Paradigms and paradoxes: The futures of growth and degrowth

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Purpose: 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. Design/methodology/approach: The paper first explains its general outline and then explores different strands of literature to arrive at its analytical conclusions. Findings: 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. Originality/value: 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1133-1146
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Sociology and Social Policy
Issue number11-12
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Degrowth
  • Growth paradigm
  • Imaginaries
  • Innovation
  • Lock-in
  • Rebound
  • Sufficiency

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