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Degrowth and social inequality: Eating the rich or governing the poor?


One of the main shortcomings of scientific as well as political debates on the “limits to growth” and the pathways towards a “degrowth society” is their relative indifference with regard to questions of social inequality. While systemic questions (e.g. the structural forces driving modern societies’ “will to growth”) or life-world issues (like people’s everyday practices processing and reproducing modern growth logics) feature prominently in the degrowth discourse, the socio-structural dimension of capitalist growth constellations and their possible transformation is conspicuously absent from most of these debates. It seems that the debates often lack critical theories of capitalism which address questions of social inequality as well as the basic structural forces of economic growth. The proposed special session aims at bringing the topics of social class, social inequality and social domination (back) into the discussion on (de)growth. On the one hand, it may be argued that the structural social inequalities characterizing capitalist society – i.e. class antagonism and the specific institutional “solutions” to it found and established in the course of the 20th century – are not only the in-built drivers of economic growth dynamics in the Western world but still relevant features of contemporary capitalist societies. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that any politics of transforming and “degrowing” capitalist growth societies depends on systematically (while not always openly) addressing class issues. Either projects of the ruling classes succeed in forcing costs of decline and shrinking processes on the poor (as may be currently seen in Southern Europe), or the left finds solutions which reduce social inequalities both within late-industrial societies and between the most and the less/least “developed” countries of the globe. One of the main advantages of the second alternative would be to master the growth imperatives that result from the simple (or refined) efforts of the ruling classes – owners and managers of capital, functional elites, well-paid experts – to keep their power positions intact.

Tilman Reitz, Tine Haubner: The threat of (not) being exploited: How inequality promotes growth dispositions

Stephan Voswinkel: Upward Mobility in Degrowth Societies

Hartmut Rosa: The Iron Cage of the Elites: Time Consuming Efforts to Stay on Top

Stefanie Hürtgen: Dual Development and the denial of social requirements by logics of Growth and Degrowth