Degrowth is a social movement and scientific concept that envisions pathways to a sustainable future. These pathways include a democratic and redistributive downscaling of the material size of the global economy, a measure that would allow societies to stay within the reproductive limits of ecosystems. Originated in the early 2000s, degrowth is now widely researched and practiced across Europe. Yet, there has been little engagement with degrowth from Dutch academia and civil society so far. This Degrowth Symposium aims to spark the debate in the Netherlands.

Degrowth emerged to expose the flaws of the mainstream sustainable development paradigm and the concept of a ‘green economy’. Even though the notions of ’sustainable development’ and ‘green economy’ suggest improvements towards the more ecological and just way of living, they still rely heavily on the idea of unlimited economic and material growth and expanding extraction of natural resources. It means that, paradoxically, the mainstream sustainable development paradigm does not tackle the core dynamics of unlimited accumulation that drive over-exploitation of natural resources and social injustice.

Degrowth, in its turn, signifies a ruthless critique of the ideology of economic growth and of its material and social effects. It calls for alternatives beyond a ‘one‐way future consisting only of growth’. In order to enable other possible futures, among other measures degrowth suggests reducing the number of working hours as well as consumption of material goods, redefining the meaning of well-being and societal prosperity. From an academic perspective, degrowth draws from the post-development and anti-utilitarianism literatures, Georgescu‐Roegen’s understanding of the economy as an entropic process, and post‐Marxist intersections of socialism, anarchism, and ecology.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, the debate on degrowth has intersected with the one on post-growth and post-capitalism. It has expanded widely beyond circles of activists and critical theorists and reached citizens, mass media, various academic and state institutions. In the last years, international conferences have  attracted large audiences in Germany, Hungary, Sweden, while (inter)national degrowth networks are emerging in Europe and beyond. However, alternatives to growth have been not so far seriously considered on a high political level in European counties. Post-Growth 2018 Conference organized at the European Union is one of the few examples when that was actually the case.

In the Netherlands, academia and civil society has so far remained disconnected from a larger discussion on degrowth and post-growth. It is fair to say that while there is a rich intellectual and activist movement around issues of environmental justice, sustainability, and climate change, among others, those involved in the degrowth debate in the Netherlands have been rather isolated in niches within their own organizations. The First Utrecht Degrowth Symposium aims to fill this vacuum and spark conversations within and between different societal groups about pathways to a sustainable future that is not dependent on unlimited economic growth. This symposium is not a stand-alone event. The Dutch Degrowth Platform ‘Ontgroei’ comprising both academics (some of whom are based at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development and are co-organizers of the Symposium) and civil society, is forming in the Netherlands, while the International Institute of Social Studies will host the International Degrowth Conference in 2021 in the Hague.

Interested in the First Utrecht Degrowth Symposium? Registration form and full program are now available here!