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Academic Special Session: Understanding social-ecological transformation: reflections on value creation, inoperative politics and state theory

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Socio-technical transformation and the ontology of degrowth

Degrowth has been argued to involve a multi-scalar social-ecological transformation beyond capitalism combining multiple strategies, ranging from oppositional activism to building alternatives (interstitial transformation), to reforming some existing institutions (i.e. what Gorz called “non-reformist reforms” and Olin Wright calls “symbiotic transformation”) (Asara et al. 2015, Demaria et al 2013, Asara and Kallis, forthcoming). At the same time, emphasis has been put on “less” (production and consumption) and “different”, including different activities, work, relations among humans and with the non-human world and different value systems and imaginaries (Kallis et al. 2014). Nevertheless, the process of moving from interstitial to symbiotic transformations and the exploration of a state theory able to bring about those non-reformist reforms remains largely unexplored, while a degrowth theory of value is still lacking.
Meanwhile, a new emerging debate has been confronting the degrowth literature: the one on acceleration and accelerationism (Rosa 2013, Williams and Srnicek 2013). The two visions are poles apart, but point to the foregrounding role of speed. Rosa critically points to the dynamic stabilization of modern societies, which systematically require material growth, technological acceleration and cultural innovation to reproduce their structure and to maintain their status quo, and suggest as “therapy” a form of “adaptive stabilization” not needing growth for its stabilization and structure maintenance. On the other hand, for Williams and Srnicek the left should embrace even more powerfully such acceleration, through “a Promethean politics of maximal mastery over society and its environment”, in order to achieve a victory over capital. Their vision seems to blatantly crash with the degrowth one. Their analysis lacks an understanding of the material and energetic flows resulting from this shifting of gears, and would eventually lead to increased extractivism and the ramping up of environmental injustice globally. Yet, accelerationism unveils several pending questions that degrowth research has still to tackle, more particularly on the role of technological development. Would degrowth be tantamount to mass deceleration? How would that be possible?
This session explores a different direction from the either-or scenario (acceleration vs. deceleration). Posing degrowth as the negative of acceleration risks reproducing the same logics we are trying to escape. As degrowth authors point out, environmental limits must be politicized, control over technology must therefore be democratized, and metabolic rates must be changed. If, as Benjamin (1940 [2003]) said, revolution is not turning things upside down but interrupting the course of events, stepping aside and suspending domination, how would such a subtracting relationship materialize in a degrowth transformation? What theory of value would that involve? How to bring about socio-technical regime-shift and how to conceptualize “flourishing” in a degrowth society? This entails confronting disparate but connected issues that help us reflect on the question of the ontology of degrowth – a pivotal but visibly side-lined topic in degrowth research. These issues are connected to the question of inoperosity raised by a varied scholarship in philosophy from Bataille to Agamben, to a re-conceptualization of a theory of value and to an understanding of the state that is able to take into account both interstitial, symbiotic and ruptural transformation, in Wright’s (2010) terms.

Individual papers:

1- Building the ecological state through movement-parties: The case of Barcelona en Comú
by Viviana Asara (Institute for Multi-Level Governance and Development, Vienna University of Economics and Business)
2- Degrowth and Autonomist Marxism
Emanuele Leonardi (University of Coimbra)
3- From pre-emption to inoperativity. Environmental politics as a politics of time
Luigi Pellizzoni (University of Pisa)
4- Towards a Socio-Ecological Theory of Value
Salvo Torre (University of Catania)