The 8th International Degrowth conference: Caring communities for radical change (August 24-28, 2021, the Hague) has just wrapped up. Several CSPS members, Robert Fletcher (SDC), Thomas Kiggell (SDC), Oona Morrow (RSO), Chizu Sato (GEO), and Lucie Sovová (RSO), participated as organizing team members, session organizers, and/or volunteers.
The themes covered in the conference were exciting. Historically, International Degrowth conferences have been centered around the the discipline of ecological economics. For this conference, other themes, such as anarchism, cultural politics, decoloniality, embodiment, feminist political ecology, Green New Deals, and local (Dutch) social movements, together with the more traditional theme of urban-rural dialogues formed eight streams that enriched our conversations.
Another feature that enriched our experience and learning came from the way the conference embedded activist and artistic interventions in all key conversations. Activist and cultural interventions were not at the margin of a conference for academics to extract ideas from activists and artists or please academics. Activists and artists offered different types of interventions, performances, and workshops, such as music, film, poetry, walkshop, drawing, weaving, healing, and visual sketch, both online and in-person, to stimulate a wide range of senses, inspire new possibilities, and deepen our collective learning.
Yet another worthy feature was that the conference organizing team used the principles and practices of caring communities in their own work. They invited conference participants to get involved in conference organizing in multiple ways, for example, as IT, cooking or cleaning volunteers and space keepers. They treated conference participants with nutritious food in a convivial space (e.g., in a beautiful garden with hammocks and music). Also, the conference organizers took part in and made visible those contributions that are most often made by those who spent hours looking after oft-invisible parts of conferences. These caring practices contributed to fostering and strengthening the sense of togetherness working toward common goals that motivate people to keep imagining themselves as part of a degrowth community.
The conference served as a space for dynamic encounters among academics, activists and artists. They all came together on the same ground to learn from each other’s experience, lessons and strategies, shared convivial times together over communal lunches and drinks and helped us imagine an overlapping vision for radical change. Arne Hendriks, a Dutch artist, who started a mycelium tower, using recycled oyster mushroom materials, reported that the tower now produces mushrooms and neighbours, who did not know each other, are harvesting them, engaging in conversations about it and beyond, and wanting to make another tower on their own. The conference is over. But, the conversations and relationships continue and grow, and what’s learned is enacted by human and nonhuman others to foster caring communities for radical change in our respective locations, if organizers and participants so choose. For those in the Netherlands, please check out Ontgroei that continues to serve as the Dutch degrowth platform to carry on our conversations.