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Reconceptualising Freedom in the 21st Century: Degrowth vs. Neoliberalism


  • Felix Windegger
  • Clive L. Spash


The hegemonic role of neoliberal ideas in today’s political-economic thought and practice has shaped the common way of thinking about freedom in Western society and more generally in the international community. This involves a negative, individualistic and market-centred interpretation of the concept. In contrast, visions of a degrowth society offer a radical alternative based on Cornelius Castoriadis’ notion of autonomy. This paper outlines how this formulation of freedom can be conceptualised relative to the predominant neoliberal theory. We present an overview and contrast of both positions and then follow this up with an empirical study. More specifically, we probe the extent to which the degrowth movement actually follows the Castoriadian theory of freedom as opposed to the hegemonic neoliberal conception. Results are reported from a survey conducted at the 2018 Degrowth Conference in Malmö, Sweden. While survey participants were found to hold positions consistent with the Castoriadian theory, we also identify problematic and under-conceptualised aspects in their understanding of freedom. This points to the need for the degrowth movement to directly address its theoretical foundations, and elaborate on and strengthen its vision of freedom compatible with a future degrowth society.

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  • Felix Windegger & Clive L. Spash, 2021. "Reconceptualising Freedom in the 21st Century: Degrowth vs. Neoliberalism," SRE-Disc sre-disc-2021_02, Institute for Multilevel Governance and Development, Department of Socioeconomics, Vienna University of Economics and Business.
  • Handle: RePEc:wiw:wiwsre:sre-disc-2021_02

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Giorgos Kallis & Hug March, 2015. "Imaginaries of Hope: The Utopianism of Degrowth," Annals of the American Association of Geographers, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 105(2), pages 360-368, March.
    2. Friedman, Milton, 2002. "Capitalism and Freedom," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, number 9780226264202.
    3. Kallis, Giorgos, 2011. "In defence of degrowth," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(5), pages 873-880, March.
    4. Friedman, Milton, 2002. "Capitalism and Freedom," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, number 9780226264219, Febrero.
    5. Hayek, F. A., 2011. "The Constitution of Liberty," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, number 9780226315379 edited by Hamowy, Ronald, June.
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    More about this item


    Political economy; freedom; Degrowth; neoliberalism; autonomy; social-ecological economic transformation; Castoriadis; Hayek; Friedman;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values
    • B5 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Current Heterodox Approaches
    • O44 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Environment and Growth
    • P1 - Political Economy and Comparative Economic Systems - - Capitalist Economies
    • P48 - Political Economy and Comparative Economic Systems - - Other Economic Systems - - - Legal Institutions; Property Rights; Natural Resources; Energy; Environment; Regional Studies
    • Q57 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Ecological Economics

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