UCL Urban Laboratory


Symposium: Growth/Emergency - book now!

13 June 2022–14 June 2022, 1:00 pm–2:00 pm


UCL Urban Laboratory and the Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS) will host a symposium over two half days on June 13th 1pm - June 14th 2pm on Growth/Emergency: Re-Imagining Cities, Economies and Ecologies in the Time of the Anthropocene.

Event Information

Open to







Patricia Mascarell Llombart – UCL Institute of Advanced Studies


IAS Common Ground
South Wing, Gower Street

"Grow! is a mantra so powerful that it destroys the destruction that it portends". (Julie Livingston, Self-Devouring Growth, 2019)

Attend the event virtually via Zoom.

The Urban Lab and the Institute of Advanced Studies are interlacing their respective research themes of Emergency and Growth in a cross-disciplinary symposium to reflect critically on each of these concepts and on their relationship to each other in the current moment.  Two half-day workshops for c. 25-30 invited participants to discuss pre-circulated papers will be bridged by an evening panel presentation of 3-4 keynote speakers, including Q&A with a public audience. 

The idea that growth – economic, biological, scientific and personal – establishes a secure foundation for the future underpinned the modern era and has proved remarkably persistent despite the increasing volume and intensity of criticism to which it has been subjected over the last two decades. This symposium is prompted by an urge to discuss the extent to which the conditions for debate have been irreversibly changed by the Covid-19 pandemic. During this period emergency measures have been imposed by governments of all political stripes to suspend normal economic and social activity throughout the world, and much discussion of the need to implement new and better models of operation post-pandemic has been aired. At the same time, there has been an acceleration of extreme weather events, which have increasingly affected parts of the world hitherto accustomed to temperate living conditions. Public discourse has mutated from a framework of crisis to one of emergency: we are no longer talking about a crisis of capitalism or even a crisis of civilisation, but instead of a state of planetary emergency that threatens our very existence, and challenges certain assumptions around continuous growth as a desirable paradigm for the future.

Our symposium has three aims:

  1. To take stock of debates on growth (degrowth; agrowth) in light of the pandemic. We now have global evidence about what the ‘pedagogy of catastrophe’ (Latouche) looks like in practice. How does this alter the conditions for thinking, beyond the obvious injection of urgency? Is it easier or harder to imagine compelling new futures, especially from within the universities?
  2. To generate deep cross-disciplinary exploration of the capacious concept of growth, which ranges across the social and natural domains to describe a huge variety of phenomena from miniscule particles of living matter to the complex social assemblages of mega-cities. Our starting point is that in order to stand any chance of understanding the enduring power of growth as a concept we will need to think across borders of all kinds: geographical, temporal, institutional and disciplinary.
  3. To bring into the mainstream theories, insights and examples from as many parts of the world as possible, given that the concept of growth means such different things in different places. Two examples with which the organisers happen to be familiar from their own work are the Scandinavian model of consolidation and repair and the Latin American philosophy of buen vivir, in which living well entails social justice, connectedness to other people and harmony with the natural world.  In many parts of the world, there is a deep history of criticism of ‘modernization’, ‘development’ and their correlates of exponential growth and trickle-down benefits, but these ideas, especially from the global South, are still relatively unknown in discussions that purport to be planetary in remit.

Through combining these three aims we hope to generate new thinking on questions such as:  Are terms such as ‘sustainable development’ or ‘Green growth’ inescapably self-contradictory and wedded to the avoidance of necessary change? Is it possible or even desirable to break with the logic of growth? Which other concepts might we bring to bear to calibrate the possibilities for human and nonhuman flourishing? In current conditions, what realistic options are there for re-configuring our economies, our cities, our societies –not to mention our universities-- in the face of the multiple emergencies we face, and to redress fundamental historic inequalities in access to the planet’s resources?  


Monday 13th June

13.00 - 13.45 Welcome lunch

13.45 - 15.15 Panel 1: Conceptualising Growth in Conditions of Oppression and Emergency

  • Growth gone wrong: Biology, eugenics and the biomedical deployment of human growth in Malawi and South Africa. Speakers: Catherine Burns, University of Witswatersand, and Megan Vaughan, UCL Institute of Advanced Studies
  • Revelation and Recursion: Conceptualising luck and growth in a resource emergency. Speaker: Rosalie Allain, ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography at the University of Oxford

15.15 - 15.30 Refreshment break

15.30 - 17.00 Panel 2: The Problems of Scaling

  • From Small to Large: Frictions in scaling food rescue. Speaker: Viktor Bedo, FHNW Critical Media Lab
  • Urban Ecotones: Ontologies and frontiers in the wetland communities. Speaker: Richard Muller, PhD student, UCL Geography

17.00 Drinks reception

Tuesday 14th June

9.30 - 11.00 Panel 3: Growth and Social Reproduction 

  • Imagination and the Economics of Growth and Non-growth. Speaker: Geoff Mulgan, Professor of Collective Intelligence, Public Policy and Social Innovation, UCL
  • Popular Economies and Growth. Speaker: AbdouMaliq Simone, Professor of Sociology and Urbanism, the Urban Institute, University of Sheffield

11.00 - 11.15 Refreshment break

11.15 - 12.45 Panel 4: Growth and the Politics of Space and Place 

  • Urgency, Growth, and Spatial Practice. Speaker: Anthony Powis on behalf of MOULD
  • On the Edge of Just transition: Reimagining peri-urban planning in the Anthropocene. Speaker: Lakshmi Rajendram, UNEP-DTU Partnership, Copenhagen

12.45 - 13.30 Lunch

13.30 - 15.00 Panel 5: Escape Routes 

  • ‘Wasteland: Building Escape Routes’. Speakers: Pushpa Arabindoo, Co-Director UCL Urban Laboratory and Nicola Baldwin, Visiting Research Fellow, UCL Institute of Advanced Studies

15.00 Close