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

Felix Windegger, Clive L. Spash

Publication: Working/Discussion PaperWU Working Paper


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.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationVienna
PublisherWU Vienna University of Economics and Business
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Publication series

NameSRE - Discussion Papers

WU Working Paper Series

  • SRE - Discussion Papers

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