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Growth: A Social Ideal and its Ecological Limits



The organic metaphor of growth has been central to modern social, political, and economic thought. Although traditionally associated with progress, the quest for growth has nevertheless been far from wholly benign. Today we confront environmental degradation and a climate crisis driven by unsustainable forms of growth. If the pursuit of more has been disastrous for the environment, must the ideal of growth itself be abandoned to save the planet? Can we in fact disband with growth? And what sorts of far-ranging effects might follow from letting it go? This class examines the history of the idea of growth and its many afterlives. It begins with the concept’s biological and theological underpinnings. The course then traces the growing centrality of growth to modern social, political, and economic thought. Finally, the seminar complicates assumptions about the possibility and desirability of growth by examining contemporary de-growth and non-growth critiques.

Course objectives

This course aims to understand the emergence of the ideal of growth alongside the ecological damage that growth has wrought. By putting earlier appeals to growth in conversation with newly emergent literatures troubling it, the class offers students a broader theoretical lens through which to analyze and situate environmental concerns today.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

Participation: 20%
Research Paper: 80%

The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.

Reading list



See 'Practical Information'.

This course is earmarked for the specializations PLJ, NECD, PPD and NP

NB: 8 spots are reserved for students of the specialization PLJ, please register for group 2 (21574). All other students should register for group 1 (12398).


See 'MyTimetable'.