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The nowtopia of the riverbank: Elder environmental activism

By Mary Gearey, Neil Ravenscroft


Degrowth imaginaries offer alternative ways of envisioning future societies. Those, predominantly working age and working class people, seeking to purposefully enact degrowth in the here and now are termed ‘nowtopians’. Based on empirical work undertaken along the River Adur valley in West Sussex, UK, this paper argues that dynamic examples of nowtopian initiatives can develop from alternative and overlooked demographics, such as rural community elders. Explored through a series of interlinking activist narratives, orientated around collective responses to changing riverbank environments, this paper argues that the genesis of this elder activism is a desire to re-assert agency in older age that can be linked to degrowth sensibilities. Contending with the new realities of living under ‘austerity localism’, many of these elders have undergone a personal, if not political, epiphany and have turned to forms of environmental activism to articulate their agency and demonstrate solidarity with fellow humans across generations. This paper argues that these elder nowtopians champion direct action, conviviality and living well. Ageing and place connectivity are the motivators which underpin one of the key nowtopian concepts: ‘redefining life’s purpose’. Reflecting back, projecting forward, but operating in the ‘now’, these elders help us to consider a ‘politics’ of degrowth through grassroots activism along a rural river catchment.


Austerity politics, degrowth, elder environmental activists, nowtopias, water resources management



Mary Gearey, Email: email hidden; JavaScript is required

Article published in Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space