Recovering local cultural values: De-growth in political practice

This is an abstract of a paper presented by Marco Boffi and Marta Guerini at the 17th International Sociological Association World Congress in Gothenburg, Sweden, in July of 2010.

I have not been able to find a full text or slides for the presentation and I have slightly edited the English abstract for readability.

The original can be found here:

Degrowth in political practice: wellbeing and sustainability as intrinsic effects
Presentation date: Jul-2010

Abstract: This paper focuses on the spread of the degrowth proposal into Italian politics and highlights the results that this proliferation entails. The research emphasizes the activities of individuals and explains the increase of the practice of degrowth, not as a result of institutional driving forces but as a consequence of individual actions that collectively foster a cultural change.

We focused on the Association of Virtuous Municipalities (VMA), a network of several Italian municipalities that has been the first national association to adopt degrowth in Public Administration. Since 2007 the VMA officially refers to degrowth principles, locally working towards a decrease in consumption, waste and the ecological footprint of the administrative establishment, while promoting social relations, conviviality and citizens participation. This case study analysis is based on primary data. We interviewed the representatives of each municipality belonging to the VMA to investigate the effects of their policies; moreover, we ran a focus group with the town councillors of Mezzago (Milan) to explore in detail how these policies are put into practice at the political level.

The results show the efficacy of the enacted policies in promoting social cohesion, environmental protection and citizens’ well-being, achieved through individual fulfilment and empowerment (Eudaimonic Well-Being). We point out the relevance of the latter result as the key element that enables politicians and citizens to persevere in their activities. This kind of activism is promoted by subjective well-being, which is the result of an intrinsic motivation that allows individuals to experience a state of self-determination and a sense of competence. In this way, individuals mainly reproduce situations that will promote their own well-being.

Other results outline that the activity of the local administration is directed towards stimulating and listening to the citizens; this dialectic process recognizes a central role for the involvement of the citizenship, promoting active participation.

An example of good practices is the participatory project directed towards reintroducing the cultivation of pink asparagus, a well known and typical agricultural product of the Mezzago area, through establishing a cooperative society. This project results in the recovery of agricultural land, an increase of economical resources for the local farmers and the preservation of a symbolic value for the community’s identity. Ecological, economical and social aims are achieved, limiting the degradation of territory and promoting mastery among the citizenship. We believe that this last aspect is necessary to preserve social cohesion and cultural identity: those results would not be achievable using the land for maize intensive farming or residential zoning.

In conclusion, the spread of the degrowth proposal into Italian politics is due to an individual process, characterized by self-empowerment and self-determination, and it is activated by the public administration’s endorsement. Such a process, reproduced in each municipality, expands degrowth practices, not only in the local context but also in a larger dimension. Administrations and citizens foster new cultural elements coming from the degrowth proposal and a cultural change is stimulated. The openness towards society explains the effectiveness of creating a widespread network that has its origin in local actions and that pioneers a new model of sustainability for Public Administration.

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