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Participatory Session: A dialogue on radical ecopsychology and degrowth - Finding our nature

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A dialogue on radical ecopsychology and degrowth - Finding our nature

Life on Earth is in crisis. We are faced with environmental destruction due to the ever-increasing throughput of material and energy that go together with the striving for economic growth and ‘progress’ presently guiding our society. Alongside this destruction, contrary to the promise of human wellbeing and flourishing associated with economic growth and progress, we often feel a sense of malaise. Our lives are increasingly overloaded and many of us feel an increasing lack of autonomy. Psychological distress in many forms is increasingly prevalent and we are engaging with an array of maladaptive mechanisms for keeping these 'unwelcome' experiences at bay (Kidner 2007).

Against this backdrop, it is clear that fundamental change is needed. Degrowth is one view of such change, presenting a vision of society that puts environmental and human wellbeing first and questions the growth imperative. Degrowth is characterised as a positive, ecologically desirable and socially sustainable, development and reform in those institutions that make growth an imperative (Kallis 2011; Kallis et al. 2012). Achieving such a dramatic outward shift, however, is likely to require an inward shift. As argued by, for instance, Fournier (2008), Latouche (2009) and Kallis (2011), degrowth is or should be more about a cultural or socio-systemic revolution than just a technical redesign of the economic system. They see a cultural and psychological shift as paramount in bringing about the necessary change, and even as necessary in itself: we would need degrowth even without any ecological problems, just for the sake of humanity (Fournier 2008; Latouche 2009).

One crucial element of this is reimagining who we are as human beings, which we see as part of the vision of the ‘decolonization of the imaginary’ central to degrowth thinking (Latouche 2009, p. 53). Degrowth scholars have identified aspects how our selves are shaped and, arguably, impoverished in modern societies, as standing in the way of deep cultural shifts toward a differently imagined society and economy. Reimagining who we are and how our lives could be goes beyond most mainstream applications of psychology for moving toward a more ecological society (see Fisher 2013 for a critical perspective) or degrowth society (see Van den Bergh 2011; Kallis et al. 2012; Jackson 2009; Abdallah and Thompson 2008 for discussions about the role of psychology in degrowth).

For a more holistic view, in this participatory session we engage with the perspective of radical ecopsychology to open a dialogue about how we could reclaim our lives and our full humanity and embrace non-violent forms of relating (Fisher 2013) to ourselves, each other, and non-human nature. Stemming from concern about "the wasting of our planet [and] the routine wasting and violation of human life" (Fisher 2013, xiii), radical ecopsychology considers the human psyche as embedded in its ecological context. At its heart is a deep acknowledgement of the interconnectedness of humans and non-human nature and an opening up to the full experience of walking this earth.

Fisher (2013) describes radical ecopsychology as a philosophical and political project with the goal of building a life-celebrating society, which we see as resonating strongly with the agenda of many degrowthers. Ecopsychologists argue that building an ecological society calls for a more whole humanity and a full realization of our potential (Fisher 2013; Naess 1987). In our current culture, ecopsychologist argue, we are detached from nature, from each other and from our own experiencing, thus turning into stunted, separative human beings, increasingly capable of destroying our environment; with environmental destruction in turn further damaging us on a soul level (Kidner 2007). Our current culture and lifestyle, ecopsychologists argue, revolves around fulfilling secondary needs and numbing ourselves to the destruction around us (Fisher 2013). In this context that encourages “chronic non-living”, blocking vital parts of ourselves and our energies (Fisher 2013), and in which “the character of selfhood is being redefined to fit an industrialised context” (Kidner 2007), trying to build a more sane society and economic system is tremendously challenging. We need healing, reimagining and counterpractice.

In this participative session we will explore the central themes of full humanity and non-violent relating: How could we more fully experience our humanity and interconnectedness and build a life-celebrating society? And how could these inform our work as scholars and activists? Within these central themes we might explore several subthemes including:

Practices and rituals of becoming fully human: How can we embrace our “wild minds”? How can we tap into more diverse ways of knowing than just our rational minds (Plotkin 2013)? Are we attuned to our bodily experiencing (Fisher 2013)? Are we seeing things as they are or ‘rationally’ thinking how they should be? What rituals would we need to facilitate slowing down and carefully observing our lives and our world?

Harmful ways of being: What forms of violence are present in our daily lives, and how could we begin to let go of these? What longings and yearnings can we identify that we are currently blocking? In what ways do our thinking and relating to the world drive the unabated quest for economic growth and progress? How and why do we make harmful decisions about the direction of our lives?

Supporting a life-celebrating society: What systems and structures can we identify that stand in the way of a more vibrant way of being in this world? How might we cultivate a culture where it is easy to discover our the ecological self (Naess 1987; Conn 1995), one that is embedded in a wider natural context, realises its interdependencies, and to whom ecological behaviors are natural?

Methodologically, the session is built on the principles of dialogue, itself, in our opinion, a form of ecopsychological counterpractice. Dialogues help to draw on the diverse knowledges of all participants. Dialogue as a method does not seek to instantly find solutions, but rather to form the right questions and to think and learn together (Schultz et al. 2016; Isaacs 2008, 1993). It supports finding common ground, contributing to a more supportive, vibrant conversation about topics that stir strong emotions.

The session begins with a brief introduction to the framework of ecopsychology and the central themes of the session. We will also introduce the principles of dialogue to be practiced in the session, such as listening, asking appreciative questions, and identifying and naming the assumptions behind our thinking. This is followed by free dialogue with a focus on the session theme. We round up the session with each participant reflecting on what they could bring from the perspective of radical ecopsychology to their lives and their degrowth work.


Timo Järvensivu, PhD, has promoted academic and public discussion on degrowth in Finland since 2010 as a researcher ( As a consultant he has trained organizations on dialogic and networking methods. He has also organized and facilitated several dialogues around the theme of sustainable society. Sini Forssell, PhD, is a researcher in the field of environmental social sciences. Both have been fascinated by ecopsychology and in 2018 are starting a dialogue project funded by the Kone Foundation, examining ecological compensations and nature conservation from the ecopsychological perspective.

Järvensivu and Forssell have successfully organised a pilot dialogue on ecopsychology at a degrowth-oriented seminar in 2017, and received a best presentation award for an ecopsychology presentation at the 2nd Peaceful Coexistence Colloquium held in 2017 at Pyhä, Finland. The sessions were popular and participants praised the sessions for opening up space for an engaged and much needed conversation.


Abdallah, S. & Thompson, S. (2008). Psychological barriers to de-growth: Value mediate the relationship between well-being and income. Paper presented at the First international conference on economic de-growth for ecological sustainability and social equity, Paris, April 18-19, 2008.
Conn, S. (1995). When the earth hurts, who responds. Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, healing the mind, 156-171.
Fisher, A. (2013). Radical ecopsychology: Psychology in the service of life. SUNY Press.
Fournier, V. (2008). Escaping from the economy: the politics of degrowth. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 28(11/12), 528-545.
Isaacs, W. N. (1993). Taking flight: Dialogue, collective thinking, and organizational learning. Organizational dynamics 22(2), 24-39.
Isaacs, W. N. (2008). Dialogue: The art of thinking together. Crown Business, 2008.
Kallis, G. (2011). In defence of degrowth. Ecological Economics 70, 873-880.
Kallis, G., Kerschner, C., & Martinez-Alier, J. (2012). The economics of degrowth. Ecological Economics 84, 172-180.
Kidner, D. W. (2007). Depression and the natural world: Towards a critical ecology of psychological distress. International Journal of Critical Psychology , 19 (2007).
Latouche, S. (2009). Farewell to Growth. Polity Press, 2009.
Naess, A. (1987). Self-realization. An ecological approach to being in the world. The Trumpeter 4(3), 35-42.
Plotkin, B. (2013). Wild mind: A field guide to the human psyche. New World Library, 2013.
Schultz, M., Hahn, T., Hällström, N., & Ituarte-Lima, C. (2016). The biggest single opportunity we have is dialogue. Dialogue seminars as a methodology for transformative social learning and conflict resolution in international environment negotiations, SwedBio at Stockholm Resilience Centre.
Van den Bergh, J. (2011). Environment versus growth - A criticism of “degrowth” and plea for “a-growth”. Ecological Economics 70.


Day: 2018-08-24
Start time: 16:00
Duration: 02:00
Room: ABF (203)
Track: Custom (describe on the submission note)




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