söndag 7 januari 2018

Degrowth conference special sessions proposals

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I went to the the 3rd International Conference on Degrowth, Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity (in Venice back in 2012). I now plan to attend the upcoming 6th International Degrowth Conference for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity (Theme: "Dialogues in turbulent times") that will be held in Malmö, Sweden between August 21-25 this year:

"This conference aims at expanding the geographical and thematic scope of degrowth discussions, as well as building dialogues with critical social theories, sciences and social movements. Malmö is a perfect city to host such a conference. Vibrant and mixed, but also relaxed and down-to-earth, it has a strong presence of alternative forms of organising and a varied cultural and grassroots life. We want this conference to further consolidate these and act as a platform for mutually enriching dialogues among groups from around the globe striving for a better world."

There is a call for "special sessions" (pdf), the deadline was December 31, but is had now been extended to January 15. "Special sessions involve a traditional format of paper presentations with a specific thematic​ ​focus​ ​sessions​ ​with​ ​3-4​ ​presentations​ ​and​ ​time​ ​for​ ​discussion." I have contributed to two special session and both applications were submitted in December. This blog post presents those two proposed sessions; the themes, the participants and my own contribution to those sessions/themes.

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I saw a post about the first session on a mailing list and offered to contribute to it. The two organizers accepted my contribution about the future of the sharing economy and it's just our three presentations in this special session (but we are four persons as I recruited my co-author Karin Bradley to accompany me):


Sharing in the Future: Degrowth Transformations

- Filka Sekulova, Institute of Science and Environmental Technology Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain, "Drivers and impacts of non-market-based sharing: a comparative study of Bulgaria and Spain".
- Helen Jarvis, School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, Newcastle University, UK, "Sharing, togetherness and intentional degrowth in collaborative housing: past, present and future".
- Daniel Pargman & Karin Bradley, Department of Media Technology and Interaction Design & Department of Urban Planning and Environment, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden, "Sharing, the commons and degrowth".


Special session theme:

Inspired by the conference theme of social and ecological transformation, and critical engagement with theoretical and community-based conceptualisations of degrowth, this session articulates contested functions of ‘sharing’ as the basis of alternative development. We note that the advent of new technologies has reinvented the language and meaning of ‘sharing’ in dubious ways. Unrestricted and unfettered growth is at odds with social well-being: the same can also be said of many of the so-called ‘sharing economies’ that advocate peer-to-peer exchange of goods and services, cutting out the corporate ‘intermediaries’, with many also claiming to re-circulate and lend goods for multiple uses and users so that more can be enjoyed from less. 

The papers in this session critically engage with a continuum of old, new and reinvented networks of sharing, including the capacity for human-computer interaction and P2P sharing platforms to address the key social constituents of degrowth; of intentionality, purpose, solidarity and trust. Each paper offers a discrete perspective around sharing which, when brought together in panel discussion, collectively pose important questions for the role of sharing to degrowth transformation: what are the sharing practices already embedded in society? What types of sharing are compatible with a degrowth vision and which are not, why? The issues raised in this session, drawing on observations from across the UK, Scandinavia, Spain and Bulgaria, resonate with, and represent, wider worldviews and critical, theoretical debates. 


Daniel Pargman & Karin Bradley, “Sharing, the commons and degrowth

Sharing practices (e.g. the sharing economy, collaborative consumption, platform cooperatives) have been facilitated by the spread of easy-to-use digital platforms and tools for coordination. As was noticed already a decade ago, the price of coordination itself has been reduced by an order of magnitude or two (Shirky 2008); what was hard before is easy now and some things that were impossible before have been made possible now. 

While “sharing” could encompass better utilization of cars, tools and specialized leisure equipment among neighbors, we are here primarily interested in the potential of sharing practices that expand offline and online “commons”. Commons here refers to “what we share”, e.g. a wealth of valuable assets that we work on establishing and maintaining together. While many specifically connect the commons to Elinor Ostrom’s (1990) natural resource commons (grazing lands, fisheries, forests, irrigation systems etc.), there has also been a recent surge of interest in urban, digital and knowledge commons (Hess and Ostrom 2005, Bollier and Selfrich 2012, Walljasper 2010). 

We here use two examples to illustrate the establishment of what we have elsewhere called “21st century commons” (Bradley and Pargman 2017), e.g. urban not-for-profit sharing of spaces (and/or tools, skills) that are either enabled or at least coordinated with the help of digital platforms and technologies. The first example, the Bike Kitchen, is an open non-profit Do-It-Yourself (DIY) bike repair studio that exemplifies a locally anchored analogue form of commons, but with a set of general principles, developed through an international network, which has made the concept easy to copy and spread across the world. The Bike Kitchen can be seen as an example of a form of localised physical commons, often set in an urban context and similar to e.g. maker spaces or community gardens. The second case, Hoffice, is an open concept for arranging temporary “home offices”, i.e. a set of principles for how to offer and transform a private kitchen table into a one-day shared office space for community members. Hoffice is an example of temporary, pop-up commons, similar to the “home restaurants” or peer-to-peer ride sharing services that have gained ground with the spread of digital technologies 

While the term “sharing”, despite its positive connotations, easily could be harnessed, co-opted and incorporated into the discourse of the current economic system (to increase consumption and generate larger profits), it is harder to see that happening to “the commons” and even harder to imagine that “degrowth” could be co-opted. We end the paper by discussing the nexus of sharing, the commons and degrowth thinking including relevant similarities, differences and tensions between these three concepts and the practices that support them.

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Inspired by various proposals for special sessions, I posted my own proposal about exploring the intersection of degrowth and computing on the same mailing list. I found two other persons who were interested, Katharina Bohnenberger and Salvador Pueyo, but it later turned out Salvador wasn't sure he would be able to make it to Sweden and to the conference so he opted out. I managed to recruit two friends of mine so there are now four persons in this proposal for a special session. 

Something that is interesting is that I, though these calls, got in touch with no less than two different persons (Filka Sekulova and Salvador Pueyo) who live and work in Barcelona. I of course expect to meet them both when I go to Barcelona for my sabbatical later this spring!


Political Economy of a Digitalized Degrowth Society. 


Katharina Bohnenberger, Wuppertal Institut für Klima, Umwelt, Energie, "Economics of Digitalizations and it's implication for Degrowth"
- Daniel Pargman, Department of Media Technology and Interaction Design, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden, "Does degrowth need 'slow computing'?"
- Daniel Berg, Department of Economic History, Stockholm University, Sweden, "Velocity of Money as Locked in Growth"
M. Six Silverman, IG Metall Crowdsourcing Project, "Policy debates about digitalization need a degrowth perspective"


Special session theme:

The intersection of digital technologies and degrowth” is an important but thus far underdeveloped research area. Prior research in the field has mainly addressed specific technologies and their potential for supporting alternative communities. Long-running trends in digital technologies (e.g., Moore’s law and the relentless pace of innovation in computing) as well as recent disruptive developments (e.g. the extreme energy consumption of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, undermining of labor laws through “crowd work”) show that digital technologies such as algorithms, artificial intelligence and big data are more than just helpful tools. They alter socio-economic institutions (which the degrowth movement has been criticising for many years) with unprecedented speed. In this special session we will therefore address the question of how these developments can be made fruitful for a transition towards a degrowth society and what a “degrowth paradigm” might mean for the design of digital technologies and institutions such as cooperatively-owned digital platforms, cryptocurrencies and money creation, computing standards and new forms of production and allocation


Daniel Pargman, "Does degrowth need 'slow computing'?"

Does degrowth need 'slow computing'? Ivan Illich (1973) proposed that there is an inverse relationship between the top speed of personal transportation (highways, high-speed trains, airflight) and equity in a society. Hornborg (2010) has also commented that when it came to building railroads in the UK and elsewhere in the 19th century, poor underpaid workers did all the heavy lifting (mining, production, laying the tracks) while others (e.g. the affluent middle class) reaped the benefits by being able to afford zipping off to the coast for a picnic or a dip in the sea. Illich made a difference between motorized “transport” and self-powered “transit” and noted that walking was the most democratic way of transporting your own self since all healthy adults can walk at more or less the same pace (Illich 1973). Bicycles also had Illich’s blessing (as well as motor vehicles driving at “bicycle speed”, e.g. a maximum speed of 25 km/h).

If we take Illich’s ideas seriously, it is easy to realize that while innovations can be good, not all innovations are (see also Rogers 2003, Preist, Schien & Belvis 2016, Pargman & Wallsten 2017, Tomlinson & Aubert 2017) and if we choose to grapple and explore these ideas seriously, they also imply that there perhaps should be “speed limits” also on digital technologies. This is an idea that would be regarded as heresy in an industry that has worshipped Moore’s law for decades (i.e. the fact that you predictively have gotten twice the amount of computing power for the same price every second year for decades). But what would it mean to “hamper progress” in digital technologies (speed, memory, storage, bandwidth etc.) in the name of equity? What are the implications and how would this go together with the ideas of degrowth and the transition towards a Degrowth society?
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