B.9 Exploring degrowth controversies

  • 2019-08-05, 15:00–17:30, Tent 19
  • 2019-08-06, 15:00–17:30, Tent 19
  • 2019-08-07, 15:00–17:30, Tent 19
  • 2019-08-08, 15:00–17:30, Tent 19

Do you want to improve your ability to discuss degrowth? In this course, we will learn about degrowth by responding to the objections it has received. We will reflect on how to adequately respond to misunderstanding as well as explore the strengths and weaknesses of the concept by discussing its criticisms. This course is also about rhetoric and public speaking, with the goal of learning how to elaborate strong arguments and deliver them in a convincing manner.

Because one cannot understand a concept without understanding the controversies it creates, the purpose of this course is to explore objections to degrowth. I here follow the “cartography of controversies” approach, an applied version of Actor-Network Theory initiated by Bruno Latour at the end of the 1990s. As a social cartographer, we will pay attention to the statements and the broader debates that frame them, their associated actors and their interactions in networks, the hierarchy in between different controversies, as well as their evolution through time. The course is structured around a list of misconceptions and criticisms (see below) that have to do with a number of issues, for example technology and science, wellbeing, democracy, inequality and poverty, violence, the State, population and immigration, gender, international trade, and revolutionary change. This is only a preliminary list and one of the objective of the course will be to find new ones.


  • Zero or negative growth
  • Synonym with decrease and thus selective
  • Technophobe, anti-science, and the end of innovation
  • Retrograde, reactionary, and apathetic
  • Authoritarian, sectarian, and survivalist
  • An apology of poverty
  • Violent
  • Compatible with capitalism


  • Deterrent? The linguistic critique
  • Ascetic? The wellbeing critique
  • Crowded? The denatalist critique
  • Statist? The anarchist critique
  • Unaffordable and disempowering? The Keynesian critique
  • Misguided, classless, escapist, and anti-revolutionary? The Marxist critique
  • Sexist and oppressive? The feminist critique
  • Too late too little? The environmental critique
  • Protectionist? The international critique
  • Nasty, brutish, and short? The cosmopolitan critique
  • Mystical? The secular critique
  • Protectionist? The international critique
  • Ineffective and potentially damaging? The ecomodernists critique
  • Anthropocentric? The deep ecology critique

Exploring controversies is a good opportunity for degrowth advocates to be self-reflective and for degrowth as a concept to evolve in order to stay relevant to the diverse contexts it finds itself in. In that sense, this course should also be considered as an exercise in concept-building where we will together critically reflect on current definitions of degrowth and craft new, better ones.

Learning outcomes:
1. Being able to adequately respond to the main misconceptions of degrowth
2. Reflexively discuss the weaknesses and strengths of degrowth
3. Improve your ability to build strong arguments and deliver them convincingly

The course will be highly participative, with very little lecturing on my part. I will use the following frameworks and methods: critical thinking (Richard Paul and Linda Elder), controversy mapping (Bruno Latour), structured debating, Socratic dialogue, collective thought experiment, Forum theatre, critical improvisation

Prerequisites for participants – * Understanding of degrowth basics (via recommended readings) * Sufficient level of English to hold a conversation