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The Hermes Consortium for Literary and Cultural Studies

The Hermes Consortium for Literary and Cultural Studies

is a collaboration of doctoral schools in Belgium, The Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, France, and USA that seeks to further an understanding of the European presence in the fields of literature, art and culture in an era of globalization, to promote interdisciplinary thoughts in the fields of literary and cultural studies, to explore changes in European self-understanding and self-criticism across the cultures and disciplines in and beyond Europe, and to develop co-operation between European as well as between non-European research environments.



Narrating Degrowth and Sustainability: Cultural Imaginaries and the 4th Industrial Revolution

June 10-14, 2024


Cultural Narratives are symbolic matrixes in the making that orientate behavior, world-views, affects, social engineering, and practices (Kuipers 2019; Valdivia 2017, 2019). Literature and cultural symbolic products (fiction, poetry, music, transmedia, theater, amongst others) are privileged sources of transformative knowledge – by enacting simulative and experiential information processing, they play a key role in configuring our societies, identities, systems of representations, technologies, policies, and communicative mediations (Comer & Taggart 2020; Landau 2017; Levine 2015; Stockwell 2020). In this interdisciplinary Hermes Summer School, we will explore, analyze, and problematize cultural narratives of degrowth and sustainability, with particular attention to how they might unfold new imaginaries that can contribute to developing novel ways of rethinking the social fabric.

This summer school aims to provide participants with a critical understanding of narratives of degrowth and sustainability, their complex relations and their implications for sustainable development. For instance, what sustainability narratives configure the sustainable development goals as formulated by the UN construct? (UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals 2015; UNESCO Knowledge Driven Actions 2022) Do they tell a story that frames economic growth as compatible, if not essential, for social and ecological wellbeing? How do they hide or highlight the contradictions between economic, social and ecological agendas? Moreover, what narratives are needed to rethink sustainability in such a way that it moves beyond “green” growth and towards a degrowth path? How might these narratives intersect with posthuman and/or decolonial theories and demands and foster a better understanding of the tension between the Global South and the Global North? In short, this summer school will investigate the potential of such narratives to promote alternative forms of economic and social organization that prioritize ecological sustainability, social justice, and human well-being over economic growth.

As stated by Johns-Putra, Parham, and Squire in their introduction to the volume Literature and Sustainability: “In discussing sustainability from a literary perspective, we draw forward two approaches … One, is that of a critical sustainability. Certainly, other literary scholars have suggested that the very discourse and praxis of sustainability bears scrutiny of a literary kind. Karen Pinkus has argued that sustainability functions in the same way as narrative; it ‘implies or writes a narrative coherence’ [...], and rethinking sustainability requires that we rethink narrative itself. Indeed, a narrative of jouissance rather than of futurity might release us from the trap of ‘business-as-usual’ thinking that accompanies so much sustainability discourse. The other approach may be considered a literary response (broadly speaking) to such discourses of sustainability, including an emphasis on the possibilities that arise in a fluid engagement with literature per se” (2017: 5-6).

In this vein of critical inquiry, amongst other timely research questions, this Hermes Summer School will investigate which cultural narratives can foster and prime social transformations enhancing degrowth and sustainability. What conceptual architectures (e.g., conceptual metaphors and analogical modeling) could promote and contribute to developing fairer and more respectful human, economic, and technological practices concerning the climate and ecological crisis? How do literary knowledge and its practices convey innovative paths for re-imagining change, including social and environmental responsibility within the symbolic frameworks of legal, political, and economic imaginaries? How do we inquire about the theoretical foundations of degrowth and sustainability cultural narratives? What is the overarching role of narratives in shaping public discourse and policy? How can we inform social change through case studies of communities and movements that have embraced narratives of degrowth and sustainability? What challenges and opportunities are associated with implementing narratives of degrowth and sustainability?

As operating non-normative terminological frameworks, we suggest conceptual points of entry for discussion and dialogue based on the following understanding of

Culture: “A set of beliefs, practices, rituals, and traditions shared by a group of people with at least one point of common identity (such as their ethnicity, race, or nationality). At its core is the sense that it is different from nature in that it is a product of conscious choice and not the instincts. But as authors like Donna Haraway have shown, the nature/culture divide is difficult to sustain. A wide range of disciplines—predominantly anthropology, archaeology, Cultural Studies, history and sociology—make use of the concept of culture, each one adding its own qualification, making it problematic to say that what is meant by this word is exactly the same in any two disciplines. In the humanities, from the time of Matthew Arnold in the late nineteenth century up until very late in the twentieth century, culture referred to artistic production of all types, and was further classified into categories of ‘high’ and ‘low’ reflecting the perceived relative aesthetic merit of a particular work. The advent of Cultural Studies in 1950s Britain began to change that, as it combined ways of thinking about culture from history and sociology and conceived of culture as the glue holding society together. Culture came to refer to any form of creative production, from the self-consciously artistic work of professional artists to the relatively banal habits and practices of everyday life. It is this sense of the word that has lately become dominant. The principal theoretical problem culture raises is one of reproduction: why do people adhere to a given culture and to what extent are their actions determined by this?”. (Buchanan, I., 2018

“UNESCO defines culture as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, that encompasses, not only art and literature, but lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs”. (UNESCO, 2001)

Narrative: “We make sense of our memory and others’ behavior by constantly constructing narratives from an information stream that unfolds over time. Comprehending a narrative is a process of accumulating ongoing information, storing it in memory as a situational model, and simultaneously integrating it to construct a coherent representation (Zwaan et al., 1995; Langston and Trabasso, 1999; Polyn et al., 2009; Ranganath and Ritchey, 2012). Forming a coherent representation of a narrative involves comprehending the causal structure of the events, including the causal flow that links consecutive events or even a long-range causal connection that exists between temporally discontiguous events”. (Song et al. 2021, Cognitive and Neural State Dynamics of Narrative Comprehension)

Degrowth: “Degrowth can generally be defined as a collective and deliberative process aimed at the equitable downscaling of the overall capacity to produce and consume and of the role of markets and commercial exchanges as a central organising principle of human lives (Schneider et al., 2010)”. (Sekulova et al. 2013, Degrowth: from theory to practice)

Sustainability (also known as sustainable development):

“In 1987 the UN World Commission on Environment and Development published the Brundtland Report under the title Our Common Future. The report was named after the former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland who chaired the commission. In it sustainable development was defined as “development which meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” There are two very important principles the definition invokes. The first is that sustainability is inherently intergenerational; namely, it is future oriented. The second is that sustainability is an ethical issue. It demands current generations act responsibly vis-à-vis future generations and consider the long-term consequences of their actions. ” (Parr, A., 2014)

“Sustainable development has been defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainable development calls for concerted efforts towards building an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future for people and planet. For sustainable development to be achieved, it is crucial to harmonize three core elements: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection. These elements are interconnected and all are crucial for the well-being of individuals and societies. Eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions is an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. To this end, there must be promotion of sustainable, inclusive and equitable economic growth, creating greater opportunities for all, reducing inequalities, raising basic standards of living, fostering equitable social development and inclusion, and promoting integrated and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems”. (UN 2023, The Sustainable Development Agenda)

4th Industrial  (Knowledge) Revolution: “The fourth industrial revolution, a term coined by Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, describes a world where individuals move between digital domains and offline reality with the use of connected technology to enable and manage their lives. (Miller 2015, 3) The first industrial revolution changed our lives and economy from an agrarian and handicraft economy to one dominated by industry and machine manufacturing. Oil and electricity facilitated mass production in the second industrial revolution. In the third industrial revolution, information technology was used to automate production. Although each industrial revolution is often considered a separate event, together they can be better understood as a series of events building upon innovations of the previous revolution and leading to more advanced forms of production”. (Xu et al. 2018, The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Opportunities and Challenges)

We welcome abstracts related but not limited to the areas listed below:

  • Cultural narratives of degrowth and sustainability: literary and artistic practices from Medieval, Early Modern to present.
  • Culturally mediated social transformations enhancing degrowth and sustainability.
  • Literary conceptual architectures for rethinking the social fabric.
  • Sustainable development goals and their implications for cultural imaginaries.
  • Aesthetic coping with contradictions, frictions, and unbalances engendered by the 4th industrial revolution.
  • Literary knowledge and practices for re-imagining change.
  • Symbolic frameworks of legal, political, and economic imaginaries.
  • Theoretical foundations of degrowth and sustainability cultural narratives.
  • Role of narratives in shaping public discourse and policy.
  • Case studies of communities and movements embracing narratives of degrowth and sustainability.
  • Analogical modeling (metaphor, metonymy, amongst others) for developing fairer and more respectful human economic and technological practices concerning the climate crisis.
  • Environmental responsibility within symbolic frameworks of legal, political, and economic imaginaries.
  • Degrowth thinking and posthumanism under the context of the 4th industrial revolution.
  • Decolonial theory and anti-/post-extractivism.


Each paper will be allotted 20 minutes. PhD students from Hermes partner institutions are welcome to send their proposals, including an abstract (300 words) and a short bio note (150 words, with name, email address, institutional affiliation, dissertation topic, and disciplinary anchoring), to osl@rug.nl by November 30, 2023.

Keynote Speakers (TO BE ANNOUNCED)

Masterclasses by Hermes faculty for small groups: the program will include three seminars for small groups, each focusing on a topic related to the general theme of “Narrating Degrowth and Sustainability”.

General Information

The Netherlands Research School for Literary Studies (OSL) is a member of the Hermes Consortium for Literary and Cultural Studies, a long-standing collaboration of twelve doctoral schools in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the USA. The Consortium’s annual summer school, hosted in turn by each partner institution, brings together specialists, delegates from the partner universities, and 24 PhD students (two per university). An intensive training workshop and work-in-progress presentations focus on shared methodologies and interdisciplinary themes and lead to the publication of an annual edited volume, published by UCL Press in the Comparative Literature and Culture series.

Practical Information

The school will take place in Utrecht. Accommodation for delegates, speakers and student participants will be provided for five nights (10th June to 14th June 2024). A conference fee of EUR 350.00 per participant will include participation, accommodation, cultural activities, coffee breaks, lunch on five days, and conference dinner. Participants are requested to make their own travel arrangements.


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