Research Strategies and Issues 2013-2015
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Research Strategies and Issues 2013-2015

The Underlying Idea

Hartmut RosaThe 'Post-Growth' Research Group is convinced that the constraints of incessant progress in modern, capitalist societies can only be overcome by a complex, simultaneous and multi-dimensional transformation (or revolution) which, at the same time, entails concrete economic, political and cultural changes. Hence, one of the Research Group's key tasks consists of identifying what has to change as precisely as possible to render inoperative the 'self-perpetuating' imperatives of progress systemic in the economic, political and cultural spheres. This, however, assumes that the particular mechanisms of and constraints to progress are understood precisely, together with their particular institutional entrenchments. In addition, the Research Group intends to open up perspectives on how each of the specific constraints to progress can be overcome. The Research Group's second work phase (October 2013 - September 2015) focuses on the cultural dimension (i.e., on the subjects' senses, conduct of life and perspectives), with Hartmut Rosa as the main protagonist.

The research planned for this period starts from the insight that growth and progress provides the explicit and - even more so - implicit definition of happiness, well-being and the good life in modern western societies. In other words, growth rates are always taken as the measure of (life, as well as political) quality. In late modernity in particular, this leads to ever increasing constraints to optimize. In contrast, the Research Group is attempting to elaborate a different definition of life quality, characterized 'negatively' by overcoming and avoiding contexts of alienation, and 'positively' by establishing and securing spaces for and experiences of resonance.

Hence, over the coming two years, the Research Group will be primarily focused on the challenge of defining 'resonance' and 'alienation' more precisely and, in this process, also enable them, as far as possible, to be understood empirically. In addition, the task is to consider how far these concepts can serve to define a new benchmark of life quality, or, if necessary, to identify the elements needed to supplement it. In this context, the objective is also to analyze the economic and political implications for other research fields, and identify 'interdependencies' with them. Finally, this research task entails a discussion of which actors and social movements would be compatible with such a cultural change.

Research Issues and Approach

The application to the DFG (German Research Foundation) for funding the Research Group defines the key questions in research into 'Acceleration' as: "Can there be social welfare without the systemic imperative of growth? Is non-growth compatible with an enhanced life quality for the majority of society?"

To answer these questions, the aim is to analyze how the logic of increasing growth, acceleration and the consolidation of innovation shapes the subject's relationship, cultural and otherwise, to the world. As a fundamentally new element, research is to be conducted into the sources, forms and consequences of disturbances in such a relationship.

Here, the concept of alienation provides a key starting point for the research, whereby alienation is be understood as a disturbance in the appropriation of things, activities and people, and in the relationship to space, time, society and one's own body. For such a concept of alienation to be empirically fruitful as well, a positive counter-concept also needs to be developed describing a successful (i.e., non-alienated) relationship to the world. During these two years of research, the primary objective is thus to elaborate and establish the counter-concept of a resonance relationship. This builds on the assumption that individuals always regard their relations to their world, life, agency, or social relations as successful or fulfilling when they experience resonance. Through such experiences, they attempt to assure themselves of a harmony between themselves and 'the world' (social relations, things, natural world, own body, feelings). Developing the concepts of 'alienation' and 'resonance' further as planned is designed to enable the essentially optimistic view of progress embedded in modernity since the Enlightenment to be separated from the modern principles of dynamization, so that promoting human well-being can not only be retained as a political and structural goal, but potentially taken into account, or at least problematized, specifically against the systemic and capitalist imperatives of progress.

Here, we arrive at one of the first major challenges over the next two years of research: the attempt to define the concepts of resonance and alienation positively raises a series of questions which will need to be discussed over the coming years. Moreover, it will be necessary to clarify, for example, how the concepts of resonance and autonomy are related, as well how both of these relate to the imperatives of progress in modern societies. To drive such a clarification forwards, central spheres of life are to be investigated in terms of resonance experiences: for example, not only looking at work and family as 'spheres of resonance', but also examining issues around the crisis in democracy as well as the ecological crisis as 'crises of alienation'.

This inevitably raises the question of whether and how such considerations can be supported by empirical research. On closer inspection, there is certainly a variety of data available, though here too a need for further research is evident: e.g. investigating whether there is a connection between lack of time/stress and life satisfaction. If there is a connection, research would then have to establish if and how this changes when one also includes the degree of a society's equality/inequality? A different question which suggests itself here is whether illnesses related to burnout are purely caused by stress (from too much work) or whether the lack or impossibility of resonance experiences (e.g. in one's job) also plays a role. Moreover, research is to be directed to considering which (conscious and unconscious) strategies people follow to experience resonance (creating 'oases', e.g., gardening, singing in a choir, going to football matches or rave parties, or snowboarding…) and avoid contexts of alienation. This question can certainly be followed up with data that is more qualitative than standardized.

Hence, the research over the next two years intends to focus on intensively discussing and critically evaluating a multiplicity of hypotheses and open questions in both the theoretical as well as the empirical areas. In addition to Hartmut Rosa as protagonist, Klaus Dörre will be acting as the antagonist in this period, and providing a critique from the perspective of the Landnahme theory.

As in previous practice, we intend to discuss these theories and issues with guest researchers and scholars. We hope that a series of Fellows, who visited the Research Group for discussions in the past, will also continue to accompany this research process. Here, for example, Rahel Jaeggi would be a key discussion partner to further elaborate the concept of alienation and the resonance/autonomy relationship. Christoph Deutschmann's idea of relations to the world being mediated by money is also an interesting notion and offers many points for further discussion. Elisabeth von Thadden is working on 'resonance', and will continue to be exchanging views with Hartmut Rosa on this concept. The Research Group also intends to invite other guests as visiting Fellows.

Events: Initial Plans and Ideas

The initial planning already includes a major, four-day international conference with the working title: "The Good Life Beyond Growth - From Eudaimonia to Buen Vivir: Philosophical Conceptions, Social Practices and Political Claims". Together with philosophers, sociologists, economists, and psychologists, we intend to debate and discuss ideas of the 'good life' (including historical and empirical ideas), and additionally review the social movements and practices dealing with these subjects.

A workshop on 'resonance' is also definitely planned to enable the concept, together with the theoretical and empirical challenges it entails, to be thoroughly discussed in a small group.