Degrowth is a “bomb word” used to inspire in-depth debates on whether infinite growth in a finite world is desirable or even possible. A vibrant and dynamic network developed around this term brings together academics, activists, environmentalists, and social (r)evolutionaries, as well as global movements and organisations they belong to.
Degrowth conference in Budapest was the 5th such biannual conference since the first one organised in Paris in 2008. The goal of the conferences is to question unlimited growth, in understanding the challenges faced by society, and to implement dialogues about solutions on different levels.
Around hundred degrowth-related events (panels, participatory discussions, practical workshops, exhibitions, artistic performances, concerts, and parties) demonstrated the latest research and promoted cooperation in the development of scientific and political proposals, facilitating networking and the flow of ideas between various actors working on degrowth, especially in the academia.
In the last 15 years Degrowth and GEN have occasionally come in touch and cooperated. During the 4th International Degrowth Conference in Leipzig 2014, GEN was already represented with two stands, including a cozily furnished outdoor pavilion with a huge flatscreen TV showing pictures from the ecovillage life and the freshly made GEN movie. This year, some volunteers organised again a stand presenting the newest GEN publications including the GEN playing cards and prepared a particular interactive and well visited workshop.
It was clear that GEN fits into the conference when right at the outset the very first panellist went into etymology of the word ‘community’. Then Degrowth was presented as a young, rapidly growing community; the entire second panel was dedicated to the word semi-periphery – the political sphere between core and periphery. This was just an introduction to an array of complex sociopolitical jargon which permeated the majority of panels and talks, such as:
Investment portfolio, postextractivism, perverse logic of compensation, transdisciplinarity beyond operationalization, reappropriating democracy, omni-sovereignty… but on the other hand also easily comprehensible phrases like: bio-energy, climate resilience, network of solidarity, ‘useless’ play, environmental justice, transition towns, social experiment, catalyse transformation… which are familiar to ecovillages. Particularly interesting speakers that drew my attention were: Federico Demaria from Spain, Danijela Dolenec from Croatia, Barbara Muraca from USA, and Ashish Kothari from India.
Global Ecovillage Network, being a practical agent of change, had a lot to give and share in this context. As one slide on a talk about commons by Silke Helfrich said: ”Keep calm, there is a paradigm shift going on.” There is a need for us to keep on building the bridges and to join others who are building the bridges in the common effort.
Many interesting people were visiting the GEN stand attended by Nara and Manja from Istria Slovenia, Mauge from Arterra Spain, Ralf and Stella from Sieben Linden Germany and Younga from Taiwan. Cooperation and connections have emerged with people from Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Germany, USA, Spain, France, Latvia, Italy, Bengal … Also people who know GEN very well stopped by and said hello. Ecovillages and related topics, such as permaculture, gardening, eco-construction, simpler lifestyle etc., were brought up on many presentations.
GEN shares with Degrowth the practical expression from which our theoretical concepts originate. GEN’s strength is local practical solutions united into global network, Degrowth’s strength is global conceptual solutions offered towards local networks. I suppose herein lies a lot of room for cooperative innovation.
Considering and understanding the emancipatory struggles in other parts of the world was the starting point for Stellas’ analysis about “Synergies between the Degrowth movement and the global ecovillage network” presented at the conference. She emphasized particularly the huge potential of GEN for North-South reconciliation work and eco-village qualities for a sustainable degrowth society as expertise in self-empowerment & community-building tools, in implementing social conviviality between alternative world-views and in creating resilient environments for research on how to implement degrowth ideals.
The GEN workshop, entitled Ecovillages: degrowth in practice, gave 50 attendees a glimpse into ecovillage community spirit and social practices. By using the ‘Fishbowl’ method the talk on ecovillages and community became very deep and personal. It became evident how degrowth is intrinsic to ecovillages, but some proposed calling it voluntary, or luxurious simplicity – in which “degrowth” is an automatic side effect. Degrowth should be an organic side effect of healthy social activity, particularly of healthy communities.
After the presentation one of the participants said in the feedback circle, that she particularly liked that we as GEN presenters didn’t give absolute answers, we simply shared our experiences and observations on what worked for us, or what didn’t. Another participant observed that the ecovillage movement is a distinct stratum in the society, he thought that this stratum doesn’t communicate well with the rest of society, only particular kind of people being attracted to ecovillages and living in them. We agreed that this was the case in same ecovillages, however many are increasingly becoming meeting points where the new social paradigm meets the old and spreads out through it, and attracts and influences people from all walks of life.
The last person who spoke in the feedback circle was an older woman who said: “I came here with my son, that’s why I was sitting in the back. I didn’t know absolutely anything about ecovillages and degrowth before. What I see is that you are very happy people, and I think this is a sign that you’re on the right path.”