Browsing through books: Farewell to growth by Serge Latouche

Serge Latouche’s book Farewell to growth (translated by David Macey, orig. Petit traité de la décroissance sereine) is a classic in degrowth literature. I first familiarised with it in 2010, when I attended my first degrowth conference in Finland entitled Alternatives to the growth economy. It was a high-profile meeting organised by The Finnish Association for Nature Conservation. One of the keynotes was delivered by Serge Latouche, so I have had a chance to hear his thoughts.

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Latouche, S. (2010). Farewell to growth. Polity.

The book is organised in three sections: (1) The territory of de-growth; (2) A concrete utopia; and (3) A political programme. The first section focuses on the critique of continuous economic growth, while the other two sections describe and map how growth and development could be challenged in practice.

The number of pages is a bit over 100, so it is a compact book. Latouche refers to many relevant debates but explains them only in passing. After 8 years of dwelling in the degrowth movement and thinking, my ability to interpret the book has definitely improved. Thus, re-reading it felt easier, but not at all less radical or inspiring.

Basically, Latouche suggests a complete change of paradigm(s), i.e. the way we think about living on planet Earth. The ultimate precondition is a better treatment of everyone and everything living on this planet. The destruction of life in the name of economic gains has stop because it makes no sense. Latouche wisely notes that actually many agree on this point, but few are able to imagine what paradigm changes mean or if they can manage to do that, how such paradigm changes could ever be obtained. However, the tone of the book seems hopeful. He puts trust in people’s movements beyond political parties and maps the role of the degrowth movement as a watchdog that encourages different institutions and actors to carry out the paradigm change.

Throughout the book he addresses questions asked from degrowth proponents, such as what the role of localism is, how do we feed everyone, and is degrowth humanist. Some of the answers are based on pragmatic solutions, while other answers tackle the actual questions and show how the question itself is coloured by the ideology of growth, development, and modernism.

Finally, Farewell to growth is truly “a pleasure to read”, as the book’s back cover text promises. That’s not only because I sympathise with the message, but because of the way Latouche has written the book. In short, this condensed manifesto is a must for anyone interested in degrowth debates.

A new series of posts: “Browsing through books”

Reading is a skill. In her excellent book about writing academic journal articles Wendy Belcher describes how some successful academics read. A revelation: they don’t! Well, they do but strategically and not from cover to cover. This is because there’s too much to read and not enough time. Belcher (2009, pp. 140–141) writes that

“Even a good reader, someone who manages to read five books a week, week in and week out, will only read 250 books a year or about 10,000 books over a career, Since most read more like one book a week, or 2,000 books total, our ability to read even a fraction of what is published in our discipline is limited.”

As a result, academics skim and read only parts of texts. Also, they choose what to read from cover to cover. And that’s fine.

When I started my postdoc in 2017, I was given an advice from someone finishing their postdoc and entering the world of tenured positions: “Postdoc is the best time of your life to read books.” I start to understand that now. When doing exploratory and multidisciplinary research (that’s me), it is important to read many books that present relevant studies to learn from, than only few in depth. Therefore, as part of the remaining time of my postdoc, I have a goal of browsing through more books. This skill complements my dear hobby of reading books from cover to cover.

This post is an official start of a public series in my blog titled Browsing through Books. I will post reviews on (browsed) books that I consider important for my project. Given that I’m involved with on-going fieldwork, my goal is to post 1-4 times a month.

As Gretchen Rubin claims in her book Better than before, for some people making public commitments helps them to achieve the goals they find important. And guess what, since I started to plan this series, I’m already done with one book and halfway to another one. So, for me, sharing is really caring.

I also need your help: In case you have nice templates in mind for academic book reviews or examples of blogs featuring fun and creative reviews, please comment and recommend.

And most importantly, stay tuned for my first reviews: Latouche’s Farewell to growth and Stengers’ Another Science is Possible: A Manifesto for Slow Science.

 

References: Belcher, W. L. (2009). Writing your journal article in 12 weeks: a guide to academic publishing success. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications.

DIY video editing during the postdoc project

As you might know, I’m working on a sensory ethnography during 2017-2020 funded by Nessling Foundation and Kone Foundation. The focus is on post-growth work and I use video among other things. And let me tell you, using video requires learning a whole new set of skills.

Despite some well meaning advice, I have insisted on doing video editing myself. And let me tell you another thing, it is hard. I chose Adobe Premiere Pro CC due to an access to the licence via my affiliation with Aalto University, Department of Design. It is an editing program developed for professionals. I’m a beginner, although I have taken a (short) course. As a result, I have done many imaginable and unimaginable mistakes. I’ve spent many moments just trying to figure out how to frame my problem in order to find some answers over the internet. Yes, thank you for the suggestion, I need to take another course. But I also need to to this basic work of familiarising with the program while working on an actual project. By the way, this project is my first short ethnopgraphic film for a virtual conference Displacaments 2018. Very cool and exciting!

Why I insist on doing video editing myself? For one, I don’t have a budget to hire anyone. But most improtantly, I think it is worthwhile for my postdoc project. After all, I have promised to generate public videos during my research under some of the Creative Commons licences. At this point, I feel lucky that I have time until 2020. But already by now, doing video editing has thought me already a number of important lessons.

First, considering the publicly available videos (in the future), I don’t know what kind of material I should generate unless I know what is doable to do with the chosen editing program. Mind due, that I’m also a beginner in generating video materials. What kinds of angles, framings, durations, actions etc. work? What about the sound, how is the quality of audio from a particular setting? I’ve been told that a good camera person edits while shooting. Apparently, they can produce interesting images for the editing phase so that editor’s work flows smoothly. That’s my goal, in some years. Naturally, the same goes for sound.

Second, I don’t want to gloss over my interpretations from the field. Someone with more video editing experience would most likely make choices that seem more professional. But then again would that respect what I have experienced while doing fieldwork? Perhaps another video editor would, for example, increase the tempo by cuts or the choice of music. But that might not be how I experienced and sensed the field. For example, my stay with one household was a very calm one, although I worked every day. The calmness came from staying put on the estate and focusing on tasks at hand related to gardening, animal care, and food. It was not like a movie or a music video with things happening all the time, yet there was good work being done. That’s the feeling I hope to communicate with my on-going editing project.

Third, being the only person in the production team, I do everything myself for generating video materials. I don’t have a camera person. I don’t have an audio technician. I don’t have anyone carrying my gear. And I don’t have a person who I do not even know I miss if I would be used to their expertise. So it’s me and the field. As a result, the process of generating video materials and editing is slow, but then again I feel it respects my research topic, which deals with questioning exponential ecnomic growth.

These issues dealing with shooting techniques, contenct, and process have made me realise that I’m learning a whole new set of skills. No wonder it seems slow and difficult at times! Then I remind myself that about eight years ago I started to learn how to write academic publications. I’m still learning the skills required for developing an interesting journal article or a book chapter – let alone a whole book, which I have not done yet (if a compilation doctoral dissertation is not counted).

So one step at a time, because that’s what DIY processes are about.

My writing routine is #BetterThanBefore

I recently finished listening to Gretceh Rubin’s book Better than before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. It was great because I understood my own habits much better after the book. Refreshing! Rubin uses many fun categories for readers (listneres) to reflect their own ways of organising their lives.

I wasn’t reading it for any particluar purpose but after a while I was encouraged to rethink my writing habits. After an intensive 2016, which was mainly about delivering against deadlines, early 2017 has been about transforming my writing habist from goal orientation to time orientation. That has not been easy since I had gotten used to writing because I had a deadline. Therefore, developing a habit of writing because it was time for it (i.e. developing ideas) seemed difficult.

Out of curiosity I decided try follow one of the examples she gave for larks, i.e. people who are at their best in the mornings.

Start immediately after you wake up.

Before I had started my writing sessions after morning streches, breakfast, and orienting for the day’s tasks. As a contrast, the new style meant starting immediately after waking up and moving on to other tasks after an hour or so. My only edition was to have something to eat while writing because everyone close to me knows what happens if I delay the first meal of the day. You do not want to be around for that event.

After a week I can happily conclude that my new habit of 60 minutes of early morning writing seems to work GREAT. It pairs up with a to do list for writing that sets up my priorities per each day & week.

Before finishing each day, I decide what I write after I wake up.

The to do list has two columns per day: (1) early morning writing goals (60 mins) and (2) before lunch writing goals (60-90 mins). In the worst case scenario, I will have to skip the second writing session because of teaching/meetings/fieldwork – but NEVER the first one. So I get writing time every week day (or every day if in hurry) no matter WHAT. And like Rubin argues, such a freedom from choice is extremely liberating. I’m in awe!

Apparently writing life can be a beach.

But remember, I’m a LARK, which means I love waking up early. Like really early. Like before 6 am. I’m serious. If you aren’t a lark, this probably feel likes a terrible idea. But if you don’t know, it doesn’t hurt to figure out if one is a lark or an night owl or something in between and rethink one’s writing schedule based on that.

The importance of reading

When I was 8 years old, my primary school substitute teacher hinted that I might have faked my reading diary. For two weeks I marked two books read per week. I assure you I wasn’t. There was absolutely no incentive for faking anything since it was a pro reading campaign detached from grades. Simply, I just loved reading and felt that finally I got to share all the fun things I had found.

This unfortunate story has a happy ending: others’ opinions didn’t make me lose my interest in reading. In fact, I’ve kept my hobby and made it into a profession as a researcher. Now, imagine if I had kept a reading diary since I learned how to read. Not meaning to brag – or seem like a fraud – but that list would be massive.

But in research one can never read enough so I’m definitely in the right business. I plough through smaller or bigger piles of books and (digitalised) articles every week. Be assured that my pile includes more than two pieces per week. I’m loving it! My sincerest thanks to great library services.

I’ve also learned to stop reading something if it has not attracted my attention for long enough. In diplomatic terms, that’s called skimming.

My favourite reading meme
My favourite reading meme

Partying is reading. Reading is learning. And there’s no research without learning. There’s no living without learning. Someone would say there’s no living without partying, which is practically the same thing as proven in the quote above. So let’s keep on reading and learning.