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Participatory Session: Degrowth Enthusiasm and the Eastern Blues

Learning from transformation experiences and degrowth-related practices in post-socialist countries

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Degrowth Enthusiasm and the Eastern Blues.
Learning from transformation experiences and degrowth-related practices in post-socialist countries
Workshop Proposal
6th International Conference
on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity
Malmö 2018

Participatory session
Thematic thread
Expanding geographies (and generations) of degrowth
⎯ Mladen Domazet [Institute for Political Ecology (IPE) | Zagreb, Croatia |]
Mladen is Research Director at IPE with extensive collaborative projects in Eastern Europe. He recently led a nationally representative survey of degrowth-supportive attitudes (first such survey in post-socialist countries) and qualitative research in degrowth and resilience under environmental change, and has published on comparative environmentalism in Eastern and Western Europe. He is a member of the Support Group of International Degrowth Conferences. 
⎯ Jana Gebauer [Die Wirtschaft der Anderen | Berlin, Germany |]
Jana works as a freelance researcher, lecturer, author, and facilitator on post-growth and diverse economies. She is also a fellow at the Institute for ecological economy research (IÖW). Having an East-German transformation background herself, she regards learning from and with the elder generations in post-socialist countries as an opportunity not be missed by the degrowth movement.
⎯ Gerrit von Jorck [TU Berlin | Berlin, Germany |]
Gerrit is junior researcher and lecturer at the Technical University of Berlin, Division of Economic Education and Sustainable Consumption (ALÖNK), and member of board of the German Society for Ecological Economy Research (VÖW). Before his engagement with Degrowth he worked on the political economy of post-socialist countries in Budapest. He asks himself how these experiences can be brought together.
⎯ Lilian Pungas [IPE | Berlin,Germany |]
Lilian is a Junior Research Fellow at the IPE in Zagreb and a moderator of a Wachstumswende platform, which brings together thousands of (mostly German) degrowth activists. Originally from Estonia, in recent years she has conducted research on various practices of “silent sustainability” in former Eastern bloc and hopes to shed more light on these as an Eastern equivalent of degrowth, sufficiency and “buen vivir”.

Degrowth as a movement is popular notably among the younger and academically trained generations in Southern and Western Europe. While these are working towards a social-ecological transformation and thus on "degrowth by design", there are regions and generations in Europe that have vast—and often times negative—experiences with transformation processes: Older people in Eastern Europe (including East Germany) have experienced at least one system transformation in their lifetime, such as the political and economic collapse of the socialist states almost 30 years ago. The subsequent transformation processes were accompanied by high social costs and led to severe economic recession. While CO2-emissions dropped significantly, the underlying processes such as de-industrialization, followed by unprecedented unemployment and societal marginalization and exclusion processes, can also be seen as "degrowth by disaster". It is far from obvious why and how (especially older) people in post-socialist countries should be attracted by yet another transformation attempt. At the same time it is precisely these people who can draw on manifold experiences with, for example, collective self-organization as well as informal and subsistence economies. Such practices are deemed important within the degrowth discourse but are of rather limited appeal today to those who have experienced them as state-ordered and existentially necessary.

Thus it is crucial to integrate the experiences and skills that people in Eastern Europe and Eastern Germany acquired before, during, and after the transformation into the current degrowth discourse. They provide important references for the design and configuration of a social-ecological transformation and enrich the current degrowth discourse with lived practices of self-organization and self-sufficiency. The passing on of knowledge and skills additionally makes it possible to visualize, recognize, and enhance the often devalued life-achievements and competences of respective (older) generations. This can additionally empower people living under precarious conditions and excluded from political, economic, and societal participation processes in a way that they perceive stronger self-efficacy to shape their lives and surroundings. Such an approach would not only provide the degrowth discourse with crucial contributions but would also enable a more inclusive, democratic, and solidary transformation process.

The aim of the workshop is therefore to exchange experiences and knowledge with regard to the following research questions:
⎯ What can the degrowth movement learn from the transformation experiences and degrowth-related practices that people developed during the “economy of shortage” (Kornai 1992) as well as during the instabilities and the precariousness of the transformation period in East Germany and Eastern Europe?
⎯ How can these experiences and practices be positively acknowledged in order to encourage and inspire a renewed transformation and further practices of collective and solidary self-organization and self-sufficiency?

This exchange of experiences and knowledge intends to build bridges of dialogue in several ways:
⎯ between the perspectives of the elderly—who rely on important transformational experiences and skills, but who at the same time are reluctant to engage in further transformation processes—and the perspectives of the younger generation, for which ‘transformation’ is not only positively framed, but who indeed actively pursue it without having the respective experiences;
⎯ between the perspectives of those, who have various skills regarding self-organization and self-sufficiency—skills, they often do not consider as self-chosen or self-designed—and those, who seek to attain such “skills for system change” for a degrowth-oriented life
⎯ between the transformation research focused on the post-socialist countries of Eastern Europe and the academic degrowth discourse, which is rather based in Western and Southern Europe
⎯ between the Degrowth Conference in Budapest 2016, which for the first time explicitly addressed the Eastern European perspective, and a forthcoming conference in 2020, for which this perspective will hopefully be expanded by a community of experts (found in Malmö) of degrowth and transformation research.

Format & Schedule (total time 90 min; 120 min if possible)
1. Introduction
This part provides a short introduction into the session’s topic and its participatory format. It also aims to map the participants’ backgrounds by a brief positioning exercise, which involves biographic and thematic statements. (Jana Gebauer, 15 min)
2. Impulses
Three brief input statements by researchers on degrowth and post-socialist transformations open up the East European perspective with their propositions and illustrations (total time 15 min):
1) Borat, Molvania and the degrowth-compatible attitudes across Europe (Mladen Domazet)
2) Lost in Transitions or: From the Economy of Shortage to a Degrowth Economy (Gerrit von Jorck)
3) Subsistence economy and Food Self-Provisioning as an Eastern „buen vivir“ (Lilian Pungas)
3. Discussion
Based on the three impulses we will host three parallel round-table discussions (total time: 45min):
Table 1: Transformation experiences in post-socialist countries: From shock therapy to smooth degrowth (Jana Gebauer, Gerrit von Jorck)
We will discuss concrete transformation experiences in post-socialist countries during the 1990s “shock therapy” (Lipton & Sachs 1990) and its impact on the acceptance of (further) transformations.
Table 2: Degrowth practices in post-socialist countries I: Subsistence (Lilian Pungas)
We will shed light on the practice and nuances of and motivation for Food Self-Provisioning as an Eastern equivalent of “buen vivir” and explore its undervalued contribution to localized resilience.
Table 3: Degrowth practices in post-socialist countries II: Collective Self-Organization (Mladen Domazet)
We will discuss the legacies of the alternative modernization instances from the last century across Eastern Europe (from Baltic to Yugoslavia), and give some examples of envisioning of the future inscribed in the contemporary educational and developmental priorities.

The discussions at each table will be structured by three rounds of questions (to be refined by the respective hosts and documented by participants on flipcharts):
1) Mapping the field: Which concrete experiences or practices from before, during, and after the transformation can or should be related to the degrowth discourse?
2) Lessons learned: What central questions and insights can or should we take with us for a social-ecological transformation towards a degrowth society?
3) Dialogue: How can we build bridges between the degrowth discourse and the transformation experiences in (post-)socialist countries?
4. Harvesting (15 min)
At the end of the session, the hosts will close the table discussions with a focus on how to proceed:
⎯ Parking space for open (research) questions: What do we need to know more about, what is yet to be linked to the degrowth discourse?
⎯ Making space for future projects: What are first ideas and suggestions for further research or activities on the subject?
This harvesting exercise will ideally be continued in an open space. The organizers will document the harvesting as well as any contact information for further cooperation projects.


Day: 2018-08-22
Start time: 11:00
Duration: 01:30
Room: Moriskan (Bistron)
Track: Expanding Geographies of Degrowth



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