Reconceptualising freedom in the 21st century: neoliberalism vs. degrowth

Felix Windegger, Clive L. Spash*

*Corresponding author for this work

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review


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 individual and social autonomy. We present both positions and explain their differences. We then follow this up by reporting on a questionnaire conducted at the 2018 Degrowth Conference in Malmö, Sweden. This empirical study of the degrowth movement probes the extent to which advocates actually follow the Castoriadian as opposed to the hegemonic neoliberal theory. While participants were found to hold positions consistent with the Castoriadian theory, we also identify contradictory 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 in order to avoid potential co-option and becoming sub-hegemonic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)554-573
JournalNew Political Economy
Issue number4
Early online dateDec 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • autonomy
  • Castoriadis
  • degrowth
  • Freedom
  • neoliberalism

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