Downshifting – a Silent Movement Towards Alternative Ways of Living and Working

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 18:00
Oral Presentation
Julia GRUHLICH, Göttingen University, Germany
In Germany, since the financial crises the discourse on downshifting attracted growing attention. The phenomenon is continuously visible especially in manager-magazines, coaching, and self-help literature. Here, the term downshifting stands for the individual’s voluntary decision against the growth imperative in the context of work and career and entails a reduction of work hours, income, spending, and job responsibilities. Looking at this discourse, the most popular impression is that downshifting is the preserve of a privileged set of wealthy middle-class people. However, considering that employment and a strong work ethic are the centerpiece of capitalist societies, I argue that downshifters may have a broader impact on society. Furthermore, the middle-class tends to be a major preservative force in society and their lifestyle serves as a normative model. Therefore, downshifter can be understood as part of a silent revolution for a radically different society.

The intent of this paper is twofold: First, I will shed light on downshifter lifestyles. I explore what makes this movement special. Second, I will highlight its formation conditions. I examine what are the driving forces of these downshifters. Based on an ongoing research project that comprises a document analysis of the downshifter discourse in Germany and 19 biographic interviews with downshifters, I show that downshifting is essentially individualistic, white, middle class, and middle aged. Downshifters do not identify themselves as a political or social movement. They are neither well-defined nor well-organized. However, they form a collective phenomenon by questioning the growth imperative in their daily life. Downshifting is a pragmatic kind of criticism and it refers to imbedded social pathologies of flexible capitalism, but even more: It offers concrete visions for alternative ways of living and working.