I recently found out that there is an "academic association dedicated to research, training, awareness raising and events organization around degrowth". This is how they define the central concept, "degrowth":
Sustainable degrowth is a downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions and equity on the planet. It calls for a future where societies live within their ecological means, with open, localized economies and resources more equally distributed through new forms of democratic institutions. Such societies will no longer have to “grow or die."
The definition is puzzling for several reasons:
  1. The definition of degrowth starts by defining "Sustainable degrowth". Are these the same? Is degrowth in itself unsustainable? How does (sustainable) degrowth relate to the (also somewhat vague) concept sustainable growth?
  2. The definition of degrowth (or possibly sustainable degrowth) contains a number of concepts that can be defined in a number of ways: human well-being and equity on the planet. Possibly, enhanced ecological conditions should be counted as well. What is gained by lumping two (or three) vague concepts into a new concept without clarifying what is meant by well-being, equity and enhanced ecologiocal conditions?
  3. Apparently, (sustainable) degrowth "calls for a future", suggesting that it is an agent that can act. Based on the definition that was just given, it is unclear how degrowth can call for any type of future. More generally, growth - regardless of type - does not call for anything, it is a term used to decribe something (for example growth of GDP per capita).
  4. Apparently (sustainable) degrowth is a type of growth that calls for "new forms of democratic institutions". Sure. Let's assume that the two sentences cited so far would appear in a student paper. Most serious university teachers would have a talk with the student, advising him/her to be more precise. Or just stop reading. In this case, lets read just a little more:
  5. 'Such societies will no longer have to “grow or die." ' The phrase "grow or die" seems to be cited, but there is no source. The definition is now polemic. But where are the societies that must "grow or die"? There are plenty of societies with low, no or even negative growth (as measured for example by GDP per capita). They don't die, they have constant or shrinking GDP per capita, the consequences of which can and (has been) both examined and discussed. The argument that some (all? capitalist?) societies must "grow or die" is a straw-man. But most importantly: Why does the definition of degrowth contain a normative argument?
There may well be good answers to all of these questions - after all, degrowth is an official theme at the prestigious Pufendorf Institute at Lund University.