Working Paper 2/2020

Wahlsten, J. (2020). To Assemble Society Anew? The Political Economy of Contemporary Initiatives of Socio-Ecological Transformation. Helsinki Centre for Global Political Economy Working Paper, 02/2020.


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Recently, there have emerged several holistic initiatives aiming for comprehensive socio-ecological change. In this paper, I analyse the political economy of four recent plans falling under the rubric of a “Green New Deal”, which, while sharing many similarities, are examples of four distinct approaches to socio-ecological change. Crucial differences concern the proposals’ future-oriented narratives, their position on growth, democracy, technology, how to finance the changes and the relations between socio-economic, political and environmental questions. Although there exists a relatively extensive consensus on the necessity of wide-ranging change, the differences identified illustrate the disagreements that persist on the scale, scope, and purpose of the change, on how to come about with the transformation and whose agency matters in this process. I argue that the plans, by emphasising strategy at the expense of an analytical perspective, may run the risk of becoming blind both to the contradictions innate in their approaches and the gaps that, during a conjuncture of historical crises and a world of increasing environmental degradation and social hardship, might be opening for more ambitious changes.

Keywords: socio-ecological transformation, political economy, socio-ecological crises, Green New Deal