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4.4.2019: Department Seminar by Éric Pineault

Presentation by Éric Pineault, Professor at the Institute of Environmental Sciences at the University of Quebéc in Montréal, Canada

Presentation by Éric Pineault,

A Deeper Treadmill : a theory of capitalist growth in the Great Acceleration.

Time and Place:  Thursday 4 April – 6 p.m.D4.0.144 Seminarroom

The I=PAT equation proposed by Ehrlich and Holdren in the 1970’s to capture the factors that provoke environmental degradation continues to be today a dominant framework in the environmental sciences. In his seminal “Environment and Society” Schnaiberg critically examined the now classic equation, his basic argument was that in and of itself I=PAT was more descriptive then analytical. Furthermore, he showed that behind each factor was a set of implicit sociological, demographic and economic presuppositions and a priori’s which he set out to criticize and finally that the equation as presented, masked important interdependencies between each factor. He developed the “Treadmill of production” model of growth as an alternative theory that explained the evolution of the I=PAT factors through the development of capitalist social relations of production (T), consumption (A), and culture and class politics of advanced capitalist society (P). There are serious limitations in Schnaiberg’s model, some will be highlighted, but we have retained overall the structure of his analytical strategy in the construction of an argument on the factors that drove capitalist growth during the Great Acceleration. The ‘Deep Treadmill” model we will present proposes an analysis of these specific growth dynamics. Influenced by the Kaleckian and monopoly capital school of political economy this approach considers economic and material growth as the products of a constraint of surplus « absorption» instead of surplus production, for this school, advanced capitalism is characterized by a state of over-accumulation, and thus surplus absorption takes the form of waste and historically high throughput rates through sustained overconsumption. We shall critically assess the concept of economic surplus used in the original argument and propose a revision based on the insights of metabolic analysis and biophysical economics all the while outlining how the capitalist institutions and metabolic structures mediate each other. We will also revisit Schnaiberg’s concept of “Growth coalitions” to analyze how these mechanisms are sustained at the societal level by class structure. The result will be a model of the specifically capitalist growth imperative of modern economies and societies.

Éric Pineault is a Professor in the Department of Sociology and the Institute of Environmental Sciences at the University of Quebéc in Montréal, Canada. Pineault’s research focuses on the growth dynamics of advanced capitalism, extractive economies, the issue of ecological transition and degrowth as well as the general macroeconomic and social transformations of advanced capitalism. He is a member of the research Collective for the analysis of the Financialization of Advanced Capitalism (CAFCA) and Senior Fellow at the “Postgrowth societies“ College of the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, where he is currently writing a book on the Social Ecology of Capital.



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