to avoid reductionism, acknowledge the interconnectedness of the planes of being and to recognise diversity on each plane.

Reductionism with respect to the planes consists in giving primacy to one or more of them while excluding or downplaying the importance of the rest. Such reductionism should be avoided inasmuch as it leads to superficial and one-dimensional perspectives, as well as to problematic practices. For example, if human transactions with nature are regarded as the all-important plane, it may well result in the adoption of policies that inflict harm on the inner being of human beings. A proposal such as that to introduce ‘birth permits’ to control population growth (Daly 1991) would be a case in point. A similarly problematic, indeed distorted, perspective results from giving primacy to self-transformations on plane (d) of inner being to the exclusion of consideration of, say, the structural context within which such transformations are to unfold. The point here is that, in relation to degrowth as well as in relation to any social phenomenon, all four planes should be recognised as important.

Our point is not to suggest that all research needs to focus equally on each plane. It may well be the case that particular research questions make it relevant to focus on particular planes and not others. For example, research on institutional forms (Chapter 2) and the processes through which they come into being may focus less on planes (a) and (d) than on (b) and (c), that is, on social interactions and structures. Yet any institutional form exists and has effects on all the planes. For example, money – whether taking the form of physical notes and coins or being digital – entails consumption of matter and energy and thus involves transactions with nature. And the extent to which society and markets are organised around money cannot but affect subjectivities. As such, it is ultimately insufficient (reductionist) to analyse the monetary regime (or any other institutional form) in terms of only some of the planes.

Extant degrowth scholarship does typically focus on multiple planes, albeit without using the plane terminology. Nonetheless, there is also a clear tendency for it to focus mainly on certain planes, not least those of material transactions with nature (plane [a]‌) and social structure (plane [c]). The focus on the former plane is seen in, for instance, research dealing with questions related to the size of the economy and throughput of matter and energy, whereas the focus on the latter plane can be seen in, for instance, works focusing on the need to transcend capitalism and reduce economic inequality (e.g., Latouche 2009). In particular, the plane of inner being has received little attention, both in degrowth scholarship (Brossmann and Islar 2020) and sustainability research more generally (Ives et al. 2020; Woiwode et al. 2021). As we have alluded to several times in this book, this plane is no less important than the other planes – in fact it is essential to take it into consideration in relation to degrowth transformations. Deep changes, indeed massive growth, is needed on this plane.

It is also important to recognise the interconnectedness of the planes. Initiatives – be it in the site of civil society, the state, business or combinations thereof – resulting in desirable results on one plane do not necessarily also result in positive outcomes on other planes. Consider, for example, the well-known definition of degrowth according to which it is ‘an equitable downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions at the local and global level’ (Schneider et al. 2010: 511). By pointing to how changes on plane (a) result in positive changes on plane (d), this definition recognises the interrelatedness of planes. This image of downscaling being a process leading directly to a state of wellbeing is very common in the degrowth literature (e.g., Hickel 2020; Trainer 2020). Yet the question is how realistic this scenario is. On one hand, people would, hopefully, experience degrowth transformations as meaningful and pleasant in important respects. On the other hand, it seems very likely that giving up on the mode of having, adapting to a lifestyle with a small ecological footprint, would cause people to have all sorts of concerns and problems. Observing how moving towards the mode of being can be challenging, Fromm writes that ‘“to be” requires giving up one’s egocentricity and selfishness …. But most people find giving up their having orientation too difficult; any attempt to do so arouses their intense anxiety’ (2013: 76–77). It should thus be recognised that it may well be the case that degrowth-desirable changes on plane (a), such as a downscaling of production and consumption, does not lead to immediately improved human wellbeing on plane (d) (see also Koch et al. 2017).

This point is vital to keep in mind when designing and implementing the various types of policies discussed in degrowth circles (Chapter 5). While these policies are generally meant to absent or reduce ‘less’ items while promoting the growth of ‘more’ items (Table 6), they may come to have positive effects on some planes and negative on others. When designing policies aimed to reduce humans’ ecological footprint on plane (a), effects on the three other planes should be carefully considered. It should also be considered that the same policy may have both positive and negative effects on the same plane. For example, a policy leading to the outsourcing of dirty production or export of waste may improve material transactions with nature in one country while making them worse in other countries. Another example is caps on income and wealth. This policy instrument could constitute a potent way to simultaneously reduce economic inequality (plane [c]‌) and undermine the ability of rich people to lead environmentally unsustainable lifestyles (plane [a]). However, if the revenue from such caps is redistributed to those at the bottom of the income ladder, the result may well be that aggregate demand is stimulated, leading to environmentally harmful production, consumption and growth (plane [a]) (Buch-Hansen and Koch 2019). This suggests that it is necessary to not merely consider any particular policy in relation to each of the four planes, it is also necessary to consider the combined effects of different degrowth policy mixes.

Finally, it is important to recognise diversity on each plane (Nesterova 2022b). Unfortunately, when presenting visions of desired futures, much degrowth scholarship overlooks that not all individuals treasure the same forms of social interactions (plane [b]‌). This can be observed in, for instance, the context of visions centred around ‘conviviality’, a concept denoting that human beings enjoy one another’s company while acting in solidarity (Liegey and Nelson 2020: 2). It is also common to see degrowth scholars treat human wellbeing in a narrow way, as something that will come about from living in eco-communities (Cattaneo 2015) or other small communities (Trainer 2020), as well as from engaging in activities like drama, meditation or craft workshops in community settings (Jackson and Victor 2013).

The problem with presenting degrowth visions in this manner is that people are different (plane [d]‌). Some thrive in settings with convivial interactions, decentralised decision-making, communal living and the like. Others, for a variety of reasons, by no means thrive in such contexts. For them, wellbeing may be associated with spending time alone or in smaller groups and/or from engaging with non-human beings and features of nature, say trees and lakes. In articulating visions of degrowth futures it is thus important to recognise that wellbeing has different sources for different individuals, and that one form of life, say a convivial life in an ecovillage, is not necessarily better than another form of life, say a solitary mode of being (e.g., Thoreau 2016). This is the case in relation to degrowth transformations and it is the case in general. Degrowth, then, should not be equated with one specific life form.

Further to this, a nuanced perspective on degrowth transformations necessitates moving beyond crude binary thinking, that is, thinking in terms of opposites such as sustainable versus unsustainable, degrowth versus growth, all good versus all bad.2 The problem with describing complex social processes and entities in such terms is that most processes and entities contain a mixture of positive and negative elements. For example, the same business can incorporate multiple degrowth-compatible and multiple unsustainable elements, and over time the constellation of these elements can change. It is also important to recognise that businesses operate under different conditions, which may hinder or facilitate their transformations. For example, the not-for-profit sector is subjected to different company laws in different settings, even in countries with similar legal traditions such as the Scandinavian countries (Gjems-Onstad 1996). Again, however, it is important not to equate not-for-profit businesses with degrowth, the reason being that such businesses – like for-profit businesses – may incorporate both degrowth-compatible and degrowth-incompatible elements (Chapter 6). The aforementioned less-and-more dialectic in many ways already exists within organisations as well as in human lives. Avoiding binary thinking brings the plurality of practices and complexity to the surface, making it possible to evaluate the different elements, seeing how each of them can become more in line with degrowth. Taking such an approach is less likely to alienate people, businesses and policymakers than the approach of setting up unrealistic and perfectionistic standards.

Further to the observation that settings differ, it is also important to recognise that neither degrowth policies nor policy mixes can or should be the same in different locations. There are at least two reasons for this. One is that policies that come into being via genuinely democratic processes are unlikely to be identical across different settings. The other is that for policies to have the desired effects, their design and implementation need to be tailored to the uniqueness of the natural and social settings, people and sectors they cover. To illustrate, the degrowth literature advocates small-scale organic farming instead of large-scale monoculture and it advocates work time reduction in the form of shorter workdays or workweeks. Yet it is important to recognise that organic farming involves working with nature in accordance with its rhythms rather than in accordance with a schedule. In some periods, intensive and extensive work is required; in other periods there is little work to do. As such, policies fixing daily, weekly or monthly work hours at a particular level could turn out highly counterproductive. Degrowth policies would also differ depending on the scales at which they are enacted. Some policies are suitable for the local scale, others for the national and still others for the transnational. For example, it is difficult to imagine how a cap on income and/or wealth could work properly in the absence of extensive transnational coordination.

Hope and humanism: why degrowth is going to happen

The scale and depth of the transformations needed for degrowth to happen are vast. Only if one adopts a particular view of human beings can it be assumed that such transformations, despite the various challenges associated with them, will come to be perceived as desirable and be sought after. This view is overall hopeful, positive and optimistic, corresponding largely to the ideas and ideals of humanism and fields which draw inspiration from it, such as humanistic psychology (Schneider et al. 2015) and humanistic geography (Tuan 2008). Humanism emphasises general human goodness and human potential for growth and self-realisation, while avoiding naively equating human goodness with sainthood or perfection. To assume general human goodness is not to say that humans are only good. Indeed, it is easy to find examples of the contrary, manifested in exploitation, aggression and violence towards fellow humans, non-humans and nature. Moreover, each human being is a unique individual. Importantly, the emphasis humanism places on humans does not entail anthropocentrism or a human-centric approach. Humanism considers it to be within human capacity to experience and enact concern and care towards other beings and nature (Pilisuk and Joy 2015).

Humanism equally honours our selfhood (but not egoism) and our ability to relate in a healthy and intentional manner with the self, others (fellow humans and non-humans) and nature. It highlights our human capacities for intentionality, creativity, love, benevolence, fellow-feeling, empathy, concern and care, as well as our ability, and even inherent need, for growth in relation to each of those capacities and development as persons. This holistic development, made possible by our human nature (Chapter 1), is self-transformation. In our view, such self-transformation, though not sufficient, is necessary for degrowth to materialise. We intentionally avoid singling out any particular group of agents such as businesspersons or politicians who need to self-transform. Instead, we suggest that self-transformation should be a wish, commitment and activity of all humans irrespective of their roles within societies.

The possibility of self-transformation creates the sense of hope that a harmonious, peaceful and long-term coexistence between humans and nature, and within humanity, is possible. Self-transformation can be brought about via a variety of mechanisms relating to the self, others and nature. In terms of the self, it is helpful to view personal growth as a meaningful and ‘lifelong process’ (Cassis and Birchmore 1985: 38). Personal growth is self-transformative when it aims at humanist ideals of creativity, love, freedom, empathy, fellow-feeling, kindness, joy and others. Otherwise, it is illusory, or is a personal decline, if it is aimed at accumulation, status and other manifestations of the ‘mode of having’ (Fromm 2013).

Importantly, personal growth is not only a matter of learning about different modes of being and outlining an ecological worldview, but a matter of living this worldview, bringing it into one’s everyday practice. Indeed, a ‘person can no more learn about humanism by reading about it than he can learn about music, painting, or teaching by intellectual effort alone. They must all be experienced to be known’ (Robinson 1977: 636). Since degrowth is an inherently ecological vision of the future which is acutely mindful of our interconnection with nature, nurturing one’s relationship with nature is essential. Connection with nature is self-transformative and helps humans transcend the feeling of meaninglessness and emptiness of being in a technological and consumerist society (May 2009). Apart from nature, relating with others can provide opportunities for working together towards a degrowth future: the scale of transformation required for degrowth is only achievable if the effort is collective. Yet the notion of ‘others’ does not have to be limited to humans or ‘others of my kind’ (Heidegger 2001: 156). Being with more-than-human others such as trees, mountains and rivers can provide inspiration for self-transformations (Softas-Nall and Woody 2017) and a sense of desire to preserve other beings, their future generations and their habitats (Regan 1981).

Self-transformations unfold within the frameworks of social systems and structures. Fromm (2013: 8) observed that ‘a change of the human heart is possible only to the extent that drastic economic and social changes occur that give the human heart the chance for change and the courage and the vision to achieve it’. While it appears natural to emphasise the self and its becoming when discussing self-transformations, it is thus important to contemplate structural mechanisms which can facilitate growth on the plane of inner being. Such mechanisms can be, for instance, a transformed system of education which is orientated towards personal growth and non-utilitarian and non-anthropocentric philosophies, and eco-social policies which create spaces and opportunities for such growth. Throughout the book, we have offered multiple examples of such policies.

Towards new dialogues

Reflecting on all-encompassing and deep transformations is an interdisciplinary endeavour. In this book, multiple fields of knowledge such as philosophy, political economy, sociology and geography, which are outside the traditional disciplinary groundings of degrowth (that is, ecological economics and political ecology), have provided inspiration and made possible a deep and holistic theorisation of degrowth transformations. However, many possibilities for further unfolding our understanding of degrowth transformations remain. While acknowledging that it is impossible to fully capture and outline the multitude of interdisciplinary dialogues that could take place and be fruitful, in what follows we end the book by indicating some pathways for further investigations. We focus particularly on some of the loose ends of contemplations contained in this book.

In terms of pathways for further research, we invite investigations of problematic and uncomfortable areas where the somewhat idealistic vision of degrowth meets the existing structures of the real world. Such problematic areas include, for instance, the question of large businesses and long supply chains, and questions of technology and our societies’ overwhelming reliance on it. Not only is it difficult to imagine the human world functioning while relying on small-scale production and lower technologies, but also the services and technologies which degrowth celebrates (for example, railway travel, modern healthcare and education) inherently rely on large-scale production and service provision, large businesses and global supply chains. Moreover, it may be the case that the ambitious objective of degrowth to reduce matter and energy throughput requires the use of technology to collect and monitor data. The extent to which the large-scale and global reductions envisioned by degrowth proponents are accomplished should not be merely intuitive: while transformations should be motivated by a deeply transformed worldview and ethic, measurement of progress towards them is necessary. Another problematic area deserving far more attention is the legal aspects of degrowth. That is, many questions remain unanswered with respect to the legal implications of degrowth transformations and with respect to what degrowth-facilitating regulations and legislations may look like on different scales, in different places, and for different sites.

It appears timely to engage in more serious dialogues with other sustainability fields and ideas such as circular economy and strong sustainability. While ideological, political and philosophical differences between, say, degrowth and circular economy exist, the common desire for a genuinely sustainable society can provide a starting point for fruitful collaborations (Dzhenghiz et al. 2023; Nesterova and Buch-Hansen 2023; Savini 2023). Circular economy can assist the efforts of degrowth researchers by providing insights into processes and designs which can help achieve more sustainable modes of production and service provision, as well as cases of concrete industries and examples of legislation. Equally productive dialogues can take place between degrowth and fields of knowledge which share with degrowth a deep appreciation of, and care towards, nature and the need for individual humans and humanity in general to relate with nature differently. Ecopsychology (e.g., Roszak et al. 1995) and humanistic psychology (e.g., Schneider et al. 2015) are such fields.

While in this book we have adopted a critical realist perspective as our philosophical grounding and commitment, other philosophies may shed light on deep transformations and open new spaces for new methodologies (ethnographies, sensory and embodied methods etc.) and new lines of inquiry. For instance, degrowth traditionally focused on human wellbeing and mostly included non-humans under the label of nature. New materialism (see e.g., Coole and Frost 2010; Gamble et al. 2019) can provide an alternative perspective via its focus on agency of matter and more-than-human beings. Deep ecology (Næss 2016; Sessions 1995) likewise emphasises our unavoidable connectedness with nature and places, and our own materiality, and encourages us to consider, and relate with, other forms of life and respect their right to self-realisation. Finally, scholarship on degrowth transformations could benefit from entering dialogues with other perspectives in the philosophy of science, constructionism and (moderated) positivism being cases in point (Buch-Hansen and Nesterova 2021; see also Buch-Hansen 2022).

Apart from new ideas and contents which new dialogues may engage with and create, it is our hope that new dialogues will emerge in, and in relation to, other places and contexts. In this book, as well as in our everyday research practice, we emphasise place-sensitivity. Thus, much of our research, including the research reported in this book, is done in Europe and more specifically in the Nordics. We invite others to apply the same and other parts of the perspective we have unfolded here in empirical and comparative empirical studies in other locations.

While indeed our intention in this section is to present possibilities for new dialogues in relation to ideas and disciplines, we also emphasise that a new attitude to such dialogues appears timely. An appropriate guiding ethos for genuine dialogues and collaborations between degrowth and other fields can be what Gibson-Graham (2003: 67) calls ethos of engagement: ‘An ethos of engagement is an aspect of a politics of becoming, where subjects are made anew through engaging with others. This transformative process involves cultivating generosity in the place of hostility and suspicion.’ Actively and intentionally cultivating generosity, engaging in teamwork despite perceived differences, and thinking together are essential. After all, deep transformations are not merely a theory of how changes (could) unfold; they are a practice of (de)growth.


1 The present and the next section draw on Buch-Hansen and Nesterova (2023).
2 Some events, attitudes and practices cannot be part of degrowth, a case in point being violence directed towards humans, non-humans and nature.
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Deep transformations

A theory of degrowth


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