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Paradigms and paradoxes: the futures of growth and degrowth

Udo Pesch (Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 28 August 2018

Issue publication date: 20 September 2018




The purpose of this paper is to introduce three storylines that address the relation between economic growth, technical innovation and environmental impact. The paper assesses if and how these storylines as guiding visions increase our range of future orientations.


The paper first explains its general outline and then explores different strands of literature to arrive at its analytical conclusions.


Pursuing the three storylines in a paradigmatic articulation creates paradoxes. The growth paradigm focuses on economic growth as its main goal. To overcome environmental degradation, products have to be substituted by environmentally friendly alternatives, but the continuous substitution of finite resources seems unlikely possible. The storyline of innovation sees technological development as a driver of economic progress, and holds that innovations allow the decoupling of economic growth from environmental impact, a claim that is compromised by the occurrence of rebound effects. The degrowth storyline holds that economic growth has to be stopped altogether, but is unclear how this can be done.


By articulating paradigmatic perspectives as storylines, a new understanding on how these perspectives can be figured as a constructive repertoire of guiding visions and not as mere theory-based descriptions.



This paper is written as part of the Green Lifestyles, Alternative Models and Upscaling Regional Sustainability (GLAMURS) project, which was funded by the European Commission under the FP7 SSH Call: 2013.2.1-1- Obstacles and prospects for Sustainable lifestyles and Green Economy (Grant Agreement No. 613420). This paper has been largely inspired by a discussion held at the International Sustainability Transition Conference in Wuppertal, November 2017. Participants to this discussion have been Sarah Koller, Vincent Viaud, Tilman Santarius and Kristin Reiss. Though the author’s views will not necessarily represents theirs, the author would like to thank them for their valuable contribution to this paper. Moreover, the author grateful for the comments of Wilbert Grevers and Ines Omann to an earlier version of this paper.


Pesch, U. (2018), "Paradigms and paradoxes: the futures of growth and degrowth", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 38 No. 11/12, pp. 1133-1146.



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