SS24. Embodying degrowth, healing from alienation

We may achieve the transformation of the system, but if we have not transformed ourselves along the way, we will be destined to equally corrupt the degrowth society. This is the starting point for a session that explores our internalized growth mindsets. It will move beyond exploration by offering practices that will assist the liberation of minds and souls colonized by growthism. We seek to recognize and amplify practices based on post-growth values to organize societies in a different way, learning from psychoanalysts, philosophers, activists, people of faith, healers, anthropologists of science, abolitionists, among others. Our three key threads are (1) inner emancipation & de-alienation, (2) psychoanalysis, (3) ecopsychology. The session will include individual as well as interactive practices such as meditation, breathing, prayer, as well as embodied exercises (embodied mapping of positionalities), guided journalling and art-based methods such as poetry and music.

  • Expected proposals format: interactive contributions
  • Keywords: Embodiment, spirituality, emancipation, ecopsychology, psychoanalysis, practices
  • Related track(s): 10. Challenging dominant values, ideologies, and imaginaries
  • Organizers: The EmbodegrowthLab*

* Members of the EmbodegrowthLab

Lamain, Corinne (International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, The Netherlands; Centre for Unusual Collaborations, The Netherlands); Portocarrero, Ana Victoria (International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, The Netherlands; Royal Tropical Institute, The Netherlands); Calmon, Daniela (International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, The Netherlands); Gerber, Julien-Francois (International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, The Netherlands); Kaul, Shivani (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Royal University of Bhutan, Bhutan); Kiggell, Thomas (Bodemzicht Foundation for regenerative farming, The Netherlands); Sekine, Yukari (International Institute of Social Studies - ISS, The Hague); Baheranwala, Fatema (International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, The Netherlands); Escribano, Paula (Universitat de Barcelona).

Full description

The language of a ‘degrowth transition’ is useful for mobilizing people and their collectives around policy objectives, but it retains an image of expert political actors who will ‘transition’ us from one state to another. We offer an alternative theory of change that aims for a ‘degrowth transformation’, or deeper shifts in ideology and daily practices. It will not be enough to solely focus on changing policies and institutions; it is essential to embody the transition and its deeper meanings in a personal way as well. By this, we mean that transformational ideas begin and are enacted through our bodies in their multiple layers and relationships to others. This session aims to offer inspiration and guidance on how such transformation could be addressed.

The session is organized along three threads, that each will offer theory as well as practice. 

i. Inner emancipation & de-alienation 

This thread will offer an introduction to, as well as exercises, that engage with the individual and collective realm of the subjective and its relation to the material (see Ken Wilber’s four quadrants image). It explores how processes of alienation – from self, nature and cosmos – and inner emancipation bear strategic and political relevance for systemic socio-ecological transformation. 

  • Upper left: Individual/Interior - I – Subjective – thoughts, emotions, memories, states of mind, perceptions and immediate sensations
  • Upper right: Individual/Exterior – IT – Objective – material body (incl brain), visible and measurable behaviour, competences and skills
  • Lower right: Collective/Exterior – ITS – Interobjective – systems, networks, technology, government and the natural environment
  • Lower left: Collective/Interior – WE – Intersubjective – shared values, meanings, language, relationships and cultural background 

Ken Wilber’s four quadrants of reality as a helpful starting point. Degrowthers have arguably too much focused on the lower-right quadrant only. What would a more integrated practice of degrowth look like? One that would include the left quadrants?

It will follow the following stepwise approach as a guiding handle:

  • Step 1: Integrating theories (subjective-objective),
  • Step 2: Recognizing one’s own alienation,
  • Step 3: Removal of layers of (inner) oppression,
  • Step 4: Dissolution, dis-identification with self/-referential ego,
  • Step 5: Experience of connectedness through non-dual ‘ground-state’,
  • Step 6: Right action, emancipatory politics as consequence.

ii. Ecopsychology and degrowth

Ecopsychology turns the psyche ‘inside out’ and emphasizes the outside world in its exploration of the so-called inner world. It aims at healing a foundational disconnection of capitalist modernity: the separation of Selves from Natures, as mediated by Society. It therefore explores nature in psyche, and psyche in nature (thereby breaking the binary), considering nature the ‘ultimate healer’. Modern science is far from understanding how natural forces and beings influence us. Ecopsychology posits that health and healing cannot just be limited to individual, families, or even societies; it must include our relations to the more-than-human world. Ecopsychology is thus interested in repressed/ marginalized modes of (re)connecting, such as animistic, oneiric, bodily, sensuous, erotic, emotional, elemental, soulful, playful, spiritual, ritualistic modes of sentipensar. It is practiced via particular methodologies (hermeneutic, phenomenological, poetic, etc.). And in agreement with degrowth, ecopsychology is also interested in the origin of these alienations. So it isn’t just concerned with ‘how to reconnect’, but also with ‘how/why we got disconnected’. Post-capitalist and post-growth politics become an integral (and explicit) part of healing processes.

iii. Psychoanalysis
Multiple foundational concepts and authors cited as precursors to degrowth have roots in psychoanalysis – from statements like ‘decolonizing the imaginary’ to assumptions about alienation, fantasies, or desire. Today these strains are faint, as the contemporary degrowth research program is largely led by ecological economists. What could a return to the psychoanalytic roots of degrowth do for research and praxis in an era of ‘bullshit jobs,’ burnout, and climate grief? In this session, we return to the multiple, and at times opposed, repertoires of psychoanalysis that have informed degrowth thinking to deepen its analysis of growthist society. The aim is to help understand the persistence of repression, alienation, and repetition compulsion in personal and collective life – as well as the possibility of their transformation towards post-growth subjectivities. From this position, we observe that the psychodynamics of growthism are more complex than what many ecological economists (and some degrowthers) tend to acknowledge. We argue for the urgency of refreshing degrowthers’ images of human nature through the repertoires of feminist, ecosocial and anti-colonial psychoanalytic authors – in service of a more reflexive, radical and sustainable pace of degrowth transformation, including in academia.

Call for contributions

We are specifically seeking contributions that are embodied, experiential and interactive (i. e. no  powerpoint presentations, except for an intro on a topic). We would like to receive contributions of a diverse group of actors: academics, practitioner’s, activists, etc in one of the three threads (or complementary to those threads, on related ideas). Contributions can take up to a maximum of 20 minutes. Ideally, we would prepare the session together with all contributors, so that we collectively craft a coherent experience for participants. The session may lead to a collective output, if desirable:  e. g. a (peer-reviewed) paper, a blog, methods or tools to offer to existing toolkits. Please find below an example session, for inspiration. 

An example session, for inspiration (other ideeas are very welcome!)

Max number of participants (excluding organisers): 20. We wish to keep the group small so as to be better able to ensure a safe space. Room setup: big room divided in two parts: one part has a circle of chairs, a table for metaphor cards and a projector screen, the other part is empty for exercisesDuration: 90 minutes. Please find here an example outline for the session – this is just meant for inspiration, of course the final setup will be based on submissions to the session. Instead of the activities mentioned below, other types of ideas could be to write poetry, to make music, to tell stories, or any other art-based method that is imagined. We welcome creative ideas!

‘5-10 - Welcome and check-in

Every participant is invited to pick a card with an image they may use to introduce themselves by means of using the image as a metaphor for what brough them to the session. Breaking up in groups of three every person speaks for maximum 1,5 minute

Who: Corinne

‘25 - Inner emancipation & de-alienation

  • ‘5 introduction on theory
  • ‘15 meditation/breathing
  • ‘5 group reflection in trios

Meditation and breathing: The meditation and breathing exercises will be guided and will focus on disconnecting with images of the self

Who: Yukari and Ana

 ‘25 - Ecopsychology

  • ‘5 introduction on theory
  • ’15 embodied mapping
  • ‘5 group reflection in trios

Embodied mapping: The embodied mapping exercise will invite participants to take a physical position on a line on the floor that represents a spectrum. Eco-psychological statements will be given and participants will position themselves along the spectrum from ‘strongly agree’, ‘somewhat agree’ somewhat disagree’, ‘strongly disagree’. People will then be invited to share the reasons of their position.

Examples statement:

-  ‘I feel the impact of growthism in my body’

-  ‘A nature walk is what I do when I feel stressed’

Who: Julien and Tom

‘25 - Psychoanalysis

  •  ‘5 introduction on theory
  • ’10 guided journalling
  • ‘10 group reflection in trios

Guided journaling: Participants will be asked to write down in silence their responses to three questions along the style of ‘free writing’. This means they get 3 minutes to write down all thoughts that come to mind without correction them in a free flow of thoughts. They will put pen to paper and not stop writing until the time is up. The three questions are:

  1. What are your fears and anxieties for a degrowth future?
  2. What are your hopes and dreams for a degrowth future?
  3. Which role do you see for yourself?

At the end of the silent writing there is one minute of silence without writing.

Group breaks up in trios and share what they have written in two minutes each – no questions asked by the others, just listening. Then there are three minutes for general reflections in trios. 

Who: Shivani and Dani

‘5 - Check-out

We stand in a circle and all participants are asked to express their experience in a physical movement, which is done at the same moment.

Who: Corinne


Ken Wilber’s four quadrants