Participatory Session: Unlocking wise technological futures: Contributions from the degrowth community
Highlight of degrowth research
When the first issue of Futures appeared in 1968, people’s collective imaginary in the industrialised countries envisioned a prosperous beginning of the XXI century populated by flying cars and interplanetary travels. Such as marvellous future was reflected, although with clumsy special effects, in the sci-fi moves of the epoch. A sixties audience, though, wouldn’t be impressed by today’s technological advancements. As David Graeber (2012) said “they thought we’d be doing this kind of thing by now. Not just figuring out more sophisticated ways to simulate it.” Most of the last 50 years’ technological advances, Graeber claims, were in medical and information and communication technology (ICT), that is in simulation technologies. However, Gordon (2017) stresses that these technologies brought very little productivity gains compared to previous technologies such as indoor plumbing. ICT continues to dominate in imaginaries of our technological futures, but our epoch seems pervaded by a sense of repetition and social fragmentation. The feeling that nothing of what we see today is genuinely new and promising is also testified by a fading momentum of grand historical narratives of progress and liberation that characterised most of the last century. Why, thus, do scientists, politicians and entrepreneurs fail to deliver a technological future that in the sixties, seventies and even eighties seemed just about to happen? Graeber contents that the progressive attitude of the post-WWII capitalism was mainly fostered by competition with the Soviets in the cold war. Fukuyama (1992) claimed that the fall of Soviet regimes meant the end of history. Twenty-five years later Streeck (2016) notes, that while capitalism is now obviously coming to an end, we seem to be unable to imagine how. Current neoliberalism is merely trying to efficiently squeeze the most out of the status quo and does not facilitate the development of imaginaries of viable futures and creation of new value (see also Mazzucato 2018). Are current societies really locked into such a future-less order when there is still much talk about technological innovation? How can we re-imagine the organising principles of our societies to unlock technological futures that are viable alternatives to the dystopian neoliberal order? How could these futures look like? When will they be feasible and who will benefit?
In response to undesired social and environmental effects of progress over the past 50 years, communities of researchers, intellectuals and activists try to develop and implement alternative imaginaries. One such community that gained much attraction recently is the Degrowth community. It critically discusses and develops rather detailed imaginaries that address concerns about economic growth, environmental degradation and social disintegration.
This dialogue attempts to extracts answer to the questions of technological imaginaries for the next 50 years by gathering insights from this diverse group of academics and practitioners that share a common interest in a radical critique of the present paradigm of technology-based growth. The dialogue will be carried out at the 6th International Degrowth Conference for ecological sustainability and social equity in place in Malmö, Sweden 21-25 August 2018 (https://malmo.degrowth.org). The topic of the conference will be “Dialogues in turbulent times” alludes to the fact that we live in turbulent times, full of anxiety, insecurity and fear. At the same time, we witness the rise of new organising practices, small but numerous seeds for transformation in line with the principles of ecological sustainability, social justice and human flourishing as advocated by the Degrowth community. A multi-disciplinary group of academics of different disciplines and practitioners and Degrowth activists will participate in the dialogue, including a new generation of futurists such as recent postdocs and students working on technological futures. The dialogue will be organised in three stages. First the questions sketched out above will be presented and briefly discussed by the organisers. The participants will then be split in groups of manageable numbers of people (5 to 10). Each group will be asked to reflect about the world they would like to live in 2068 and imagine what kind of world they would fear in 2068. In particular, each group will have to answer the following questions:
How do you imagine an unwise future in 2068? What organising principles will underpin our societies? What technological futures does this vision imply? What scale, what level of complexity? How do you think this will be achieved?
How do you imagine a wise future in 2068? What organising principles will underpin our societies? What technological futures does this vision imply? How do you think this will be achieved?
Finally, the last stage will consist of a joint discussion of the wished/feared futures and summarise the contributions from each group. The organisers will record and report the conversations in the form of a dialogue.
Start time: 11:00
Room: ABF (Stora Salen)
Track: Technology in a Degrowth Society