July 1, 2020

At the Expense of Others?

ILA Kollektiv

How the imperial mode of living prevents a good life for all

At the Expense of Others?, a new collected volume authored by the ILA Kollektiv and translated into English by the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, lays out the concept of the “imperial mode of living” and puts forward ideas on how we can restructure our ways of living and producing in a more socially just and ecologically sustainable manner.

Democratically minded and socio-ecologically conscious individuals are currently transfixed by the troubling developments on the right wing of the political spectrum. Nationalist aspirations, racist ideologies and authoritarian forms of rule are gaining influence. Neoliberal capitalism has lost its aura; there suddenly now seem to be alternatives. Numerous emancipatory initiatives and concrete approaches have made other options possible. We have witnessed the Arab Spring, the occupations of city squares in many countries, left-wing alternative parties (e.g. Podemos in Spain), protests against TTIP and CETA, as well as against the mining and burning of coal or against major projects (e.g. Stuttgart 21), local movements such as Transition Towns, urban gardening and repair cafes, as well as proposals to improve social infrastructure, for a decentralised and democratic energy transition and for public transport. And the list is by no means exhaustive.

It was against this backdrop that a group of academics and political activists met in 2016 for a writing workshop they called “The imperial mode of living: structures of exploitation in the 21st century (ILA)”. The term “writing workshop” and the project’s unwieldy name make it hard to truly grasp the energy and dynamism this project unleashed, as well as the scope of the expertise it managed to unite. However, a quick glance at the resulting text, in which the ILA presents the outcomes of this workshop to a broader public, instantly gives you an idea of the great minds at work on this collaboration.

One of the key findings of the project has been that there is not necessarily a link between the current crisis and the rise of the conservative right with its false solutions lacking both solidarity and answers to the true problems and crises. Moreover, there are indications that we can stop the rise of the right. We have progressive alternatives to halt such movements, and it is possible to confront the existing form of capitalism with its increasingly damaging social and environmental impacts. As much as we will need courage and dedication, we also require in-depth analyses. By setting out to dissect the imperial mode of living, i.e. patterns of production and consumption that are built on an unlimited global appropriation of nature and labour and which produce both tremendous wealth and extreme misery and destruction, this publication provides the latter.

With a wealth of detail, this text identifies and vividly explores the underlying mechanisms. As the chapters make clear, many people—particularly in the Global North—live by and profit from the imperial mode of living. At the same time, however, this mode of living exerts a certain degree of coercive power that is hard to evade. Changing consumption patterns at the individual level to be more socially and environmentally compatible—although an important strategy—is not enough. The imperial mode of living entails both promise and pressure. It simultaneously expands and limits people’s opportunities. And even in the Global North, an individual’s social status remains an important factor. Class, gender, and race all define the balance between opportunities and pressure. Car ownership rates as well as the frequency with which people fly or eat meat all highlight this fact. High-income (and, frequently, environmentally conscious) groups generally also consume the greatest share of resources and energy.

This publication mainly focuses on how these and other complex issues affect various aspects of our lives. But this is not purely an analytical text. It also explores the true potential of alternative approaches and concepts. Across the world these ideas are gaining ground and providing an emancipatory dimension to people’s justified anger over social injustices, environmental degradation, and a purported “post-political” lack of alternatives. This book is thus directed at all those who are fighting for energy democracy, food sovereignty, a transformation of mobility, and liveable cities—whatever their background or motivation. Next to prudent analysis, readers will find plenty of inspiration for their activism.

At the Expense of Others? How the imperial mode of living prevents a good life for all
Softcover, 128 pages
Oekem Verlag, 2019

Purchase the print edition here

The ILA Kollektiv is an interdisciplinary collective of young researchers and activists from a variety of fields. They are part of a diverse set of emancipatory movements within the broader field of global justice, whose work aims to make the concept of the imperial mode of living accessible to a wider public and contribute towards an ecologically sustainable and socially just mode of production and living.