Post-Growth in the Global South: The Emergence of Alternatives toDevelopment in Latin America

By Rebecca Hollender

1. Introduction

The concept of sustainable developmenthas been weakened and even rejected after decades of failed attempts to meet environmental and social objectives. This rejection comes from diverse actors ranging from civil society movements to academic sub-disciplines including post-development, political ecology, and degrowth. While the international sustainable development agenda has made progress in some areas, in most regions of the world social inequality and poverty have worsened, and a global environmental crisis is imminent. Despite myriad attempts to make the development system more inclusive, representative, and sustainable, the root causes of social and environmental problems have not been addressed.

As a result, a gradual exhaustion and shifting away from official development processes is taking place among civil society groups around the world. Instead of continuing efforts to improve and change the development system from within, alternatives are being deliberately elaborated outside of the system. Alternatives to Development (A2D) proposals were born from the post-development (PD) school of thought, which cites the current development model as a root cause of social inequality and environmental problems, reflecting four decades of failed prescriptions designed to promote economic growth (Gudynas 2012, Escobar 2010, Esteva 2013, Lang 2013). Post-development questions much of development’s underlying logic about participation, decision-making, hierarchy, human-nature relationships, governance structures, the [economic] value of nature, etc. Post-development sees the development system as a tool employed by capitalism in order to fulfill its constant need for expansion and domination over other forms of economic and social organization.

Alternatives to Development are concrete proposals for transitioning toward an environmentally sustainable, post-capitalist society. They address the urgent need to limit economic activity to within the biophysical limits of the planet. Broadly labeled as “post-growth,” they posit (1) that current growth patterns cannot be sustained and (2) that the primacy of economic growth in public policy must be undone. Post-growth recognizes that growth patterns will inevitably change and proposes transition measures that could mitigate a complete economic crisis and/or ecological collapse.

Alternatives to Development originate in the Global South and thus hold a unique place within post-growth thinking, because their analysis takes into account the poverty, inequality, and environmental problems of Southern societies, thereby involving different audiences and policy frameworks than proposals constructed in the Global North. The development lens allows for an analysis of the expansion of the growth-based economy (including current extractive models) from the standpoint of the Global South, whose encounter with modern economic globalization has been most often mediated through development policy. It is striking that in their efforts to address unique, local circumstances, A2D are tracing the root of their problems to a global system; they recognize that the capitalist system is the root cause of ecological and social crises, and view the development system as part and parcel of the problem.

This paper will examine the context of A2D discussions and initiatives in Latin America, and reveal some of the processes underlying A2D proposals. Section II will examine four interrelated political, social, and economic processes that are helpful in understanding the rise in popularity of A2D. These include: (1) the return to an extractive development model in the region; (2) disillusionment by civil society with progressive governments’ promises to bring forth alternatives; (3) obstacles facing regional integration; and (4) regional geopolitics and the rise of Brazil as regional hegemon. Section III will outline the theoretical approaches to A2D in Latin America and summarize three prominent examples: post-extractivism, Buen Vivir, and solidarity economies. It will introduce some of the most influential actors and processes involved in the construction of A2D in the region, as well as the wider civil society networks from which they draw support. Section IV will explore the feasibility of A2D and wider post-growth frameworks, as well as the significant challenges they face. Section V will review the experience of post-extractivism advocates in Peru in order to illustrate the obstacles to implementing A2D agendas. The conclusion will highlight the potential of A2D for transforming the embedded assumptions, structures, processes, and policies of the development model, and reveal the linkages between efforts in Latin America and global movements for change.

2. Contextualizing the Rise of Alternatives to Development in Latin America

Alternatives to Development in Latin America emerge out of multiple political and social landscapes, which are tied together by a common trend: the return to economic dependence on the export of primary natural resources and energetic commodities (Gudynas 2013, Villegas 2013, Webber 2012b, Cerezal 2013, etc.). A closer examination of four regional trends will highlight their role in perpetuating the region’s subordinate economic position and its devastating social and environmental conditions.

Expansion of the Extractive Development Model

Despite seven decades of development, many countries in Latin America never moved away from their colonial legacy of providing primary materials to fuel foreign industrialization. In recent years, this legacy has been reinforced,2 with the continued expansion of foreign direct investment (FDI) in natural resources, energy, and extractive projects (CEPAL 2012).3

The extractive model has changed, however, from earlier decades and colonial times. A2D authors label the current model “predatory extractivism” for a number of reasons. For one, its reach has moved beyond hydrocarbons and minerals to agriculture, forestry, and fishing,4 and also to foreign control of arable land and water resources.5 The current form of extractivism also involves the use of increasingly risky technologies (such as fracking and deep-sea drilling), and reduced regard for ecosystem integrity and social rights (as extractive activities have expanded into protected areas and indigenous territories). The new legal environment and cast of players, including multilateral trade organizations like the WTO and transnational corporations, result in the decreased bargaining capacity and weakened sovereignty of Latin American states. The new “Green Economy” agenda taken up by the UN development system, which favors market mechanisms as a way to achieve sustainability, is seen as promoter and accomplice of the expansion of extractivism6.

The renewed investment in primary export activities represents a deepening of the process of “accumulation by dispossession,” originally theorized by Harvey (2003). The shift of FDI in Latin America from the manufacturing to the primary sector reflects in part the rise of China and other Asian industrial countries (Zibechi 2013, Cesarin 2013, Gudynas 2013). For example, China, whose three main development banks comprise the biggest source of lending to Latin America (totaling more than World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and US Eximbank combined in 2010), issued two thirds of its loans from 2005-2013 as “loans-for-oil” (Gallagher 2013). Although the provision of primary materials by Latin America to China has sheltered the region from global economic decline, it has also resulted in the continued dependence of Latin American economies on the export of price-volatile commodities. Another reason for the shift in FDI is the increasing financialization of capital, which facilitates quick capital flows and allows for enormous profits to be made on speculative activities, for example on international currency and commodities markets (Algranati 2012).

The negative impacts of the new wave of extractivism are widely documented. Economic ills include: Dutch disease;7 increased consumption of imported goods; deteriorating terms of trade; the consolidation of export enclaves with low connectivity to local production chains; denationalization of the economy and consolidation of foreign control; exit of profits; vulnerability to volatile commodity-prices; failure of macroeconomic policies to adjust to boom and bust cycles, leading to overspending and debt; low employment in extractive sectors; increased opportunity for predatory rent-seeking; and failure to diversify the economy (Acosta 2012). Environmental and social impacts include: loss of self-sufficiency in food production; environmental contamination, loss of biodiversity, and climate change; the dispossession of land, resources, and territory from local communities and reversal of progressive land reform programs; the overriding of participatory, democratic decision-making and legal consultation processes; increased pressure on governments to modify social and environmental legislation to create attractive investment environments; increased conflict; increased economic inequality; the monetizing of nature, ignoring intrinsic, cultural, spiritual, and ecosystem values; etc. (Svampa 2012).

A2D thinkers argue that extractivist approaches disregard the proven failure of GDP growth to necessarily translate into quality of life improvements. In addition, they point out that current growth patterns are dependent on non-renewable resources and the irreversible alteration of natural ecosystems, which will eventually lead to resource depletion, ecological collapse, and stagnation.

Abandoned Agendas and Popular Disillusionment

Progressive Latin American governments took the international spotlight in the early 2000s with promises to transition away from the destructive, unjust, and economically unstable extractive model. The campaign platforms of Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador were firmly rooted in such promises, which were central for garnering the wide indigenous and civil society support that brought them into power. Early on in their administrations, the international environmental community heralded Morales and Correa for incorporating Buen Vivir and Rights of Mother Earth into their constitutions. However, this initial step of inserting indigenous principles into policy texts did not translate into the adoption of progressive agendas. Instead, these governments have promoted predatory extractivism. They have opened national parks and indigenous territory to fossil fuel exploration, exploitation, and pipelines, reversed community-based land reforms to favor private interests and large landholders, inaugurated new open-pit mining and hydroelectric projects without appropriate consultation, and have weakened if not disregarded social and environmental legislation and safeguards (Bjork-James 2013, Villegas 2013, Webber 2012a,b).

However, as extractive activities flourish in Bolivia and Ecuador, the governments employ a series of rhetorical and political tools to mask the implications of the model and their betrayal of political promises. First, reforms taken in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela to nationalize resources, increase state involvement and control over extractive projects, and redistribute natural resource rents, have resulted in economic growth and widely publicized social programs that are used to justify extractive activities.8 Indeed, economic growth statistics in Bolivia have received attention from the IMF (Neuman 2014), but belie rising social discontent with the government. The incorporation of indigenous concepts, styles of dress, rituals, and language into the governments’ promotion and celebration of new extractive projects is another manipulative and contradictory tool (Bjork-James 2013: 257). A third example is denunciation by progressive governments of the dangers of subscribing to environmental agendas allegedly imposed from the North (Svampa 2012). By denying the validity of “environmentalisms of the poor,”9 these governments contradictorily deny diverse citizen groups autonomy in defining their priorities while simultaneously employing cultural-historical concepts like Buen Vivir in their political platforms.10 These tactics serve to minimize the importance of environmental criteria in decision-making and distract from the fact that current budget booms are based on finite resources.

The state-heavy, nationalistic model is being called “new extractivism” because although it appears to offer a unique “Latin American pathway” to development, it ultimately sustains the subordinate role of extractivist states in the global economy with minor social gains and no environmental improvements. Also, new extractivism has sparked costly, internal economic and political problems. As local populations find their livelihoods and environments disrupted, civil unrest has grown, revealing disillusion with once popular leaders, as well as spurring organization for transformation. Many conflicts between governments, companies, and civil society, such as the TIPNIS highway controversy, have attracted global attention due to their magnitude.11 Public discontent with the devastating impacts of the extractive model is not limited to progressive countries, but is a regional phenomenon. A recent study ranks Latin America as having the highest number of public protests from 2006-2013, with the highest concentration related to environmental justice12 (Ortiz et. al. 2013).

Less visible than the TIPNIS case are the near daily instances of local communities defending their social and environmental rights from extractive projects and policies. The multiple forms of protest, including marches, roadblocks, occupying public spaces, hunger strikes, etc., embody discontent with the failure of progressive “governments of social movements” to carry out the changes that their initial supporters expected. These forms of protest, in which indigenous and social movements strive to redefine the state, regain sovereignty, and secure participation in decision-making, meet with varying levels of success. They have become so prevalent that they are credited with constituting new, legitimate ways of participating in the political process in these countries (Bjork-James 2013).

The response of progressive governments to the growing public outcry is disconcerting. Oppressive and anti-democratic backlash tactics have marked the second terms of Presidents Morales and Correa. While these governments rhetorically tout plurinationality, indigenous sovereignty, Buen Vivir, and respect for Mother Earth, their actions resemble a survival-based return to party-politics (Bjork-James 2013). Government backlash tactics include: violent repression of indigenous protest (such as the TIPNIS march); stigmatization of government critics as “counterrevolutionary” or secretly allied with imperialist powers; deliberate division and weakening of opposition social movements; and nepotism exercised through political and material rewards for pro-government counter-mobilizations that “defend the process of change.” This unabashed defense of a development model that progressive governments once so vehemently rejected has fueled the growing recognition that change will not be possible within the current socioeconomic system. This has been an important factor in the rising popularity of A2D proposals.

Difficulties and Potential of Regional Integration

Given the failed efforts of individual states like Ecuador and Bolivia to reduce economic dependence on extractivism, Alternatives to Development look to the necessary role that integration will play in achieving social and environmental transformation. However, integration has also faced difficulties in reducing inequality, improving quality of life, and sustainably managing natural resources.

Since the 1960s, Latin America has embarked on a series of efforts toward regional integration, which have been instrumental in defining regional identity, shaping relationships and cooperation, and determining economic success. Of the early integration initiatives, the Andean Community (CAN) was the only one to incorporate a social agenda along with economic measures. The social benefits were limited to the area of migration, by allowing free movement of citizens between countries (Cerezal 2013). More recently a new wave of advances in regional integration aim at a more democratic and participatory integration process, and include a wider agenda of social rights, economic equality, and environmental sustainability. They include the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), defeat of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (ALCA) in 2005, and the creation of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in 2006 and Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in 2011. This renewed political cooperation marks an important recovery of positive expectations for Latin America after the decades lost to import-substitution industrialization (ISI) and neoliberalism (Cesarin 2013). However, these initiatives face a series of difficulties as a result of structural and political barriers at national levels (Cerezal 2013, Gudynas 2013, Cesarin 2013).

Another concern surrounds the opposite pathways taken by different groups of Latin American countries. While some countries opt for regional integration (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela), others opt for an outward looking economic agenda based on free trade and transpacific agreements. The most recent of these, the Pacific Alliance, was founded in 2011 by the four countries that hold free trade agreements with the US (Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Peru). Some analysts believe that the Pacific Alliance was created to undercut the regional hegemony of Brazil, whose proposed zero customs duties trade agreements are prohibited by UNASUR (Zibechi 2013). Others believe that the Pacific Alliance was a response to stagnation in MERCOSUR, disputes between its founding members (Argentina and Brazil), and its failure to increase commerce between member states. Regardless of the motives, differences of opinion exist as to whether the two strategies are ultimately incompatible and what they mean for the future of regional integration.

The future of Latin American integration is uncertain, not only because of the difficulties it faces and its clash with free trade strategies, but because of open-ended questions about how the expanding extractivism in the region will play out. A2D authors emphasize integration as an instrument for selectively delinking the region from the exploitative patterns of globalization. They believe that as long as some Latin American countries maintain their dependence on primary resources while others have more diversified economies, asymmetries will persist in the region and Latin America will not be able to overcome its inferior place in the global economy, let alone improve quality of life for its citizens (Cerezal 2013, Gudynas 2013). Cases such as Bolivia and Ecuador make it clear that escaping dependence on natural resource exports will involve more than individual country efforts. To illustrate this point Gudynas (2014) predicts that the recent fall in commodity prices will be detrimental to primary export based economies as well as to regional integration in two ways: 1. by raising competition between producers of the same primary commodities, and 2. by providing an incentive for countries to enter into bilateral treaties independently of regional agreements, in order to keep economies afloat.

Recent initiatives like ALBA, UNASUR, and CELAC are encouraging in that they are based on wider visions and principles of solidarity, social rights, sustainability, and redistribution. However, they face significant challenges to overcoming the structural inequalities maintained by globalization, such as the prices of primary materials, rules of commerce and capital flow, and governance structures that prioritize the rights of corporations and capital over those of states and citizens (Cerezal 2013, Gudynas 2013). The institutions and mechanisms developed by recent initiatives including condition-free finance mechanisms (Banco del Sur, Banco del ALBA, and national development banks/funds) and common currency regimes (Sucre and regional payment systems developed by ALADI, MERCOSUR, and ALBA) are still in incipient phases and at risk of becoming conventional instruments of economic development, especially until participatory mechanisms are activated. In order to transition away from extractivism, countries will have to accept supranational obligations with regard to social and environmental norms, regional food sovereignty, and energy policies (Gudynas 2013), as well as for labor laws, social security, and education (Cerezal 2013). Brazil’s role in expanding extractivism further illustrates the difficulties and potential of Latin American integration.

Regional Geopolitics and the Rise of Brazil as Regional Hegemon

As co-founder of MERCOSUR and supporter of UNASUR and CELAC, Brazil has been a key player in the push for Latin American regional integration (Rivarola 2013). However, Brazil has been criticized for using integration initiatives to strengthen its own role as a regional and global power. Related accusations against Brazil range from its catering to US military and economic interests (Boron 2013) to its reproducing capitalist patterns of accumulation by dispossession (Algranati 2012). This section will examine how regional integration takes a backseat when Brazil’s own economic interests are at stake. It will also show how Brazil plays an important role in expanding the extractive development model in Latin America.

Like many countries in Latin America, Brazil’s economy has become increasingly tied to China. Brazil is one of four Latin American countries that together received 91% of all Chinese lending to the region since 2005 (Gallagher 2013).13 Chinese investors sustain Brazil’s iron and steel industries, agribusinesses, and technology sectors. Chinese loans to Brazilian steel industries gained attention for their incomparably low interest rates, made possible by Chinese government subsidies to international lending banks. The role of Chinese lenders and investors in Brazil gives them significant influence in dictating the country’s market conditions (Cesarin 2013). In addition, Brazil depends on Chinese demand for its own commodities exports. In 2009, 85% of lending to Brazil went to a massive offshore oil project that used Chinese drilling equipment. This 10 billion $USD loan was a commodity-backed loan, guaranteeing the sale of Brazilian oil to China at market prices, which results in China receiving a supply of oil far greater than the loan’s original value. China also puts pressure on its main trading partners, like Brazil and Peru, to promote energy and transportation infrastructure integration efforts (Cesarin 2013). Such efforts are in obvious contradiction to the socially transformative integration ideals put forth by Alternatives to Development. In addition, Chinese social and environmental investment standards are greatly lacking when compared with those of Western countries and lenders, which has already resulted in documented negative impacts in Brazil and elsewhere (Gallagher 2013).

However, while China is important to Brazil’s foreign policy, its role does not explain Brazil’s regional behavior. Long before China’s rise in importance to the Brazilian economy, Brazil faced grave social and environmental problems, and ranked among the most unequal countries in the world. In addition, the country has developed asymmetric relationships in the region. One well-known example is Brazil’s promotion of the Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure of South America (IIRSA).14 Brazil is the primary beneficiary of IIRSA: Brazilian construction companies design and build infrastructure; Brazilian banks provide loans to other South American countries so that they can carry out the projects; loans are conditioned on preferential access by Brazil to primary commodity supplies and market access for Brazilian manufactured goods; the transoceanic infrastructure allows Brazil to cut costs in exporting soy and other primary goods out of the continent, as well as for the transportation of imports from prime trading partners like China; energy infrastructure, such as mega hydroelectric projects in neighboring Bolivia, will provide energy to Brazil’s cities and industries while damaging natural ecosystems and dislocating thousands of communities, etc. (Villegas 2013).15 This brief summary illustrates the economic, social, and environmental threats posed by the project, and contextualizes the fierce civil society resistance. The urgency of these threats has provided impetus for the development of alternative proposals, including A2D.

Brazil’s involvement in IIRSA is both a symptom and effect of the expansion of the extractive model in the continent (Algranati 2012). The expansion of extractivism in Brazil is made evident by the increase in percentage of primary commodity exports from 42% of total exports in 2000 to 63% in 2010 (Gudynas 2013: 135). The extractive model is detrimental to the people and ecosystems of Brazil, but it is the pressure applied by Brazil to expand this model across the region that has resulted in accusations of regional hegemony and neo-imperialism. Despite claiming to be a progressive country, Brazil replicates the center-periphery model of capitalist production at a regional level, by looking to neighboring countries for cheap primary and energetic inputs in order to manufacture value-added products at home, allowing it to compete with other industrial economies on a global scale.16 The regional replication by Brazil of the extractive model that maintains Latin America’s role as provider of primary materials is ironic as Brazil itself becomes increasingly relegated to this role it its relationship with China. In response, A2D proposals offer an option to escape these patterns, via policies to gradually delink the continent from the global socioeconomic system.

3. Introducing Alternatives to Development – Concepts, Processes, and Actors

The first part of this section will introduce the types of Alternatives to Development approaches that are present in Latin America and outline three examples of A2D proposals that are rising in popularity at local levels and gaining recognition from international academic and policy audiences. The second part will map some of the most influential stakeholders and processes involved in the construction of A2D in Latin America.

Theoretical Approaches to Alternatives to Development in Latin America

Although A2D groups differ in their claims, processes, and goals, they agree that: (1) development is grounded in a universal conceptualization of modernity and progress that mimics Northern models of industrialization, consumption, and economic growth, which (2) necessitates the use of top-down, coercive, forceful, or hegemonic implementation mechanisms and the elimination or cooptation of alternatives; (3) development policy furthers the global embedding of capitalist systems, norms, and institutions that serve and protect the interests of powerful elites; (4) development directly clashes with its own stated environmental and social goals (Gudynas 2012, Escobar 2010, Esteva 2013, Lang 2013, Pieterse 1996).

A2D theories question development’s underlying logic about participation, decision-making, hierarchy, human-nature relationships, governance structures, the economic valuation of nature, etc. New frameworks for imagining alternatives include conviviality, super-strong sustainability, biocentrism, deep ecology, feminist critique, the care economy, dematerialization of the economy, degrowth, interculturalism, pluralism, relational ontologies, expanded forms of citizenship, etc. (Gudynas 2012: 33).  A wide range of themes are being explored by A2D groups that involve restoring and incorporating diverse epistemologies, including indigenous and gender-based knowledge, into longstanding discussions of transformation:

— Reframing historic debates about the roles of states and markets using marginalized lenses and practices, such as barter, reciprocity, self-sufficiency, gift, etc.;

— Building practical ways to delink development, economic growth, consumption, and well-being, for example via new indicators that go beyond material and individualistic measurements of well-being to include collective, spiritual, and ecological dimensions;

— Exposing and overcoming the false dichotomy between environment and “development” by recognizing intrinsic values of Nature and questioning the role of technology in environmental problem-solving;

— Reexamining definitions, relationships, and processes of politics, citizenship, and justice. (Gudynas 2012: 36-37)

In practice, the construction of A2D initiatives involves diverse actors, including communities, NGOs, academics, and policy makers. They form a vast web of activity that extends beyond the Global South to interact with wider transformational processes, such as the global climate justice movement. The most three most visible expressions of A2D in Latin America are post-extractivism, Buen Vivir, and solidarity economies.

Post-Extractivism. Post-extractivism proponents link the dependence of resource-rich countries on natural resource extraction to a conventional development agenda that has failed to address the structural causes of poverty and environmental crisis. They propose a series of transitions, including economic policies, education programs, and public participation, aimed at moving from the current, “predatory” extractivist model to an initial “sensible” extractivism and a final “indispensable” extractivism phase. The characteristics of sensible extractivism include the deliberate selecting of extractive projects that meet strong environmental and social criteria, such as those outlined in national and international legislation. Extractive projects that risk irreversible environmental damage or species loss should be immediately halted. During this phase a country would implement additional macroeconomic reforms such as price correction for primary materials, tax and royalty reforms, subsidy reductions, etc. The transition to an indispensable phase of extractivism involves eliminating all extractive activities that cannot be directly linked to human needs and quality of life improvements. Each policy phase would require complementary socio-cultural measures to facilitate the gradual transformation of consumption patterns and materialistic values (Gudynas 2012).

Reducing the dependence of countries on the export of extractive goods involves reforms and transformations across society and economy, which must be applied in coordination across national borders. The joint implementation of post-extractivism policies is necessary due to the highly competitive nature of globalized capitalism and the financialization of capital, which allow for the easy relocation of investment to the most auspicious economic climates. The post-extractive proposal includes strong national-level regulations for environmental and social control, price correction to include externalities, the elimination of subsidies and redistribution of royalties from extractivism, the diversification and expansion of other economic sectors (agriculture, tourism, services, manufacturing, etc.), regulations on markets and capital, strengthening of solidarity economies, recognition of non-monetary values of nature, resources, and quality of life, selective decoupling from globalization, dematerialization of production, changes in consumption patterns, etc. Post-extractivism authors highlight the need for parallel cultural changes, social participation, regional coordination, and democratization in order for transitions to be effective. They also acknowledge that the process of change will be lengthy and diverse.

In summary, post-extractive policy proposals aim at gradual transitions away from the current development model and eventually from the capitalist system, in which the structural drivers of extractivism are rooted. While they do not deny the positive contributions of reformist policies to improving transparency, income distribution, consumer awareness, and production practices, post-extractivist proponents seek above all to transform the growth-based development model. Until this is done, social and environmental problems will only deepen.

Buen Vivir. The literal translation of Buen Vivir is “Good life.” It was originally made popular by Kichwa, Quechua, and Aymara populations in the Andes, but similar concepts can be found in diverse indigenous cosmovisions around the world. Unlike post-extractivism, which offers concrete policy proposals, Buen Vivir has become a political ideology, used as the basis for progressive agendas in South American countries including Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

There is no single definition of Buen Vivir. As Gudynas and Acosta (2012) show, Buen Vivir incorporates a plurality of concepts, allowing for an intersection of indigenous and occidental knowledge. Buen Vivir focuses on human well-being, the “fullness of life,” the need to coexist with Nature, recognize its intrinsic value, and respect its physical limitations. Buen Vivir also focuses on the need to change the market’s role, position, and mechanisms, and the way in which humans relate to each other economically.

The electoral platforms of presidents Correa and Morales brought Buen Vivir into regional and international spotlights. Correa and Morales promised to construct a new socio-political-economic system based on Buen Vivir and to reject the destructive model that enabled the opulence of industrialized countries. The incorporation of Buen Vivir into legislation implies an emphasis on food security and sovereignty; autonomy in education, governance, and justice; making Mother Earth a subject with rights, etc. Buen Vivir has also found its way into the discourses of other Latin American governments (Cuba, Venezuela, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Peru) and regional integration organizations like ALBA, UNASUR, and CELAC (Rodríguez 2013) and has become a unifying concept for different groups working on Alternatives to Development.17

Solidarity Economies. The term Social Solidarity Economy was coined in Lima, Peru 1997 at the First International Meeting for the Globalization of Solidarity. It was originally defined as “all economic activities and practices with a social finality, which contribute to building a new economic paradigm” (RIPESS 2013). Currently, the umbrella of Solidarity Economies encompasses the myriad alternative approaches towards sustainability, self-sufficiency, and economic independence that are being practiced at local scales around the world. Examples include communal resource ownership and management, local/regional production and consumption of organic foods, fair trade, harnessing renewable energies, the revaluation and use of traditional and ancestral knowledge, non-monetary barter, community networks of mutual support based on local needs and the provision of basic services (education, health, childcare, domestic work, etc.), the formation of community cooperatives for industry and financial services, and, more generally, recognizing the value of traditionally unpaid services, such as care-based activities, natural resources, and ecosystem services (Perkins 2007).

The importance of Solidarity Economies to A2D lies in their potential to transition society beyond capitalism “to a fairer and more sustainable society based on popular mobilization to meet local needs” (Amin 2009, 16). Mance (2007) and Gibson-Graham (2006) characterize solidarity economies as post-capitalist because they are based on the redistribution of wealth, not the accumulation of capital. The compatibility with post-extractivism and Buen Vivir is striking.

Certain examples of Solidarity Economies are well known because of their role in responding to dramatic economic crises, such as the 170 “recovered” firms which employed more than 9000 workers in Argentina in 2003, and the explosion of barter groups with between 2-5 million participants in response to the Argentine currency crisis. In Brazil it is estimated that 1.2 million workers are involved in solidarity economy and over 1,250 worker-owned enterprises exist. In Venezuela, Brazil, and Mexico, there are vast networks of community banks that issue local currencies (Mance 2007). In many Latin American countries, Solidarity Economies have grown so much that they have become a sector in themselves, influential enough to warrant the creation of government departments and legislation, such as Special Administrative Unit for Solidarity Organizations in the Colombian Ministry of Labor.

International organizations like the Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of Social Solidarity Economy (RIPESS), Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO), and International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) track the spread of the Solidarity Economy movement and mention thousands of initiatives on their websites. In 2013 the UN founded the Inter-agency Task Force on Social and Solidarity Economy with the aim of promoting international and national political frameworks hospitable to Solidarity Economies. The mainstreaming of Solidarity Economies into national and international governance structures may eventually undermine A2D principles, insofar as they are co-opted or reoriented to fulfilling capitalist objectives of accumulation, profit, and growth. This progression will be important to monitor and evaluate.

An Overview of Participants and Processes

Given the A2D understanding that a truly effective approach to wellbeing, equality, and sustainability requires diverse epistemologies and methodological pluralism, it is appropriate that the participants involved in the transformation span a wide range of actors.

The multitude of communities, associations, NGOs, and grassroots organizations working on A2D in Latin America is too large to map. They range from isolated communities to national, regional, and international networks. Social movements, such as indigenous and peasant movements, mobilizing thousands of people across the continent and beyond, have been extremely influential in the promotion and spread of A2D theories, proposals, and practices, as well as challenging dominant oppressive systemic structures (Zibechi 2012, 2014). In addition, many of the leading voices in A2D come from Latin American universities and research institutes, bringing ideas from post-development, political ecology, post-growth, post-capitalism, and decolonial theory into practical discussions and the development of A2D proposals at both community and policy levels (see the example from Peru, below). Finally, a handful of foreign donors and NGOs have been influential in shaping the movement around A2D, through funding, linking actors, and providing guidance for advocacy strategies.

The support and resources provided by international NGOs and donors is highly debated within grassroots, academic, and political circles. The debate examines the level to which foreign involvement builds democratic processes or threatens sovereignty. On one hand, foreign donors, such as European development cooperation agencies (including IBIS-Danida, MISEREOR, and Broederlijk Delen), private foundations (such as the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation), and NGOs (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, ICCO, the Transnational Institute, and Pachamama Alliance) offer funds, legal and technical advice, facilitate networking, and disseminate information that support indigenous and social movement resistance to extractivism. For example, they enable local actors to host and assist national and international meetings, maintain websites, publish and diffuse print information, carry out public and government-targeted advocacy campaigns, etc. On the other hand, there are some cases in which they may have violated state sovereignty, for example by involvement in protests, “political meddling” in state policy, increasing local dependence on foreign aid in order to weaken or undermine the legitimacy of local movements, and creating complicity in foreign intervention. Such practices, or the suspicion of them, have made foreign donors and NGOs the targets of backlash and expulsion by the governments of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela (Bjork-James 2013, Villegas 2013, Gustafson 2013).18

Very few political actors in Latin America have taken up an A2D agenda in practice. Those who have done so are most commonly involved with environmental ministries, country delegations to international conventions, and regional integration organizations such as UNASUR, CELAC, and ALBA. Regional and international forums provide essential meeting spaces for different stakeholders to consolidate efforts on A2D. Alternative spaces shadow UN, G20, G8, WTO, and other intergovernmental negotiation processes. However, popular groups are increasingly establishing their own forums, such as the World Social Forum, World Peoples Conference on Climate Change, Peoples Summit on Sustainable Development, and myriad civil society thematic conferences.

Along with the diversity of A2D actors, processes, and approaches come conflicting ideas about the most appropriate and effective processes and strategies. Perhaps the most visible of these debates is over the role of the state in achieving popular objectives. However, given the urgency of addressing the climate crisis, and given the extreme measures increasingly taken by capital to preserve its structures and systems, some A2D groups reject a totalizing strategy and instead advocate a pluralistic approach, recognizing the benefits and limitations of both “inside” and “outside” struggles, at least until the future becomes clearer (Midnight Notes Collective and Friends 2009).

4. Conceptual and Practical Impediments to Post-Growth and A2D

The main conceptual dilemma facing post-growth frameworks is whether the failure to reach sustainability objectives lies in fatal flaws of the capitalist system or in poor policy implementation. Authors who trace the root causes of global environmental problems to the capitalist system view at least five characteristics of capitalism as being incompatible with sustainability: (1) the tendency toward commodification (‘marketization of social life’), (2) dependence on continued growth, (3) the tendency towards inequality, (4) the elimination of other options (‘universalization of economic contexts’), and (5) the amoral nature of capitalism and the pervasion of this into social norms.19 Capitalism’s dependence on perpetual growth and expansion of the market creates the basis for continued instability and crisis (Arrighi 1994, McMurtry 1999, Streeck 2011). There is an interesting convergence between economic stagnation theorists (Gordon 2012, Foster & Magdoff 2009) and post-growth theorists (Heinberg 2011, Miller, Asher & Hopkins 2013) who predict the end of capitalist growth. Both call for deliberate steps to transition away from capitalism as the dominant paradigm.

A contrasting group of reform oriented post-growth proposals do not see sustainability as being incompatible with the capitalist model. Post-growth proposals, such as Herman Daly’s (1997) Steady State Economy and Jackson’s (2009) Prosperity without Growth, do not challenge the fundamental organization and characteristics of capitalism, but call for reforms to decouple throughput from growth. These authors argue that ecological concepts such as the source and sink functions of ecosystems, carrying capacity, adaptation, and resilience should be used to calculate appropriate limits for human activity and economic growth (Daly 2005). This viewpoint clashes with the post-development view, which argues that while reforming the system from within may bring initial benefits (e.g. incorporating principles like participation, gender, and sustainability into development), they are ultimately limited by the overarching logic of capitalist accumulation (Blauwhof 2012).

Post-growth approaches face considerable challenges due to the pervasiveness of growth across social, political, and economic structures and processes. Post-growth claims note the limitations of using GDP as the universal measurement for success and giving economic growth primacy over social and environmental priorities. The negative effects of the economic influence over politics are widely recognized. However, financial resources cannot be replaced with idealistic post-growth principles. The daily lives of nearly every person on Earth are structured around meeting their financial needs for survival. In addition, public institutions, especially in the Global South, are seriously lacking the financial resources they need in order to provide basic services, infrastructure, and social programs. Blanket de-growth prescriptions will not be acceptable. The point is to place strict criteria on where growth is allowed to happen.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing post-growth frameworks is the way that growth has become embedded in cultural norms, values, and behaviors.20 A2D authors including Escobar (2010), Gibson-Graham (2006), Gudynas (2012), and Sousa Santos (2007) emphasize the importance of making visible the myriad alternative approaches towards sustainability, self-sufficiency, and independence that are already being implemented at local scales around the world. Feminist authors promote the use of feminist economics as a bridge to sustainability, and cite numerous examples of communities recognizing the value of unpaid inputs into local economies, such as care-based activities, natural resources, and ecosystem services (Perkins 2007). However, it is not clear how locally generated solutions will achieve the scale necessary for global sustainability (Harvey 2008). Moreover, it is uncertain whether local initiatives can spread fast enough to match the urgency of the problem.

Another key issue is redistribution policy, which is an important component of any post-growth strategy. Originally championed by Chenery et. al. (1974) for use within conventional growth-centered development, redistribution has taken on many forms in different political economic contexts and has resulted in criticism on economic and ethical grounds, in both North and South (Pieterse 1996: 19). Its importance in the post-growth debate stems from the question of whether redistribution policy (either within or between countries) is an effective and appropriate substitute for economic growth, whether it is politically feasible, and whether it is even possible without continued growth. The current model of the “compensatory state,” exemplified by redistribution programs in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, and Venezuela, is critiqued as a way for Southern states to gain legitimacy through cash-transfer and social bonds without having to address underlying class structures. The social gains from these programs are used to justify increasingly predatory forms of extractivism, further embedding the very models that A2D initiatives seek to dismantle (Webber 2013b, Gudynas 2012, Harvey 2003).

In addition, Barnet (2004: 530-31) argues that post-growth proposals are not fully developed and may have unacceptable economic side effects. Additionally, he is pessimistic about solutions that involve putting too much faith in the UN or multilateralism, such as those found in alternatives to globalization proposals (Cavanagh & Mander 2004). This concern is also relevant for A2D proposals, due to the heavy reliance they place on regional integration. Given the radical nature of post-growth alternatives, Barnet doubts that many of these changes are likely to happen, but believes they are worth considering.

Echoing this concern, Svampa (2012) states that a major challenge facing post-growth proposals, and post-extractivism specifically, is the “horizon of desirability” of such proposals in terms of lifestyles and quality of life. She calls for redefining human and social needs in a way that supports sustainability as well as cultural diversity. She suggests three possibilities for re-framing human requirements including: (1) the human needs approach (Max-Neef 1993), which includes the process by which human needs are fulfilled, (2) the economy for life approach (Hinkelammert et. al. 2005), which requires that the organization and social division of work allow for the reproduction of life over time, and (3) the ethics of care approach of eco-feminists (Aguinaga et al. 2012, Perkins 2007, etc.), which places the culture of care at the center of a sustainable society. Svampa’s proposal for redefining human needs, while necessary for the sweeping cultural transformation called for by post-growth, will not be easily accepted. This will pose a significant impediment to the possibility of post-growth.

A final concern with the feasibility of post-growth strategies refers to their reliance on intensive political intervention and public regulation, which clash with the increasing corporate drive toward deregulation (Reich 2007, Shutt 1998). Blauwhof (2012) points out two obstacles to state-interventionist approaches: (1) the state is directly dependent on financial capital, which makes acting against economic growth directly counter to its interests, and (2) reforms that limit the growth prospects of businesses will eventually be evaded, overturned, or co-opted in order to return to growth. Streeck (2011) echoes Blauwhof’s arguments, stating that whereas the state’s response to capitalist crisis is increased regulation, capitalism cannot function under any restrictions on growth and expansion. This dynamic is exemplified in the expansion of extractivism by the progressive governments of Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela, despite their stated intentions to do otherwise.

Up to now, post-growth policies (including A2D) either have not yet been implemented, or face significant obstacles to implementation, or have not been in place long enough. Also, little has been done to evaluate the specific proposals put forth by groups who argue that growth must be limited or halted. The discussion about the technical, political, and popular feasibility of post-growth proposals is more developed for the Global North than for the Global South. Additional work is needed to explore Southern-oriented policy proposals and, when possible, analyze their outcomes. Such work must take up the question of political will. The case study below on post-extractivism in Peru provides an initial attempt.

5. Alternatives to Development in Practice: Post-Extractivism in Peru

In 2011 a Peruvian civil society network, the RedGE (Peruvian Network for a Balanced Globalization – Red peruana por una Globalización con Equidad), composed of academic institutions, NGOs, social movements, and trade unions, presented a proposal to the Peruvian government outlining a set of policy measures for transitioning toward a post-extractivist economy (Alayza & Gudynas 2011). The proposal responded to the need for Peru to adopt more economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable activities and included measures for sustainable land use, strengthened environmental regulation, economic diversification, and the right of local people to be consulted (Svampa 2012). The group bolstered its proposal with calculations of the economic benefits of adopting the recommended policies, which were outlined in a study by Peruvian economists Sotelo and Francke (2011). They also provided empirical evidence of the economic benefits that resulted from the previous application of a similar measure in Chile.

Sotelo and Francke examined the viability of transitioning away from dependence on extractive industries by looking at the principal contributions of primary-extractive activities to employment, public revenue, and external sectors of the national economy. They then predicted the effects that applying strong restrictive policies on extractive industries would have on each of these sectors. First, they found that the extractive sector was not a significant source of employment (only 1.5% of the economically active population). This supported their recommendation for promoting high-employment sectors such as labor-intensive agriculture, tourism, construction, and industry. Second, they found that extractive activities were an important source of public revenue streams (22% of direct internal earnings and 42% of total tax earnings), but that these were highly vulnerable due to price volatility of commodities. Finally, they found that extractive activity revenues were most significant for the external sector, with primary exports making up 70% of all exports and with investment in the extractive sector making up 34% of total FDI.

Sotelo and Francke examined three different scenarios of restricting extractive activity. The first, a complete halt in mining, oil, and gas, was rejected because of the detrimental impacts it was predicted to have on political, economic, and social stability. The second scenario, a suspension of mining, oil, and gas projects that began operations from 2007-11, found a much less dramatic result, with only slight deteriorations in the balance of payments and decrease of foreign reserves. The third approach, which combined the second one with a tax on extractive industry profits, yielded optimal results. The tax increase would be more than sufficient to offset the earnings lost by the reduction of exports. The authors showed how a similar tax reform was successful in Chile. The benefits from scenario three included a positive balance of payments, increased foreign reserves, and increased capacity of the central bank to respond to exchange-rate appreciation. They concluded that a gradual suspension of extractive activities combined with a tax on extractive industry profits is a viable step for transitioning away from extractive sector dependence.

However, the Peruvian government has not been receptive to this proposal. Peru remains dedicated to expanding extractive activities. In addition, unlike Bolivia and Ecuador, Peru’s version of extractivism is not the new-extractivist model of heavy state involvement in decision-making, industry shareholding, and greater receipt and distribution of profits. Rather, Peru follows the conventional concession model, which relinquishes state regulatory control and offers preferential treatment to private businesses. As Monje (2011: 89) explains, this model is not limited to mining, oil, and gas sectors, but includes fishing, agriculture, and energy sectors as well. Private concessions are granted directly by the central government without consulting local populations and governments or environmental authorities. The social and environmental impacts of extractivism will continue to fuel conflict and protest.

6. Conclusion

Regardless of whether Alternatives to Development are born out of the necessity to survive or from ideological convictions, they have important potential in contributing to wide-scale socioeconomic transformation, far beyond Latin America. A2D are just one example of a series of post-growth frameworks that are burgeoning on every continent in response to increasing recognition of the inevitability of change and/or collapse of the current growth-based global economy. The quantity of post-growth initiatives around the world is striking. It is also significant that diverse local initiatives recognize the systemic roots of local problems. The growing global concern is reflected by the steady increase in protests every year, especially since the onset of the 2008 financial crisis. A 2013 study (Ortiz et. al.) of 843 protests in 84 countries from 2006-2013 identified four main causes of outrage: (1) economic injustice and austerity, (2) failure of political representation, (3) global (including environmental) injustice, and (4) human rights violations. The acceptance of plurality or “otherness” is a central component in the building of A2D, and a marked contrast to the top-down, one-size-fits all tools of the growth-based development paradigm.

Among the obstacles to A2D, perhaps the least thoroughly discussed are those involving the issue of consumption. The growing middle class in countries of the Global South will soon surpass middle-class populations in the Global North. A2D thinkers believe that a mix of strict policies and popular education has the potential to catalyze change, but this debate requires a much deeper practical and logistical examination.

Continued political analysis and development of advocacy strategies by A2D groups will be just as important as fine-tuning technical proposals and garnering public support. While many A2D initiatives, such as Solidarity Economies and the Zapatista movement, have enjoyed successes while skirting the traditional policy process, this will not be possible for all A2D approaches. Even if A2D are taken up at national levels, few Latin American countries have sufficient geopolitical clout to have an impact in international arenas. This is yet another reason why A2D thinkers emphasize the importance of strengthening regional integration initiatives (Gudynas 2013, Cerezal 2013).

Despite the failure of Latin American governments to reverse the subordinate position of their countries in the global economy, the political climate of the region continues to offer interesting possibilities for change. The progressive environmental legislation in Bolivia and Ecuador, such as recognizing Mother Earth as a subject of rights that can be fought for legally, is an important step towards eventually adopting sustainable policies, even if it has not yet resulted in changing priorities on the ground. In addition, the mission, discourse, and political experiments taking place among different integration bodies such as CELAC and UNASUR offer potential spaces to advance innovative regional policy frameworks, such as those developed by post-extractivism. Although the transformations envisioned by A2D thinkers will not take place in the short-term, the political environment in Latin America is certainly more conducive to alternatives than that of other regions. Despite the barriers, work on A2D continues to expand in Latin America and beyond. The magnitude of the change needed to reach sustainability and equality warrants the total commitment of civil society.


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1. Sustainable development, as defined by the UN, is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

2. The current trend has been called the “reprimarization of Latin America” by some (Algranati 2012, López & Vértiz 2012) and the “commodities consensus” by others (Svampa 2012).

3. In 2012 FDI patterns in South America showed a preference for natural resource sectors, which captured 51% of total FDI, comprising the largest share of FDI income in the region. An example is the 250% increase of FDI in mining in Latin America from 2003 to 2011 (Algranati 2012). Of the total FDI in the region since 2000, 39% has gone to natural resources and 37% to manufacturing.

4. While FDI trends in agriculture and agro-industry vary significantly by country and it is difficult to find statistics for the region as a whole, CEPAL notes that FDI in agricultural sectors has grown significantly in certain countries from 2005-2010 (including Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Uruguay). In addition, CEPAL notes the increasing involvement of transnational corporations in agriculture and agro-industry (CEPAL 2012).

5. According to the World Bank, from 2008-2009 over 56 million hectares of land were either sold or rented in countries of the Global South. (Seoane and Algranati 2012)

6. A series of development institutions and international treaties like the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and UN Conference on Sustainable Development promote the commercialization and control of natural resources and ecosystem services via their backing of Green Economy, carbon markets, carbon offsetting, biofuels, and other market based-proposals (Lander 2012, Moreno 2013, Algranati 2012, Svampa 2013, etc.).

7. Dutch disease refers to the decline in non-resource sectors of a country due to the appreciation of the real exchange rate that frequently results from the rise in value of natural resource exports.

8. Social programs include subsidized school breakfasts (Bono Juancito Pinto in Bolivia), infant and mother healthcare (Bono Juana Azurduy in Bolivia), and public housing (Misión Vivienda Venezuela). They have been criticized for their insufficiency in meeting human development indicators (Svampa 2012) and for unsustainability (Gudynas 2012).

9. Environmentalisms of the Poor refers to a set of political interventions that “contest assumptions that environmental alliances and tactics are a middle-class privilege” (Chatterton et al 2012). See also Martínez-Alier 2002.

10. The labeling by Evo Morales of Northern environmentalism as a new “predatory colonialism” at the UN “Rio+20” Conference and in other international forums has resulted in mixed messages to the international environmental community. See articles in Bloomberg
( and at ejolt (

11. Perhaps the most visible of these is the conflict surrounding the highway project in the Isiboro-Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) in Bolivia. In 2008 the Bolivian government signed an agreement with Brazil to finance and build a 177km highway through the legal territory of three indigenous groups (64 communities). TIPNIS is also a national park with globally significant biodiversity. The Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) agreed to finance 80% of the highway construction leaving the remaining 20% to the Bolivian government. In a questionable bidding process, the Brazilian construction company Constructora OAS Ltda., was hired to carry out the project. The deal also included preferential access for Brazil to the phosphates that were to be extracted along with lithium from the Salar de Uyuni, another controversial project (Hollender & Shultz 2010). The TIPNIS highway project was approved without consulting local communities, and aroused fierce opposition, including a 65 day, 526 km protest march from TIPNIS to La Paz. The march met violent government repression resulting in 72-280 protesters injured. The highway project was temporarily suspended, but the conflict has yet to be resolved. (See Bjork-James 2013, Villegas 2013, and

12. The main policy demands of environmental justice protests include “Policymakers to secure adequate taxation/public revenues from natural resource extraction; Policy makers to solve conflicts related to infrastructure construction with negative social and environmental externalities; Policymakers to stop nuclear plants and use other more environmentally friendly forms of energy.” (Ortiz et. al. 2013)

13. The other countries are Argentina, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

14. IIRSA is a series of continent-wide transportation and energy mega-projects that has been vehemently opposed by Latin American and global civil society for concerns of the impact of IIRSA on nation sovereignty, social rights, and environmental devastation. See for project details.

15. See the TIPNIS highway example (note 11). TIPNIS is directly related to IIRSA. The TIPNIS highway would provide an essential link from Brazil’s most rapidly expanding region of soy production to Pacific Ocean ports, enabling easier export to China (see Villegas 2013).

16. Examples of such behavior include: rejection of supranational regional integration policies in favor of its own bilateral trade agreements, credit agencies, and local private investments (Zibechi 2013); the expansion of Brazilian extractive industries to other countries (agroindustry, mining, and hydrocarbons) via transnational corporations including Vale, Petrobras, and Odebrect; the influence of Brazilian corporations in neighboring country legislation in order to loosen protectionist policies and undermine social and environmental norms; and provision of government loans by Brazil’s development bank (BNDES) to controversial infrastructure projects in the region (for example, hydroelectric projects and the TIPNIS highway in Bolivia) (Gudynas 2013, Villegas 2013).

17. Influential authors include Gudynas (2012, 2013), Davalos (2008), Acosta (2012), Souza Santos (2007), Ibáñez (2012), and Boff (2009).

18. The debate about whether backlash against foreign NGOs, funders, and development agencies is justified requires case-by-case analysis. In some cases governments have provided evidence of foreign interference, such as the involvement of US-based agencies and NGOs in the failed April 2002 coup against Chávez (Golinger 2006). However, in other cases, such as Bolivia’s expulsion of Danish DANIDA for alleged interference in conflicts between anti-extractivist indigenous groups, CONAMAQ and CIDOB, and the state, no specific evidence was produced. CONAMAQ and CIDOB claim that the expulsion of DANIDA was a way of punishing them for attempting to delegitimize the political claims of the governing party (Gustafson 2013).

19. See, inter alia, Arrighi 1994, Beckert 2012, Boyer 2001, Gibson-Graham 2006, Hodgson 2001, Lang 2013, McMurtry 1999, Posner 2010, Reich 2007, Schumacher 1973, Streeck 2011.

20. Some authors note that the pervasiveness of growth has even influenced child-rearing methods. (Streeck 2011)

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