Goodbye Wealth: De-Scaling and De-Growth in Historical Perspective

During the past century, we witnessed unprecedented growth of wealth and capital, conjoined with growth in every aspect of human life: from population and commodities to mobility and information. The environmental aspects of growth and accumulation of capital are well investigated (Pfister 1996, Chakrabarty 2014, McNeill & Engelke 2016). But what about the opposite process, of de-growth and shrinking of capital?

Many discussions concentrated on collapse of complex societies (Tainter 1988, Diamond 2005, Middleton 2012), but little is known historically about intentionally planned social de-scaling and shrinking. Some demonstrations of the limits of the current historical phase of growth (Meadows et al. 1972, Heinberg 2011, Chapman 2014) have prompted calls for transition towards a post-growth and de-growth society (Seidl & Zahrnt 2010, Princen et al. 2015). What is lacking is wide historical knowledge of case studies of de-growing, de-scaling and shrinking processes.

This session’s aim is to bring together modern and contemporary case studies for groups and societies who intentionally went through de-scaling and de-growing (DSDG). The main – but not exclusive – questions to be asked are:

what were the reasons for DSDG?

which socio-political agents and structures enabled the DSDG?

what were the obstacles on the way towards DSDG?

which path did the DSDG process take?

what similarities do past DSDG processes have in common and why?

how and why do past DSDG processes differ from each other?