Under capitalism, economic growth is seen as the key to collective wellbeing. In Self-Devouring Growth Julie Livingston upends this notion, showing that while consumption-driven growth may seem to benefit a particular locale, it produces a number of unacknowledged, negative consequences that ripple throughout the wider world. Structuring Self-Devouring Growth as a parable in which the example of Botswana has lessons for the rest of the globe, Livingston shows how fundamental needs for water, food, and transportation become harnessed to what she calls self-devouring growth: an unchecked and unsustainable global pursuit of economic growth that threatens catastrophic environmental destruction. As Livingston notes, improved technology alone cannot stave off such destruction; what is required is a greater accounting of the web of relationships between humans, nonhuman beings, plants, and minerals that growth entails. Livingston contends that by failing to understand these relationships and the consequences of self-devouring growth we may be unknowingly consuming our future.
Prologue: A Planetary Parable 1
1. Rainmaking and Other Forgotten Things 11
2. In the Time of Beef 35
Cattle to Beef: A Photo Essay of Abstraction 61
3. Roads, Sand, and the Motorized Cow 85
4. Power and Possibility, or Did You Know Aesop Was Once a Slave? 121
Julie Livingston, a 2013 recipient of a MacArthur "Genius Grant", is Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and History at New York University and author of Improvising Medicine: An African Oncology Ward in an Emerging Cancer Epidemic, also published by Duke University Press, and Debility and the Moral Imagination in Botswana.
"Highly engaging, deeply thoughtful, and beautifully written, Self-Devouring Growth helps us to understand the environmental dangers the planet faces not as something to be avoided or prevented, but as something to expect and to live through. Julie Livingston's thinking about environmental and other futures is a breath of fresh air and cuts across stale debates around economic development and environmental sustainability in a very original way."
– James Ferguson, author of Give a Man a Fish: Reflections on the New Politics of Distribution
"Julie Livingston's concept of 'self-devouring growth' will become an essential tool across many forms of scholarship – and for concerned earth dwellers across the planet. As Livingston puts it, "GROW! is a mantra so powerful it obscures the destruction it portends." Self-Devouring Growth tells of the failure of Botswana's public water system, strained by failing rains and pumped dry by mining and commercial beef rearing for export. Regarded as a success of development, Botswana is the ideal site for a parable of the Anthropocene."
– Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, coeditor of Feral Atlas: The More-than-Human Anthropocene