Development based on the social imaginary of limitless economic growth has caused widespread ecological destruction. It remains a crucial driver of global climate change and widening socio-economic gaps both in the region and within countries. Its characteristics include the simultaneous existence of overuse and underuse of resources, as well as overconsumption and unmet human needs. These trends have raised questions about the classic development trajectory (including its latest iteration in the form of the growth-dependent Sustainable Development Goals) and its feasibility for achieving sustainability. As a response, degrowth and post-development have emerged as crucial alternatives to growth-obsessed development strategies, and draw heavily upon commons-related ideas.
In ‘industrialized’ Asia (e.g., Japan, China, South Korea, and Taiwan), demographic transitions including depopulation, low fertility rates, shifting workforce composition, and changing ways of relating to the natural environment can be observed, with similar trends apparent across diverse political systems. Dominant political and industrial discourses interpret depopulation as a hazard since it implies shrinking domestic markets. However, depopulation could also inspire people to turn away from the imaginary of limitless economic growth, thereby opening the door for a small but sufficient society. Commons and degrowth ideas could be indispensable tools in achieving such a transition.
In ‘developing’ places in Asia, human needs often remain unmet despite mounting ecological damage from classic growth-based development. This broken promise of classic development points to the importance of finding alternative pathways, with prominent examples of such efforts including the focus on happiness over growth in Bhutan. A rich diversity of approaches that build on local context, culture, values, and on-going grassroots struggles is rapidly gaining recognition under the term post-development. Commons and commoning seem highly relevant for post-development by offering insights for community-centered resource management and practices.
Degrowth and post-development, however, are still seen as approaches applying to either developed or developing countries. The commons idea is relevant to both fields and has the potential to break down the dichotomy and open spaces for mutual learning.
As the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic continues to expand globally, questions of ownership, access and management of commons (as well as public goods) have returned to the center stage in almost every society. Commons that were previously taken for granted now suddenly turn out to be both precious and precarious.
This workshop thus aims to bring together researchers and practitioners working on or interested in the intersection of commons & commoning, post-development, and degrowth in the Asian context in the hope of fostering cross-cutting, interdisciplinary work on these topics.