Seeking space and light: a review of Kate Soper’s Post-Growth Living

A new book argues that the case for moving to a sustainable economic model should use the language of desire rather than sacrifice, emphasising what we might gain, not just what we might lose.

Seeing anew

Elements of the story Soper tells will resonate with many. Each morning we wake, perhaps sooner than we would like, to drive through busy streets or crowd on to trains and buses to make long, expensive journeys to unremarkable offices to do unremarkable, repetitive work. Formal workplace hierarchies may have softened somewhat, but there is a new emphasis on emotional labour, the expectation that we make a personal commitment to our companies and their brands, not just dispassionately discharge our duties. Soper shares David Frayne’s observation that employment, the supposed gateway to freedom, tends to afford us little agency, noting the paradox that ‘paid work should represent such a powerful symbol of maturity and independence, given the realities of employment as a situation of profound dependency.’

An ‘avant-garde nostalgia’

Soper invites us to contemplate the possibility of patterns of life that immerse us more completely in the physical world, encouraging us to experience its concrete particularity, rather than something we simply pass through, observed through a car or office window. With her emphasis on the tactile and the sensual, she seems to have in mind something akin to the Zen concept of mindfulness that asks us to attend closely to the everyday world, and thereby see it anew.

New life, new problems

Srnicek and Williams might respond that Soper’s position exemplifies the ‘folk politics’ their book subjected to influential criticism: the tendency of left radicals to present shimmering visions of new societies without specifying the political institutions and economic systems through which they might be realised, or indeed how the political challenges their implementation would confront might be navigated.

A London-based business writer and essayist. Find me at and @_translucid.

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