Introduction: The Ecology of Shrinkage

in Nature and Culture
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Since about the 1980s, shrinkage processes have been observed mainly

in the developed countries. Although population decreases has been

the main focus, other phenomena—such as the reduction of jobs, the

restructuring of industrial and urban regions, and the scarcity of public

commodities and natural resources—also deserve attention. Shrinkage

is by no means becoming the dominant mode of development

though some regional exceptions do exist. In this sense, it is comparable

to the modern growth processes that do not run concordantly.

Modern shrinkage processes are concentrated in certain economic

branches, institutions, social groups, and last but not least, regions.

Consequently, we find profound disparities with some countries where

parts of society face shrinkage processes while others face growth

processes. As observed by some scholars (e.g., Oswalt 2008), the growth

mode is losing its dominance in modern societies. However, a paradigm

shift toward shrinkage has not yet taken place. Rather one has

to assume a longer phase of side-by-side, contra-, and co-operative

growth and shrinkage processes. This phase may be shaped by its own

contradictions and conflicts, in particular by a high level of uncertainty.

In contrast to the social growth phase roughly until the early

1970s, this phase will probably be less easy to steer. Although growth

coalitions, typical for the previous phase, were based on the assumption

that profits were redistributed as welfare, the shrinkage alliances

are confronted with the financing of losses. Shrinkage processes challenge

operational routines and bring with them new positions of interest

that require novel coalitions among actors.


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