Degrowth is everywhere

Seeing degrowth in the here and now gives hope to bring about a radically different future in which to live well and sustainably.

Degrowth advocates decreasing the importance and occurrence of economistic thoughts and practices in order to leave space for other objectives.

Many see degrowth as a mere dream, a project that is impossible to achieve. The movement advocates building societies based on principles that seem out of reach, such as simple living, environmental and social justice, participatory democracy, care, emancipation and sustainability. 

“Degrowth is appealing, but how do you get there?” is a common criticism. If its objectives are not attainable, it is pointless to fight for them.

In contrast to this view, I invite the reader to see degrowth as already practised by all of us. From this perspective, degrowth is not a distant fantasy, but something that abundantly exists in the present.


In his seminal The political economy of degrowth, Timothée Parrique argues that degrowth ultimately advocates for ‘de-economisation’: “a reduction in the importance of economistic thoughts and practices in social life” in order to bring back “the economy and its way of thinking […] in proportion to its social and ecological hosts”. 

Economistic ideas and practices include striving for profit, having a cost-benefit mindset and working to produce and consume more. Humans in this context behave like homo economicus, self-interested beings who act to optimally become more powerful economically and socially. 

In most parts of the world, economistic ideas and practices are dominant. As a result, environmental, social, cultural and spiritual objectives, which are not in line with the economy and its way of thinking, cannot be realised. 

Most contemporary problems, such as the destruction of ecosystems and the exploitation of workers, are a direct consequence of the dominance of the economy. It has also created a ‘disenchanted world’, as the sociologist Max Weber said, in which what gives meaning to life has been lost. 

In contrast, degrowth advocates decreasing the importance and occurrence of economistic thoughts and practices in order to leave space for other objectives. It means that degrowth can be seen in everything favouring environmental, social, cultural or spiritual spheres of life. 


From this viewpoint, we find degrowth in many instances. We find it during convivial moments such as sharing a meal or dancing together. We find it when co-operating and acting for the good of others beyond (economic) reason. We find it when repairing instead of throwing away. We find it when growing food or supporting local farmers rather than buying in a supermarket. We find it when defending a natural habitat.

Of course, many of these ways of being and thinking are not completely against the economy, as they might contain economistic objectives alongside noneconomistic ones. They might even sometimes reinforce the economic system. 

For example, feminist scholars teach us that a mother who is genuinely caring for her child beyond economic reason might at the same time strengthen the economic and patriarchal status quo by enabling the future workforce to exist through her nurturing activities. The mother might also push her child to become a businessman, thinking that this is how to be valued in society.  

Degrowth advocates decreasing the importance and occurrence of economistic thoughts and practices in order to leave space for other objectives.

I consider that practices and ideas that primarily aim at achieving noneconomic objectives are in line with degrowth because they support the creation of a world that is less dominated by the economy and its way of thinking. They also represent acts of contestation, even if not explicitly framed in this way, as they go against the economic current. 


Degrowth viewed from this perspective is more prevalent in some places than others. It is much present in many indigenous societies, for instance when their populations care for each other and the non-human world. 

It is also still quite widespread in rural parts of Europe. For example, in rural Belgium, where I am from, most people still highly value building deep relationships within their family and their community. Many also invest themselves in cultural events such as carnivals and think that money has become way too important nowadays. 

The noneconomic spheres of life are devalued and repressed, so that noneconomistic ideas and practices are less and less prevalent. But even in the most economically driven places, like London or New York, you can still find glimpses of degrowth. 

For instance, most in these cities still spend time with their friends. Many go to museums, not just to move up the social ladder, but because they like to learn and to be moved. Many want to hike to create deep connections with the natural world, and not just to ‘recharge’ and be more productive at work. Others go on strike or do the minimum in their job instead of seeking promotions and bonuses, saving energy for other spheres of life. 


It goes without saying that transforming our societies towards degrowth ideals will be a hard struggle. It will require strong collective action against capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy, among other oppressive social structures. But seeing degrowth as already existing and present everywhere brings about hope for a better future. 

Since alternatives are already partly there, in the everyday lives of all of us as well as in some institutions, we do not have to start from scratch. Just considering that these glimpses of alternatives exist is a reason for hope.

Even if these alternatives are incomplete and often contradictory, they can be the basis for thinking about what a future grounded in degrowth principles could look like. They can also inspire us on how to resist and contest the current system. 

As such, these fragments of degrowth can be part of strategies to move towards a radically different world in which we would all live well within the limits of the planet. 

This Author

Adrien Plomteux is a PhD candidate at the University College London. He is part of the editorial collective of the Degrowth journal and is a founding member of Degrowth London.