Progress, Exponential Growth and Post-Growth Education

Ruth Irwin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Teleological progress is the underlying motif of modern culture, and informs education, innovation, and economic development. Progress includes a gradual increase in consumerism. Since the 1940s, the Keynesian Settlement and its embedded belief in progress is legislated in exponential 2-3% economic growth. Unfortunately, climate change is a direct result of the increasing amounts of CO2e byproduct that gets expelled in the production of plastic consumer items, and this production increases exponentially year on year. We are now hearing serious concerns from scientists about the sixth great extinction, the Anthropocene epoch, and the end of modernity in ecological collapse. In this article I argue that climate change is an outcome of our dedication to progress and consumerism and I try and unravel the mechanics of exponential economic growth in contrast to an alternative model of economics and debt, first developed in Mesopotamia about 5000 years ago. The contrast may not be operationalisable in modern times, but it does offer a significant counter-argument to the concept of progress and shows that Steady State economics has been successfully implemented by a continuous civilization for thousands of years. The depth of the philosophical shift is illuminated in the understanding of Mesopotamian theology, astronomy, astrology, and understanding of cyclic, rather than linear, time. This type of critical account highlights the need for education to fundamentally challenge some key norms in modernity, from ‘progress’ to the sense of entitlement that consumerism and economic growth provide. Education is a key site for cultural transition, and as the constraints of climate change are making ever more clear, the moment to mobilise the educational sector is here.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-70
Number of pages14
JournalEducational Studies in Japan: International Yearbook
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2017


  • economic degrowth
  • philosophy of technology
  • Heidegger
  • axial philosophy
  • debt jubilee


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