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No more business as usual: introducing the Degrowth Organisation and Economy Research Group

by Ben Robra, Iana Nesterova and Fabian Maier

As the ongoing crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to illustrate once again, an unforeseen economic shock appears to threaten the very foundations of social life and indeed the livelihoods of people across the globe. With social distancing and lock-down measures in place, people were forced to stay at home and economic activity has been slowed down, at least temporarily.

In a world of turmoil and uncertainty, re-igniting the flame of excessive economic growth appears yet again as the overarching response and universal panacea by politicians and economists to counteract the severe crisis induced by the coronavirus. Thus, unbridled business activity and consumption is yet again the number one political measure to boost GDP figures, thereby continuing the fairy tales of endless growth.

However, seeing the COVID-19 pandemic as one crisis amongst multiple social, ecological, political and economic crises that are not just looming but are already in progress, puts this path increasingly into question. Moreover, the links of growth-obsessed capitalist economies to dire outcomes, such as, climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, and soaring social inequalities, are becoming more and more obvious. In light of this crisis-prone tendency of growth, a return to a state of perceived normality and business as usual appears highly questionable and alarming. 

It is past time to think about alternatives to this way of life and to ask ourselves, how can we organise social life differently, in a more resilient and sustainable manner? Challenging the hegemony and ingrained notions of growth needs to necessarily incorporate radical questions about organisations in relation to transforming socio-economic systems.

For this reason, our newly formed Degrowth Organisation and Economy Research Group (@DegrowthOERG) aims to target these fundamental questions by looking at organisational projects that are critical and counter-hegemonic towards mainstream and taken-for-granted business theories. Dedicated to a radical change of economic organisation, we are studying alternative forms of organisation and work from a degrowth perspective.

Why?

Degrowth has significant implications for organisations and particularly economic organisations. The dominant economic organisations (i.e. corporations and other businesses) and their modus operandi, aligned with capital accumulation and productivism, do not fit degrowth and its principles. In other words, economic organisations that aim to accumulate capital and hence increase economic growth are incompatible with degrowth.

However, economic organisations do play a key role in transforming our society towards a sustainable degrowth society. As such, economic organisations are essential for the organisation of social life and the satisfaction of basic needs throughout society, to reach a good life for all in harmony with nature.

Therefore, exploring and studying organisations in the context of degrowth is crucial. Unfortunately, little attention has been paid to this area of enquiry thus far. The majority of publications available disregard core principles of degrowth such as anti-accumulation and matter-energy throughput reduction.

Various research has sought to reconcile business logics and degrowth. This can equally be understood as a reconciliation of capitalism and degrowth. Businesses, as the core reproducers of the capitalist hegemony and drivers of growth, are not compatible with degrowth. We comment on this shortfall of alignment in our recent blog post: Why degrowth should scare business.

So far, the translation of degrowth principles from the macro to the micro level have only marginally taken place in an organisational context. Thus, the aim of this new research group is to ratify and study alternative economic organisations extensively in the context of degrowth. We aim to halt what we believe is a co-optation of degrowth on the micro-economic level, by shifting the focus to concrete utopias of alternative organisations. 

Who?

We are (so far) three ‘young’ academics in various stages of our PhDs focusing on organisation and the political economy in the context of degrowth. While we are aware that there is increasing attention towards this topic (forthcoming special issue in Organization), we perceived a lack of official research groups that are tackling issues of organisation in the context of degrowth. Therefore, our research group wants to address these shortcomings by starting a conversation across multiple disciplines. We envision a collaborative group of researchers looking to fill the vast research gap within organisation from a degrowth perspective. Interested researchers, activists, and practitioners sharing our vision and/or experiment with ideas of degrowth are welcome to join us and start a collaboration. 

Find the Degrowth Organisation and Economy Research Group on twitter (@DegrowthOERG)

Ben Robra – is a PhD researcher at the University of Leeds in the Sustainability Research Institute. Ben studies organisations in connection to degrowth using both political economy and social systems theory. He has a keen interest in organisations utilising the digital commons and P2P collaboration.

Iana Nesterova – is an independent researcher based in the UK. She holds an MSc in International Business and Finance. Her PhD focused on small business transition towards degrowth. Iana’s research interests include social ecological economics on the micro level. Further, she is interested in the philosophical questions surrounding degrowth.

Fabian Maier – is a PhD researcher at Nottingham University with a background in organisation and critical management studies. Fabian studies cooperatives, grassroots and community-based organisations in relation to degrowth. He is interested in discourses around prefiguration, post-work, and solidarity economies. 

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