Research beyond growth: Mental infrastructures of economic growth

In this series on “Research beyond growth” we feature scholarly articles and other research results focusing beyond the traditional growth- and efficiency-orientation in management science. We focus today on Harald Welzer, German sociologist and social psychologist and founder of “Futurzwei“, a foundation for future research and storytelling, and his insights that economic growth is in fact a mental infrastructure.

Those concerned about the future, those thinking about a sustainable postgrowth, post-carbon society have only a negative story to tell: If we do not immediately do one thing or another, the story always begins, the world will end; we can brace ourselves for catastrophe. Time is running out – and has been running out for the past 40 years – and no one notices that this type of communication is incapable of telling a story people may identify with, but merely slots into a media culture for which catastrophe is a routine business. The physical, mental and institutional infrastructures of business-as-usual have tremendous inertia; and, anyway, negative stories cannot hold their own against the attractions and temptations of consumer society. Visualizations such as the “carbon footprint”, “virtual water” and the “ecological backpack” do not help either, as they cannot connect to our lives and remain far too abstract to even remotely affect our mental infrastructures. What is lacking is a vision that carries emotional weight and inspires identification, a phrasing of the question of how we actually want to live in 2025. Simply asking this question would already broaden the horizon considerably vis-à-vis a political culture that claims to be without alternatives and the religion of growth – as it would rapidly become clear that growth cannot be the answer.

Welzer, H. (2011). Mental Infrastructures: How Growth Entered the World and Our Souls. Heinrich Böll Foundation: Berlin.


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