Writing our way to sustainable economies? How academic sustainability writing engages with capitalism

Simon Mair

In this paper I explore the ways that academic sustainability writing engages with economic systems and consider the performative effects of these modes of engagement. Using capitalist realism and capitalocentrism, I define three mechanisms by which non-capitalist futures are foreclosed: 1) Actively Recreating Capitalism – where industries like advertising actively seek to recreate and reinforce capitalist values. 2) Capitalism Unseen – where capitalism is perceived as natural and synonymous with all economic forms. 3) Making a Monolith of Capitalism, where anti-capitalist writers focus so much on capitalism that they make it appear undefeatable. Examining the frequency of different terms used by academic sustainability writers when talking about economic systems, and looking at two different uses of the term ‘capital’ I argue that academic sustainability writers engage with and are influenced by these mechanisms in different ways. Currently, there is a substantive body of academic sustainability writing that contributes to Capitalism Unseen. However, there are also strands of work that emphasis discontinuity and change within economic systems. I argue that such work provides a model for escaping Capitalism Unseen and avoiding Making a Monolith of Capitalism.


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