Post-Carbon Space Making: Politicisation, Participation and the Eco-Social Contract

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Neoliberalism has systematically depoliticised the economy and questions on ‘the good life’, promising plurality under the guise of ‘more choice’ but in fact only offering a singular vision of carbon-dependent consumerist material prosperity and capitalist social ‘progress’. In so effectively and pervasively linking this vision of the good life to the capitalist economic growth imperative (i.e. as precondition for prosperity, progress and political legitimacy), it has become inextricable from fossil fuel consumption. In this way, neoliberalism mediates an ‘ecocidal contract’ between citizen, state and fossil capital, within which citizens are reduced to passive consumers and participation is marketised and reduced to series of transactions.
This depoliticisation – including a limited view on what constitutes ‘the political’ in the first place – therefore has grave implications for any post-carbon transformation of the economy, which will necessarily involve deep and disruptive changes to material futures and the very aspirations of individuals and communities. (Re-)politicisation should therefore be at the core of any transitional politics, as a precondition for democratic participation and to encourage heterodox thinking on just and sustainable post-growth and post-carbon ways of being. In the context of, and contrary to, neoliberal passivity and capitalist 'commonsense', this therefore requires deep cultural transformations along the lines of a new ‘eco-social contract’ centred on meaningful participation and the eco-social common good. This paper argues that counterhegemonic practices of post-carbon, post-growth and post-capitalist prefiguration are therefore essential to a transformative project of ‘space making’ which directly challenges the neoliberal carbon-capitalist status quo. This argument hinges on three points: (1) prefiguration has the capacity to remove people (if only briefly) from dominant ecocidal neoliberal capitalist social and ecological relations, opening space for thinking and acting creatively and developing heterodox post-capitalist and plural notions of ‘the good life’, and thereby (2) performing a critical communicative function which challenges capitalist commonsense and offers alternatives. All the while, as an essentially participatory act, prefiguration (3) may help to engender a culture of participation which is energising (i.e. socially and ecologically reproductive) and not just energy-dependent, in the consumptive neoliberal sense.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2022
EventCulture and Decarbonisation: Desire, Subjectivities and Lifestyle Changes in the High-Carbon Past and Low-Carbon Future - Queen's University Belfast, Belfast
Duration: 26 May 202226 May 2022


ConferenceCulture and Decarbonisation: Desire, Subjectivities and Lifestyle Changes in the High-Carbon Past and Low-Carbon Future


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