This special issue with a focus the “Imperial Mode of Living” (IML) explores how the exploitative conditions underlying the 'European mode of living' unfold their effect and what analytical contribution this concept can make to debates on development theory. The concept of the Imperial Mode of Living was discussed by Ulrich Brand and Markus Wissen in 2012 in a special issue of the Austrian Journal of Development Studies (JEP). In their book Limits to Capitalist Nature: Theorizing and Overcoming the Imperial Mode of Living, Brand and Wissen systematically elaborated the concept. They describe how everyday life in capitalist centres is based on the exploitation of labour and natural resources and on the excessive use of global sinks in other regions of the world (Brand/Wissen 20 17: 43). The exclusive, imperial character of this mode of living and production becomes evident when societies in the Global North resort to CO2 sinks worldwide in order to externalise costs of their disproportionate emissions of greenhouse gases, when human rights violations are committed and natural areas are destroyed in order to extract raw materials, and when economies in the Global South are disadvantaged by unequal trade regimes. Due to its material attractiveness, this mode of living is increasingly spreading in the countries of the Global South, above all in China, thus intensifying global competition and the competition for rare resources and sinks.
The publication of the book led to a broad public debate and initiated a lively scientific exchange. The concept was further fleshed out by applying it to subject areas such as labour, migration, and degrowth. This aim is also pursued in this issue with regard to the field of development theories. So far, it has been positively emphasized how the concept places the two levels of (a) structuring and (b) everyday practice consistently in relation to each other. Furthermore, it has been asserted that the focus on modes of living would illuminate important connections between the attractiveness of IML and its increasing global spread. This spread means that its inherent prerequisites are made impossible: namely, an external world and the (almost) unlimited exploitation of nature and labour. At the same time, it was stressed that the IML concept focuses on the role of reproducing these conditions in everyday life - for example through consumer norms and forms of subjectivation. Nevertheless, criticism was also expressed. This called, for example, for the greater differentiation of different modes of living within the simplistic categories of Global South and Global North, on which the concept of the IML is based. It was stated that the concept of class was too vague and that the dimensions of race and gender were not sufficiently taken into account. This would also result in an overemphasis on consumer criticism and individual responsibility and would not sufficiently focus on overcoming the structures of inequality within society. In addition, the term ‘imperial’ was problematised and the concept of IML was accused of containing an Eurocentrist bias; thus, while the Global North appears to be active and authoritative, the Global South would be presented as a passive 'victim'.
This special issue builds on previous debates on the concept of the Imperial Mode of Living and, with reference to development theories, seeks to take a closer look at the mechanisms that both enable and stabilise the Imperial Mode of Living both historically and nowadays.
We welcome case-based analytical contributions that deal with one of the following three thematic areas. Particular attention will be paid to establishing references to, or critical revisions of development theories such as world system theory, dependency theory, decolonial approaches, and research on value chains and/or experiences and perspectives from the Global South.
- Mechanisms of norm diffusion and materialisation/structuring of the Imperial Mode of Living: What are the central norms that constitute the Imperial Mode of Living? How do these norms spread both spatially and across different scales? How are these norms anchored in political or economic structures as well as cultural arrangements and how do they thus shape future actions? What counter-mechanisms and counter-tendencies oppose this diffusion.
- Mechanisms of subjectivation: How is the internalisation of the norms of the Imperial Mode of Living reflected in everyday common sense? How are these norms reproduced in everyday actions and how do they shape social routines and interactions in the Global North and Global South on an individual level? What contradictions and opposing patterns of subjectivation and constitution of the daily routine are opposed to these mechanisms?
- Resistance: At what points does resistance against the Imperial Mode of Living become visible? What is this resistance directed against and what measures are taken to push back the Imperial Mode of Living? What other social struggles is this resistance related to?
Guidelines: Authors who wish to contribute to the special issue are invited to send an abstract (maximum 300 words) including the title, authors and institutional affiliation to IML-JEP.firstname.lastname@example.org by August 15th, 2020. In addition to standard scientific contributions, essays are also accepted. By September 15th, it will be announced which contributions will be published in the special issue. After positive feedback, the complete article must be submitted by January 15th 2021 in a maximum length of 40,000 (scientific contribution) or 15,000-20,000 (essay) characters. Submissions can be made in both German and English. The special issue of the Austrian Journal of Development Studies is expected to be published in autumn 2021.