Discourses for deep transformation: perceptions of economic growth in two rural communities in Lower Saxony, Germany

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Ecological degradation stemming from the paradigmatic pursuit of economic growth is well known. Transforming the current dominant economic discourse will be a great challenge of our time and one that can foster a transformation to a more sustainable state. Little research exists concerning perceptions of growth by individuals in rural areas. In this empirical study, we analysed 33 interviews from two rural communities in Northwest Germany through qualitative content analysis. Our results highlight four archetypical perceptions of economic growth: (1) growth as inherently positive, (2) growth as being self-evident and without alternatives, (3) growth as a systemic constraint, and (4) growth as critical and with negative consequences. Differing perceptions about five key themes within broader societal discourses shape the four archetypical perceptions. All four archetypes are characterized by a common perception of systemic constraints, a lack of concrete alternatives to the current economic system and a lack of individual and societal agency, showing a system that is locked into its current trajectory. The understanding of the consequences of growth, stemming from the knowledge of rural inhabitants, can lay the groundwork for future research on discourses of growth. We envision a strengthening of tangible alternatives to the dominant economic growth paradigm within and with the local communities as necessary for a sustainability transformation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSustainability Science
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1827-1840
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 11.2021