Variations on the Gender Binary: An Exploration of a Social Construct

In the dominant western worldview, gender is conceptualized as a binary construct which places individuals into gender categories based on biological sex. In this social context, there are typical characteristics that each gender is expected to express: men being dominant, strong, aggressive, and logical, and women being nurturing, passive, emotional, and intuitive. In addition to these expected characteristics, there are stereotypical gender roles that exist in order to maintain a social order and dictate the division of labour: men work in labour, agriculture, war, and positions of power, while women traditionally play care taking roles, such as running the household, raising children, or working in health care. These differences have often been considered to be natural, possibly even genetically encoded, and unchangeable. If these assumptions were true one would expect to see the same roles and stereotypes played out across all people and cultures; however, it seems that what was once thought to be biologically determined is actually acquired through enculturation from the moment of birth, and is more fluid than generally thought (Haviland, Prins, McBride, & Walrath, 2015. p. 206).

The mainstream world view regards gender as a binary construct made up of male and female genders and considers nonconforming individuals to be anomalous. In the past few decades this idea has been challenged in the Western world through increased awareness and acceptance of LGBTQ2S (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two spirit) movements. Outside of this worldview, one can find many examples of how the social-cultural environment surrounding individuals influences the development and expression of gender roles, as well as cross-cultural examples of gender expressions that fall outside of this binary.

Many anthropological records from around the world refer to gender traditions that do not fit within this binary construct. North and South America, India, Polynesia, Siberia, Africa, and Asia all have some form of gender variance as part of their cultural contexts (Lang, 1996. p.  184). After studying enthnographic records, anthropologist Anne Bolin developed a five form model of gender variance to create a typology in order to recognize similarities between cross-cultural gender paradigms. This model identifies hermaphroditic genders; two spirit traditions; cross gendered roles; woman marriage and boy marriage; and cross gendered rituals (p. 25-34). In her paper Bolin presents this definition of gender: “the psychological, social, and cultural domain of being male or female. Gender is a social construction and system of meanings with multiple dimensions including gender identity, both personal and social” (p. 24). This definition would benefit from being expanded in order to be inclusive of the gender pluralism that is present in cultures and movements that recognize various forms of femininity, masculinity, and androgyny.

One aspect of gender identity is the social identity that is expressed through the role that one fills in society. One example of how enculturation effects the development and expression of gender roles is the Ju/‘hoansi people living in the Kalahari Desert. Traditionally a nomadic hunter-gatherer society, the Ju/‘hoansi emphasized equality among all members of their society and did not differentiate between the roles of men and women. They raised their children without emphasizing differences in the authority of adult males or females and did not expose them to many situations which highlight a difference between the roles of either sex. In the late 20th century, many of the Ju/‘hoansi were forced into settlements where they took on horticulture as a mode of subsistence, as well as working as agricultural labourers (Haviland et al., 2015, p. 206-208).

This shift in mode of subsistence and way of life brought about a change in the dynamic between the genders: women mainly stayed home with the children while the men went out to work. This introduced gender roles more typical of industrialized society, which were quickly passed on to new generations of the Ju/‘hoansi. The young girls were given tasks such as taking care of their younger siblings while the boys would be taken away from the home to start working. This change shaped the girls’ behaviour into that of being passive, nurturing, and more typically female while the boys learned to play the “distant, controlling roles” (p. 208) that are more typical of adult males (Haviland et al., 2015, p. 206-208).

The example of the Ju/‘hoansi people illustrates that the traits that are typically considered to be gendered, such as being passive and nurturing or distant and controlling, arise out of the requirements of the social order, which can be affected by changes in the environment, mode of subsistence, economic status, and cultural practices. This modern case of a group of people shifting from a nomadic, hunter-gatherer society to a settled, food producing one may give hints at the early roots of the typical gender paradigm. Is it possible that as our ancient ancestors settled into villages and developed agricultural practices they also developed gender normative behaviour in response to the shifting cultural landscape? Has this early effect of settler culture been carried through the generational line and perpetuated through the colonial spread of westernized agricultural societies? One way to seek answers to these questions is to examine the impacts of colonization on the traditional gender paradigms that exist within the indigenous cultures of the American continents.

In the chronicles of the first Spanish conquistadors who arrived in the new world in the early sixteenth century, there are frequent reports of effeminate men who blended the social roles of males and females, wearing women’s clothing and engaging in sexual relationships with men. Due to the way such behaviour was perceived in the cultural context from which these new world explorers came, they viewed these individuals as sodomites and considered their behaviour to be “devilry” (Lang, 1996, p. 183). In Spain at this time, sodomy was considered to be a grave crime and the conquistadors treated it as such. One record shows a group of these gender nonconforming individuals being ordered to be torn apart by dogs (Lang, 1996, p. 183).

Anthropologists who studied the indigenous cultures of the Americas labelled these gender nonconforming individuals as berdache, a term derived from the Arabic word berdaj, meaning male prostitute (Lang, 1996, p. 184). Although the original colonizers and early anthropologists focused on the sexual orientation of these individuals, it was not the affinity towards same sex intimate relationships that was the defining factor of a gender variant individual, but an early interest in the work and daily activities that traditionally belonged to the opposite sex. This suggests that gender is not as much about biology or sexual orientation as it is about the role that one plays in society (Lang, 1996, p. 185).

Using the term berdache to refer to gender variant individuals in North American indigenous cultures highlights the problematic worldview that has served to undermine the legitimacy of gender nonconforming traditions. The term berdache was later rejected in favour of the term two spirit, which was decided on in order to unite indigenous queer populations, and encompasses all individuals who hold both male and female energies within themselves (Lang, 1996). Gender variance was one of many aspects of indigenous culture that was heavily impacted by the effects of colonization. Claiming the term two spirit was one aspect of cultural revitalization that has helped in deepening the connection to traditional ways of being for indigenous individuals who fall outside of the post-colonial western gender binary.

Many cultures have the language to accommodate three or more genders and even the flexibility for one to move through multiple gender expressions over the course of one’s life (Lang, 1996, p. 185). Allowing space for gender variance helps to mitigate the need for the type of gender reversal that typically exists in western cultures (Lang, 1996, p. 193). Within the gender binary paradigm, individuals who do not feel they fit in with the gender they were assigned at birth, based on their physical sex, often feel that they must undergo hormone therapies and surgeries in order to fit into the cultural construction that matches the opposite gender. Individuals with gender dysphoria often suffer traumas associated with damaging societal constructs that demand them to comply with the gender binary.

In order to live in a more balanced world, we would do well to look outside of the western gender paradigm and take note of cross-cultural constructions of gender and integrate a more holistic view of gender as a spectrum of expression. In doing so, we may relieve the pressures that are placed on all people to abide by socially constructed expectations of gendered behaviour and allow more complex and authentic expressions of our humanity. The world is full of over 7 billion people and each of those individuals has a unique gender and sexual identity (Ramet, 1996, p. 14). The extent to which these individuals are free and able to explore all aspects of their unique identity depends on the cultural context that they are born into and surround themselves with as they grow. Like all aspects of culture, gender is learned, shared, based on symbols, dynamic, and integrated into every part of our world. As our global culture changes, our worldview of gender will change with it.


Bolin, Anne. (1996). Traversing Gender: Cultural context and gender practices. In S. P. Ramet (Ed.) Gender Reversals & Gender Cultures (pp. 22-51). New York, USA: Routledge.

Haviland, William A., Prins, Harald E. L., McBride, Bunny, & Walrath, Dana. (2015). Social Identity, Personality, and Gender. The essence of anthropology. (4th ed. pp. 200-221).  Boston, USA: Cengage Learning.

Lang, Sabine. (1996). There is More Than Just Women and Men: Gender Variance in North American Indian Cultures. In S. P. Ramet (Ed.) Gender Reversals & Gender Cultures (pp. 183-196). New York, USA: Routledge.

Ramet, Sabrina P. (1996). Introduction. In S. P. Ramet (Ed.) Gender Reversals & Gender Cultures (pp. 1-21). New York, USA: Routledge.


Marriage in a Cross Cultural Context – Polygamy Around the World

Although the institution of marriage is a cultural universal, the specifics of what it looks like vary depending on the cultural context as well as various conditions within each population. In the western world marriage is typically a monogamous union between two individuals who have been tied together in love. When one begins to look outside of the individualistic cultural context that surrounds us here in the western world, the idea of marrying for love becomes a rarity. In many cases, marriage is not about uniting two individuals in love as much as it is about tying two families together, strengthening the bonds between tribes, or ensuring that resources are distributed in an approved way down the kinship line. Every culture has their own set of traditions and customs regarding marriage, each of which has functions and benefits that fit within the cultural context from which it came.

One of the first pieces of traditional western marriage that falls away as you begin to look at marriage in a cross cultural context is the concept of monogamy. Around the world monogamous marriages are the most culturally preferred type of union; however, approximately 80-85% of cultures practice some form of polygamy. Polygamous unions can take the shape of either polygyny, meaning many wives, or polyandry, meaning many husbands. A majority of polygamous cultures practice polygyny, but polyandrous unions are more common than anthropologists had previously believed.

The Maasai culture in Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania traditionally have polygynous marriages. These unions are typically arranged between the woman’s father and her future husband and involve a dowry, typically of goats or cows. The polygynous nature of these marriages is often perpetuated by the women. When the first wife requires more hands to assist in completing the work that needs to be done in taking care of the home, livestock, and children, she will request that her husband bring in another woman to be her co-wife. This type of polygyny benefits the women by providing them with more assistance in taking care of their duties as wives and provides them with companionship. Polygyny also benefits the man by giving him enough labour to take care of his livestock and home, as well as giving him more opportunities to father children.

Polyandry is a far less common form of marriage, previously thought to be practised only by a handful of tribes in the Tibetan Mountains. In 2012, anthropologists Katherine Starkweather and Raymond Hames co-authored a paper in which they discovered another 53 societies outside of the context of “classical polyandry” that practice variations on this type of union. Their discoveries suggest that polyandry should be examined from an evolutionary perspective, as many of the cultures that have social structures in place which allow for polyandrous unions are small, egalitarian hunter/gatherer societies, which suggests that polyandry may have deep roots in the story of human evolution.

The form of “classical polyandry” that is practised in Tibet is fraternal polyandry, in which all of the brothers in a family will marry one woman. This type of union is practised in order to keep parcels of agricultural land from being split up amongst the men in a family, as well as maintaining a strong family bond, as the brothers stay together over the course of their lives. In these unions the eldest brother will be in charge of the house and determine the use of resources. All brothers share the wife and any children that are born are considered to belong equally to all of them, so if one of the husbands leaves the family the children will remain at home.

The Inuit practice a form of polyandry in which the first husband will choose a second husband for his wife from within the group who will have the responsibility of taking care of his wife and protecting his property while he is away, this also ensures that if she becomes pregnant  the father will be someone who her husband has approved of. The Bari peoples of Venezuela believe in partible paternity, meaning that two men can be the socially recognized fathers of a child, even if they are not formally married to or cohabiting with the mother, this. In this culture, a child is significantly more likely to live past the age of 15 if it has two fathers. Polyandry often shows up in cultures which have a skewed sex ratio. In these cultures, although it is socially sanctioned for a woman to have multiple mates, it is often practised in order to ensure that the male’s property is protected and does not benefit the women economically or socially.

Examining marriage through a cross cultural lens paints a very different picture than the one that we see from a western perspective. In many cases, marriage serves the functions of protection of property and division of labour, as opposed to uniting individuals in a loving union. Looking at the institution of marriage around the world allows us to understand the various functions and benefits that have evolved into the institution as we know it today.


Dreger, A. (2013, February 1). When Taking Multiple Husbands Makes Sense. The Atlantic. Retrieved Oct.17, 2016, from taking-multiple-husbands-makes-sense/272726/

*Some information not cited here*

Community Dance Rituals and Rites of Passage Within the Electronic Music Festival Countercultural Movement


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In this modern age, humanity is living within a paradox of being connected in ways that have never before been possible while simultaneously facing a great disconnection from traditional communities, interpersonal relationships, and the natural world. Due to this paradox, as well as ever increasing globalization, many people are coming from complex cultural and genealogical backgrounds. This leaves many individuals finding themselves separated from their traditional cultural identities, and thus lacking in many of the enriching experiences that come from having traditional community structures, such as cultural celebrations, rites of passage, and traditional music and dance.


     Today, youth from across many cultures are coming together to craft the communities that will one day become the future; of these future-forward subcultures, this paper is focused on possible positive benefits of the electronic music festival culture (sometimes referred to as ‘transformational festivals’) in which there is a resurgence of ancient rituals melded with modern technology: united around music, dance, identity development, self-exploration, social cohesion, self-reliance and community (Ballantyne & Packer 2011). This paper draws conclusions from interdisciplinary research including a study conducted on music young adult music festival participants, anthropological perspectives on community dance rituals and rites of passage, possible positive implications of psychoactive substances, and dance and movement as a form of therapy used to invoke cathartic experiences.

     This research has evoked many questions: In what ways can this co-creative culture contribute to the social wellbeing of individuals across generational, cultural and societal lines? Are there significant psychological benefits to participation? In what ways can we involve ancient knowings in our modern world, and to what ends? Can psychotherapeutic theories and perspectives be applied to the design and curation of the festival experience in order to increase the positive outcomes for participants? And, can the festival experience provide the space for the separation, liminality, and reintegration (Larson & Martin 2012) required to create modernized rites of passage for youth and adults alike? Further studies are required to gain deeper insights into all of these questions, as the current body of work directly related to the music festival experience is limited and largely based on naturalistic study and subjective reporting. In spite of these limiting factors, there is much evidence that combining music, dance, and ritual in a community setting can create positive psychological outcomes for the participants (Ballantyne & Packer 2011; Monteiro & Wall 2011).

     Most cultural and religious traditions from around the world have rites of passage that mark the transformation of one stage of life into another. There are some rites of passage that remain culturally relevant, especially within cultural or religious backgrounds such as the bar and bat mitzvah in the Jewish culture or the Quinceanera in latino culture (Larson & Martin 2012). Outside of this context, since many individuals are separated from their ancestral culture and religious upbringing, these community guided rites of passage are not necessarily provided by the elders, but instead created by the youth without the guidance of the wiser members of community, which results in events such as graduating high school, moving out on your own, travelling, getting your first job, or using alcohol or illicit substances as informal rites of passage in westernized culture (Larson & Martin 2012).

     As much as these traditions mark the passage from childhood into adulthood, they often lack the spiritual relevance of many ancient rites of passage such as the walkabout in Australian aboriginal culture, or the Ndembu tribes in Zambia where young boys are taken in the night and given the tools required to survive in the wild for six months. Upon return from this experience, they are reunited with their community, with more wisdom and experience which can then enrich the tribe as a whole (Larson & Martin 2012). Anthropologist Arnold Van Gennep recognized three stages that exist within most of these rites of passage: separation, where the participant leaves the regular life, be it the safety of the village, their community, either physically or symbolically; the next stage is liminality, which is characterized by risk-taking activities that happen outside of generally accepted social boundaries; and finally, reintegration, where the participant returns to their community and allow the learning that took place during the rite of passage to integrate the everyday experience (Larson & Martin 2012).

     The experience that can be cultivated at music festivals resembles this formula for a rite of passage in many ways. As Ballantyne & Packer (2011) observed in their study, “By providing a new social context that was removed from the expectations and routines of everyday life, it allowed participants to reflect and re-evaluate their own self-understanding and self-acceptance” (p. 9). In order to attend these festivals, one must separate themselves from the regular, everyday experience and often travel for hours into a natural setting where space has been created in which liminal experience is encouraged. The reintegration stage occurs for participants, both by going back into their original communities filled with the inspiration generated by the experience and with the connections that are built at the events. This modern day, co-creative experience allows individuals to craft new cultural identities that weave ceremonial practices across cultural boundaries.

     Central to the experience that is created at these events is the ancient practice of ecstatic, transcendental dance. Dance rituals have been used as community medicine and celebration in indigenous cultures and spiritual traditions from all around the world. Monteiro & Wall conducted research into tribal dance rituals in Africa and reported on the African worldview in which “dance is a conduit of individual and community healing. African conceptualizations of illness and health integrate social, spiritual, physical and mental realms, all of which are impacted by trauma” (2011, p. 243). This world view is complementary to the western psychological concept of transpersonal psychology which looks beyond the scale of human experience as one in which healthy behaviour exists at one end, with illness at the other, and a variance of emotional disorder exists as the middle ground. Instead, it encompasses spiritual experiences, altered states of consciousness and manifesting our highest potential (Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, Tartakovsky, M., 2011).

     Examining the festival experience with these concepts in mind, one can see the ways in which providing spaces for community led rites of passage using ceremonial awareness, combined with musical expression and group trance dancing can assist in increasing psychological and social wellbeing, beyond the point of healthy and into the realm of self-actualization (Ballantyne & Packer 2011; Monteiro & Wall 2011). Like many of the ancient dance rituals, there is an air of ceremony and sacredness surrounding these gatherings. This context gives an opportunity to craft rites of passage and co-create them as a community. Within the African world view it is understood that for the facilitation of healing, the body and mind need to be integrated with the community. This connection between the individual and the group creates a container for transformation and growth (Monteiro & Wall 2011). Participants in the survey of young adult festival goers, conducted by Ballantyne & Packer (2011), reported greater levels of autonomy, mastery, purpose, and self-acceptance, as well as increased feelings of social integration, cohesion, acceptance, and contribution. The combination of this unique setting, where technology is merging with natural settings with the theories that drive dance and movement-based therapy could have the potential to assist individuals in gaining access to the high end of the full spectrum of human experience conceptualized within the framework of transpersonal and humanistic psychology.

     Dance and Movement therapy (DMT) is a psychotherapeutic modality founded in the 1940s based on the understanding that the body and mind are deeply entwined with one another (Fladger & Ray, n.d.). In both DMT and the traditional African healing modalities, dance is used as a way to non-verbally communicate emotions through physical movement, allowing emotion, trauma, and unconscious processes to be expressed symbolically and interpreted to gain insight and foster a deeper connection between emotion and the body (Fladger & Ray, n.d.; Monteiro & Wall 2011). This symbolism allows people to access a healing space, in DMT, this is measured by the post-session evaluation done by the practitioner (Fladger & Ray, n.d.), and in the African healing worldview is seen as connecting to available spiritual restoration power that assists the individual in achieving a reduction of symptoms (Monteiro & Wall 2011). At music festivals, this healing space exists on the dance floor, where people come together across generational lines and experience bold, authentic movement.

     One goal that exists within DMT, African dance healing rituals, and the music festival experience is cathartic experience. Catharsis, derived from a Greek word meaning cleansing or purification, is an experience characterized by a combination of emotional and cognitive processes. The emotional portion involves the discharge of powerful emotions while the cognitive portion can involve hidden parts of the psyche coming into awareness, unconscious processes becoming conscious, and new insights into the emotional processes or re-experiencing and expressing repressed traumas (Powell, E., n.d.). The community structure and support that exists within community dance rituals, music festival culture, or group DMT sessions is essential to the safe expression of these stuck emotions and previously hidden cognitive processes. The ability to undergo these experiences, with the assistance of ecstatic dance, allows the nonverbal expression of emotion to take place in an environment in which people can feel validated in their strong emotions, without allowing that powerful discharge to occur in a negative way.

     The cognitive reintegration aspect is most important for the full positive benefit of these experiences to be integrated by the experiencer of the catharsis (Powell, E., n.d.). In DMT, this takes place during group reflection, as well as follow-up psychotherapy sessions; in the community healing rituals from Africa, this exists with the relationship with tribe and community; and within the music festival community, resources such as sanctuary space, healing temples, and first aid staff are available. These areas are staffed with individuals who are trained in assisting people in reintegrating, grounding, and healing from the challenging states that can be induced by intense emotional expression and psychedelic crisis.

     It would be reductionist and naive to academically explore the phenomenon of electronic music festival culture without taking into the account the effects on participants created by the use of psychedelic substances. Due to the disconnection from traditional rites of passage experienced by many individuals in the modern, industrialized western world, many young adults turn to substance use and abuse as a type of cultural ritual. Alcohol abuse is incredibly pervasive on college campuses, with many college students viewing alcohol use an essential part of the college experience (Crawford & Novak, 2006). As an alternative to this experimentation with alcohol at these community dance events, psychedelic use serves similar functions of lowering inhibitions and opening one up to new experiences, but unlike the depressant effects of alcohol use, fosters creative expression, altered states of consciousness, mystic/spiritual experiences and increased feelings of connection between individuals. Although this use of psychedelic substances is pervasive at these types of events, it is important to acknowledge that many participants also engage in spiritual practices such as meditation which have the potential to unlock similar altered states of consciousness. Thus, these substances are not integral to the experience but instead act as a tool which many individuals chose to use in order to gain access to these other realms of consciousness, much like William James, one of the founding fathers of psychology, who attributed many of his spiritual philosophies to the use of nitrous oxide (The Nitrous Oxide Philospher, 1996).

     Between the 1950s and 1970s many of these psychoactive substances such as LSD, MDMA, and psilocybin were studied in clinical settings, but ultimately prohibited and classified as having no medical significance. In spite of this government sanctioned prohibition, a resurgence of research is taking place around the world to investigate the psychopharmacological potentials offered by these substances (Tupper, Wood, Yensen, & Johnson, 2015). Due to the restricted status of these substances, research on their effects are predominantly limited to extreme cases such as individuals with terminal illnesses, and people who suffer from severe post-traumatic stress disorder that has been otherwise non-responsive to traditional treatment methods. The body of evidence that is growing shows that these psychedelic substances have positive effects on lessening death related anxiety, reducing persistent PTSD symptoms, and decreasing dependency on alcohol (Tupper et al. 2015).

     While these clinical trials are producing peer-reviewed, scientific accounts of the both the benefits and risks associated with the administration of psychedelic substances, these effects are well known to individuals who engage in their own wild west style of experimentation. This psychedelic drug culture has been part of counterculture movements since the 1960s and has roots that have been studied by anthropologists stretching back far further than that. Although there is limited research done on exactly how this type of experimentation affects individuals within the context of music festivals, dance rituals, and cathartic experience, it is important to note that in many indigenous cultures from around the world psychoactive plant medicines have been used as healing rituals and rites of passage, and are regarded as tools for unlocking cognitive and spiritual potential (Tupper, 2002).

     While the history and politics of prohibition is a discussion for another place; it is notable to acknowledge that Tupper et al. (2015) assert, “that lifetime use of classic psychedelics at the population level is associated with decreased psychological distress” (p. 1057), and despite the risks associated with use, such as increased manifestation of psychosis in individuals with a predisposition to bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, it is plausible that the possible positive, or non-harmful effects in the population outweigh the potential for harm experienced by some individuals. There are significant differences between clinical trials and the style of experimentation done by participants at these events, however, special care is given to creating a set and setting (two aspects thought to be essential for positive psychedelic experience) in which participants can undergo positive transformations.

     The music festivals that are curated with the intention of bringing together community, and creating space for personal growth and exploration provide a container for co-creating new cultural identities through the exploration of ancient rituals such as group trance dancing and use of entheogenic or psychedelic substances. Through creating an environment in which the ideals of transpersonal psychology are united with community dance rituals, the potential exists to give participants access to mystical experiences in which they are able to experience the stages of rites of passage: separation, liminality, and reintegration. In addition to this, the freedom of expression that is present in the experience of dancing together, mirroring, playing, and undergoing cathartic moments on the dance floor could potentially give participants many of the same benefits as undergoing traditional dance and movement therapy, such as decreased levels of depression and anxiety. Music festival participants report improved feelings of social integration, as well as increased self-awareness and self-confidence. Although further research is required to gain a thorough understanding of the positive psychological implications of this subculture, the evidence suggests that with proper integration and awareness of the tools available, the festival experience can be intentionally designed to minimize risk to participants while maximizing positive psychological and sociological outcomes.



Ballantyne, J. & Packer, J. (2011) The impact of music festival attendance on young people’s psychological and social well-being. Psychology of Music. 39(2) 164–181.

Crawford, L., & Novak, K. (2006). Alcohol abuse as a rite of passage: the effect of beliefs about alcohol and the college experience on undergraduates’ drinking behaviours. Journal Of Drug Education, 36(3), 193-212 20p.

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Larson, S. & Martin, L. (2012). Risk Taking and Rites of Passage. Reclaiming Children & Youth. 20(4), 37-40.

Monteiro, N. d., & Wall, D. d. (2011). African Dance as Healing Modality Throughout the Diaspora: The Use of Ritual and Movement to Work Through Trauma. Journal Of Pan African Studies, 4(6), 234-252.

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Degrowth: The Path to a Sustainable Future?

In the present time on earth the human race is faced with mounting challenges to be overcome in order to shift to a sustainable way of living. The human population has surpassed 7.3 billion and shows no signs of slowing down (Worldometers). Climate change looms over us, threatening the worlds most vulnerable people with droughts, floods, increasingly powerful storms, and food and water shortages which are leading to mass migrations and social disharmony (Declaration 1). Many of the world’s most wealthy nations have fallen into recession, and economists and leaders are calling for a return to growth: economic growth that has been heralded as the means to the ends of happiness, success, and prosperity (Alexander 7; Dhont). However, the question remains: is this the best path to creating a world in which all people cannot just survive, but thrive within the biophysical boundaries of the planet? Many people are advocating for a paradigm shift towards the degrowth model (van den Bergh, 910), which is defined as “the equitable downscaling of production and consumption that increases human wellbeing and enhances ecological conditions” (Schneider et al. 511).

At the current rates of production  and consumption, resources are being used much faster than the earth can replenish them (Dhont). Since the industrial revolution we have seen exponential rates of economic growth, to the point where the economies of the western industrial world are exceeding the carrying capacity of Earth (Alexander 9). The ecological implications of this fact cannot be ignored and in order to avoid ecological disaster a drastic restructuring our of economic reality is required. Dhont, in a summary of Herman Daly’s work on steady state economies, writes, “Because of the enormous change of mind and heart that this type of thinking takes, it may look like a (political) impossibility. But the alternative to a sustainable economy, an ever growing economy, is biophysically impossible” (Dhont). The reality is that we cannot continue down a path that leads to a biophysical impossibility. Two of the options that are available to us: continue with business as usual and face a reality in which the restructuring of our system is forced through ecological destruction and societal collapse or make a plan to move to a system in which the demand does not outweigh the capital and the throughput is not greater than what can be sustained by the biosphere (Dhont; Schneider et al. 516).

We have built our societies around the idea that we can use the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the measure of a country’s economic success. The traditional world economists believe that this aggregate collection of data pertaining to the total of all incomes and expenditures per capita is a valuable measure of social well being. Samuel Alexander writes, “according to this conventional view, there is a direct and positive correlation between consumption expenditure and human wellbeing” (Alexander 5). However, there are downsides to this measurement. First, the GDP does not take into consideration the costs of growth; when the ecological and societal expenses of maintaining the rate of growth surpasses the benefits gained from that growth we move into uneconomic growth (Alexander 14; Dhont; Declaration 1). Second, GDP does not accurately reflect the wellbeing of a population (Schneider et al. 512). Studies have shown that beyond a threshold wealth no longer improves wellbeing, suggesting that a move towards equitable distribution of wealth would offer societal benefits on a greater scale than the generation of more wealth for those who are already wealthy (Alexander 9; Dhont; van den Bergh 911). This distribution of wealth and downscaling of consumption can be done in a number of ways including work share programs, guaranteed basic income, and tax system restructuring (Alexander 17-18; Declaration 2).

After considering the environmental impacts of growth and the lacklustre effects of the GDP and the growth paradigm, one begins to wonder what the alternative looks like. The alternative look like decreasing inequality around the world by “right sizing” economies which involves bringing developing nations up and overgrown nations down so that all people may live within the bounds of the planet (Declaration 2). The alternative looks like a basic income for all people and reevaluating the tax systems (Alexander 16; Declaration 2). The alternative looks like more time for people to engage in creative endeavours, be with their families and follow their passions (Declaration 2), which could lead to greater innovations and quality of life. Work co-operatives, co-housing projects, food sharing, and locally based economies would become the new normal. One can hope that this would be brought about with a deepening sense of people power and democracy for the empowerment and continuation of the human race (Schneider et al., 515).

In an ever-changing world that is quickly growing beyond the sustainable boundaries of the planet we must take decisive action as a collective in order to move into a new way of living on earth. We have access to philosophies and technologies that could drastically improve the way all people are living on the planet: we just need to implement the necessary changes. A wise mind once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them.” The time has come for a new method of thought, and now the steps must be taken to guide the human race towards a new paradigm of abundance without greed and a measure of success that comes from the well being of the populous, not from the material accumulation of the economically advanced.

Annotated Bibliography

Alexander, Samuel. “Planned Economic Contraction: The Emerging Case for Degrowth.” The Simplicity Institute.

This paper discusses the basis of the growth model, as assess critiques of the social, economic, and ecological impacts of growth. Alexander outlines the theoretical foundations of the model of economic growth, and addresses the common western assumption that more consumption leads to more happiness. He also acknowledges that in neoclassical economics growth is the only answer to the issues of poverty, unemployment and inequality. He speaks to the inconsistencies between the belief that there is an optimum size to be reached at the microeconomic level but not at the macroeconomic one, which allows for the economic paradox of infinite growth within a finite system. He recognizes that there are social limits to growth and it’s benefits that have been surpassed in much of the western world. He discusses the limitations of the idea of sustainable development within the growth paradigm and writes, “few people – and no governments, in the developed world, at least – are prepared to accept that attaining an ecologically sustainable global economy requires a fundamental reassessment of the growth model” (9). He goes on to lay down a framework of the alternative approach to growth such as the restructuring of the labour market, a shorter work week, basic income, restructuring of taxation and inheritance, redistribution of working hours amount the population, and investing in renewable energy.

This is an academic paper though it is not published by a peer reviewed source. The author is a co-director of the Simplicity Institute in Melbourne, Australia. It is a 24 page paper and as such goes into lots of detail and presents a great amount of information on how growth works and how it does not. The language is technical, but not written in a way that it is too hard to digest which leads me to believe that the intended audience is general. This paper is written in a persuasive style. It is clear that his intention is to convince the reader that the growth model is not working and that degrowth is a viable alternative.

The purpose of this paper is to give the reader a clear understanding of why the current paradigm of growth above all is ineffective in bringing about social well being and is counter productive in moving towards environmental sustainability. It makes a strong argument that is clearly broken down into easy to digest pieces. I came away from reading this paper with a much better understanding of the functions that drive our economic reality and in what ways they have negative impacts on the world as a whole. This paper gives necessary insights into the way the current economic system is built and how it can be restructured so that people may begin to create the preconditions in which degrowth would be possible.

“Declaration of Degrowth.” Paris Conference on Degrowth. 2008.

This document is a declaration of the main issues and proposed solutions that the degrowth movement is built upon. The issues include the repercussions of global inequality, poverty, and unsustainable development beyond the capacity of the earth. The proposed solutions include a paradigm shift towards decreased production and consumption, “Right sizing” of economies so that the wealthy nations degrow while the developing nations catch up, and reevaluation of the importance of what is now considered to be economic prosperity (material wealth).

The author of this document is unknown but it may have been created collectively by the minds that came together for the Paris conference on Degrowth in 2009. The language used in the declaration is clear and simple so that it may be understood by a general audience. The purpose of creating such a document is to clearly explain the why and how of the degrowth movement so it may be broadly understood and accepted around the world.

Dhont, Rudy. A Steady State Economy (Herman Daly). Responsible Business European e-Learning Module. Web. November 17th, 2015.

In this paper the author addresses the concept of growth and the common attitudes towards it, most notably that growth is seen as the solution to many problems facing the planet today, but Dhont also speaks of how unending growth is unrealistic within a finite system and addresses the negative impact of growth as it shifts to uneconomic growth. The alternative presented in this paper is a steady state economy in which the optimum size of the economy is maintained with resource use being less than the regenerative capacity, waste being less than the absorption capacity, and non renewable resource use not being greater than the rate of development for alternatives. This vision allows for growth where growth is needed and also requires degrowth in many sectors.

The website is a learning resource and wiki page in which multiple people can submit contributions and the author’s credentials are unknown, though he appears to have gone to a University in the Netherlands. The language used is more casual and easier to understand than many of the academic papers but technical language is still used. This article is a summary of the works of Herman Daly, who is an ecological economist and professor at the University of Maryland, and also worked as the Senior Economist in the environmental department at the World Bank which gives credibility to the ideas being spoken of. The website contains information directed at students and business and economic professionals in order to give them tools to work within a changing world. It does not appear to be peer reviewed and it has a clear leaning towards a new paradigm of business and economics.

This paper explores the idea of what it looks like to be living in a full world.  The purpose is to demonstrate that there are realistic alternatives to the traditional growth model and to show that these alternatives are not only realistic, but necessary. The message that is conveyed is that the costs of maintaining our current approach to growth are too great to continue and under the current model these costs are not taken into consideration, especially by those who most benefit from the growth economy. He makes an appeal to emotion to make the point that we all need to care about shifting to a new model of economics in order to be able to continue living without environmental catastrophe.

Schneider, François, Kallis, Giorgos & Martinez-Alier, Joan.Crisis or opportunity? Economic Degrowth for Social Equity and Ecological Sustainability.” Journal of Cleaner Production. Elsevier LTD. January 2010. 511-517.

This journal article examines various contributions to the field of degrowth and goes on to define degrowth and assert that the implementation of degrowth will require radical restructuring of the institutions that run our world. The author suggests that degrowth should not be forced upon people, but realized through “a democratizing process; result of a collective choice for a better living, not an imperative imposed by an external authority” (515). There is an appeal to our adaptability, suggesting that we would be able to adopt this new way of living if the current circumstances changed. It describes various ways that degrowth could be implemented: a basic income, caps and rations for resources, co-housing, and work sharing. It also discusses the green technology movement and how it is limited in its impact due to creating a false sense of action in which we continue to over consume resources.

This article was published in the Journal of Cleaner Production and is peer reviewed. The authors are experts on the degrowth movement, and all work out of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. This article is discussing information that was presented at the 2008 Paris conference on degrowth as well as various literature that has been published on the topic. The experience of the authors and the fact that this article was published in a peer reviewed journal gives credibility to this source as reliable information on the topic of degrowth. The language used is technical and it is written for an audience of economists, environmentalists, and policy makers.

The purpose of this paper is to give a clear picture on what degrowth is, and what it is not. It draws clear lines between planned degrowth and unplanned degrowth, otherwise known as recession. The authors want the reader to understand that there is more to quality of life than material possessions and that wellbeing can be improved by changing to a paradigm of simple living and sharing of abundance.

van den Bergh, Jeroen C.J.M. and Kallis, Giorgos. “Growth, A-growth or Degrowth to Stay within Planetary Boundaries?” The Journal of Economic Issues. Vol. XLVI, No. 4. December 2012. 909 -919.

This paper talks about the benefits and limitations of GDP as a measure of social wellbeing and development and offers the concepts of ecological economics, as well as a-growth and degrowth as alternatives to traditional economic paradigms. The paper asserts that the traditional model of economic growth is a barrier in the path to implementing necessary ecological policies and presents alternatives for transitioning to a greener way of life within the a-growth and degrowth models, such as developing alternatives to fossil fuels, and creating work sharing and co-housing co-operatives. It proposes that giving up the GDP growth model would give more time for family, leisure, creativity, and social progress and suggests investing in social programs over economic advancement. The relationship between economic growth and environmental damage is highlighted.

This is a scholarly article that was published in the Journal of Economic Issues, which is a peer reviewed publication. Kallis and van den Bergh are professors of environmental science and technology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and van den Bergh is also a professor of environmental and resource economics at The University of Amsterdam. The credentials of the authors and the fact that it is a peer reviewed publication written by experts in the fields of environment and economics gives credibility to this article as a reliable source.

The language is technical and the tone is neutral. The authors address both sides of the argument, presenting a balanced picture of traditional economics and the proposed alternatives. The article is meant to be considered by economists, leaders, and developers as they go forward with creating new policies to benefit humanity. The purpose of their communication is to put emphasis on the importance of creating a new system for the human race to work within as we continue our evolution on the planet.

Worldometers. “Current World Population”. World Population Clock: 7.3 Billion People (2015). Web. November 23, 2015.

An Intersection of Communication and Communion

The following is a presentation I gave to my Music Psychology Course. Some people have expressed interest in reading what I came up with and so I decided to post it here for ease of sharing and to maintain the feeling of the presentation as closely as possible. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

In order to set the stage for the presentation I started by showing this video of William Close playing the earth harp at the Temple at Burning Man in 2011, and spoke about how people bring things and thoughts that they wish to release to the Temple and then watch it burn, and this ritual shared by thousands of people is a powerful ritual for transforming grief and shedding layers. This sets the stage for imagining the cathartic power that is manifested at these events. Allow this music to play in the background as you read ahead.Slide01

To encompass the topics of Music and Culture, Technology, and Social Change, my presentation today is about a subject that is very close to my heart. It is an emergent culture that is deeply rooted in combining new technology with ancient wisdoms.

I am sure that some of you are familiar with music festivals in some form or another, whether it is a folk festival, jazz festival, Ska festival, Shambhala, Coachella, or perhaps a culturally specific Slide02celebration that involves a time that is dedicated to celebrating art and community through music and

Although I have done research and found evidence that supports my theory that these gatherings have great potential for healing on a personal and collective level, much of what I am referring to is from my personal experience and understandings. In my academic searching I found journal articles that report on Dance/Movement Therapy (DMT) for brain trauma, depression, autism, and palliative care.

I also found a paper from the journal Psychology of Music titled The impact of music festival attendance on young people’s psychological and social well-being, in which they interviewed young adults from Australia on their experiences. In this study they identified functions of music and how they can increase feelings of well being for festival participants.


They also identified four different aspects of the festival experience through their focus groups and surveys that create potential for positively impacting psychological, social and subjective well being.


In this presentation, I am mainly referring to small and intimate festivals. There is a subculture that exists within the broader context of “partying to music” in which personal growth is the goal and there is a focus on community development, permaculture, healing, and various opportunities for self exploration and development. I believe that these festivals with a focus on personal and collective growth have great psychological and sociological benefits to offer.

Much of the magic that is created at these events is tied into the ancient practice of ecstatic, transcendental dance. Dance rituals have been used as community medicine and celebration in indigenous cultures and spiritual traditions from all around the world.

In the Sufi tradition, Dervishes, preforming their Sema ceremony will whirl themselves in circles in a form of an active meditation, which to them is a way of becoming closer to god.

In various native american tribes they have dance ceremonies for many different purposes: to heal a broken spirit, to bring harmony back to a person, to celebrate the tribe or the changing of seasons.

In African traditions dance rituals are used as rites of passage, to make contact with the gods, to invoke fertility, and to treat and heal diseases.

In our modern, individualistic society we seldom have access to this type of context for social cohesion in relation to rites of passage, healing, and ecstatic expression.

I am going to do a little experiment in shifting your experience. I would like to take you, in your minds, out of this classroom context and into the context of entering into an ecstatic dance ritual. So, if I could get you to close your eyes and take yourself to the forest, jungle, desert, or any other natural setting in which you feel connected to nature.

To set the stage for this next section:
 The Only Dance There Is – The Human Experience – Earth Harp Sessions

It is the moment of your arrival, before the crowds assemble and the performers arrive. It is a moment of wanting to break the stillness, of waiting to step boldly into the open space of potential laid out before your feet. Bare toes spread as they press into the earthen floor underneath them. As the music begins to fill your ears and travel to your brain, it triggers a cascade of synaptic connections, sending signals throughout your nervous system. As the first steps begin to fall, you move forward into the container for complete freedom of expression that is held between the trees around, the sky above, the earth below, and every other body gathered to share in this ancient ritual of limitless movement. The harmonic overtones building in the air speak to your core as the drums beat a rhythm that is received as a language spoken directly to some inner ear that listens and responds in turn with messages encoded in movements. A primeval force courses through the threads of muscles pulling you through waveforms of vibrations. Together we are swimming in a sea of sound, barely coming up for air as we breath in the frequencies that fill in the spaces between our bodies and our surroundings. The empty spaces begin to fill with more dancers, each moving in their own way, expressing their stories, their pain, their joy, and their authentic boldness. Each dancing their own language, creating an interplay of communication and communion. Wordless connections through which we have been growing together for countless generations, coming together around fires and drums, reawakening an ancient feeling of tribal togetherness, of community. We are coming together in this sacred sea of sound, creating echoes and ripples that resound through the harmonic web of life that connects your breath to the breath of every other being and the frequencies you hear to your core. Here, you remember your roots. Here, you know who you are.

Now I hope that for at least a few of you, that felt like a good place to be. Perhaps a place where you could begin to be a little bit more authentic in yourself. A place where you could let go of some of the weight that you carry with you from your daily life, from school, from work, from responsibilities. Drop the stressors and just be present with yourself and with nature and with the people who are showing up to do just the same thing. Slide07

Like many of the ancient dance rituals, there is an air of ceremony and sacredness surrounding these gatherings. Studies have shown that ceremony and rites of passage contribute to the psychological well being of young people, and this context gives an opportunity for us to craft our own rites of passage and build them as a community.

Slide08Here is the opening to Luminosity Festival, where each participant was asked to write a word, intention,  or wish on a piece of paper which were then collected and burned to open the weekend.

Slide09In this opening ceremony of the Labyrinth stage at Shambhala, the dancers inspire people to use their bodies to their full potential of expression.

And in this oSlide10pening ceremony of Entheos gathering, Grandmother Karina shares wisdom of the local native tribes and shares her teachings of how we can honour the land and all generations past, present and future.

This type of opening sets the stage for a weekend of togetherness and expression. It often asks participants to shed layers of themselves that no Slide11longer serve them and to step more fully into the person they truly want to be in the world. This is typically followed by a long night of dancing, of reunions with best friends, and meeting a whole new set of people who share similar values. The culture that is created fosters optimism, hope, personal development, self expression, artistic expression, playful improvisation and creation.

Now, night has fallen and the culture context has been set, now we get moving into a long night of grooving to the future music sounds crafted out of the intersection of nature and technology. Electronic music gets a bad rep often for being cold or overly robotic, and while I do not deny that there is a fair amount of it that can easily sound like gigantic robots having laser battles with dinosaurs wearing mech suites, there are many artists that draw their inspiration from nature and real live physical instruments and combine this with synthesizers and drum machines to create multilayered audio experiences. Artists recording voices, instruments, even the sounds of trees, raindrops, and silence to create immersive audio landscapes designed to get lost in

Slide13Here we see one million MacBooks strong, programs like Ableton, Traktor, and Serrato as tools for expression.

We see hypnotic visual design, hours of audiovisual immersion that allows one to step out of the usual bounds of reality and into what feels like a co-created society in which all expression is celebrated.

And as much as the music and technology is an important part of the culture, the art that is present plays a major role in the experience.

Visual artists using the power of technology to create visionary digital art, while others still use paint, pen, and other creative mediums to create.

Slide12If this culture of expression, art, technology and community togetherness were not enough on its own to plant the seeds of social change and encourage participants to step out into the world with a renewed sense of self, and a clearer idea of purpose, there is another factor at play: Workshops.Slide24 Weekend long opportunities to dive into yoga classes, communication workshops, permaculture teachings, theatre workshops, fermentation, eco-village design, open discussion forums, classes about the universe, ways to honour indigenousSlide25s cultures, plant medicine walks, art classes, and classes in the latest music production software.

This fusion of expression, exploration, art, music, community, learning and self reliance fosters an environment in which it is hard to not come out the other side enriched in some way. Participants report long lasting feelings of connectedness, purpose, strength, self knowing and deepened relationships with new and old friends. This cultural ritual of melding technology with natural surroundings, and participatory co-creation provides fertile soil in which to plant the seeds of a future in which sustainability, self actualization, and community co-operation is the practical reality.Slide26

References and Resources:

Most photographs curtsy of the wonderful man behind the camera at Pretty Lips Dancy Hips photography

Art by:

Mugwort Designs

Alex Grey

Autumn Skye

Justin Totemical

Rae Vena

Music Links – Tucked in to the presentation, check them out

Academic Sources – Linked in the article