Lecture and Masterclass Allan Stoekl – Sustainability: Technocracy and Meditation

ASCA Political Ecologies Workshop + Environmental Humanities Center (CLUE+)

Allan Stoekl (Penn State University)

Public Talk (University of Amsterdam, P.C. Hoofthuis 1.05, 20, September5-7pm)
Masterclass Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, 20 September, 10-12am. Please note a change of room due to great interest: VU Medical Faculty (MF), room D-565 (fifth floor, D-Wing). Please register for the Masterclass below.

Public Talk

Sustainability: Technocracy and Meditation

In my talk, I will discuss two approaches to thinking about “sustainability.” The first is “technocratic sustainability.” I’ll discuss the “Technocracy Inc.” movement of the United States of the 1930s which imagined a utopian resolution to the economy by replacing labour with energy in the calculation of value. One of Technocracy’s primary thinkers, M. King Hubbert, would go on to forecast “peak oil” which figures so prominently in the discourse of sustainability.

Then I consider the ontological and political difference between consuming and spending. Following Georges Bataille, I will argue that we have an innate tendency to expend, but one more in consonance with the “economy of the universe”; one which recognizes the “limits to growth” not through austerity but through the inevitable burn-off of surpluses. Spending in this sense is tied not to just consuming stuff, but to consuming the very limits of our selves—the very limits we protect and affirm in capitalist consumption.

Hence the importance of E. F. Schumacher’s “Buddhist economics,” which at first sight may seem a mere bit of New Age faddism. In fact the crucial link (not explored by Schumacher) is between economics, both human, planetary, and of the universe, and the most basic “tendency to expend” that characterizes not only living systems, but the signifying systems of human communities. These communities necessarily turn around religious practices, and most importantly, meditative ones. 

By linking a no-growth “Buddhist economics” to Bataille’s theories of expenditure, we can start to imagine a theory of sustainability that will avoid the pitfalls of the technocratic approach.


Allan Stoekl’s Masterclass at the Vrije Universiteit (10-12AM, OZW building, room 7A-07) is open to MA, RMA, and PhD students.

RMA students and PhD students registered with a National Research School can obtain 1 ECTS  for this Masterclass (through NICA), if they meet the following requirements:

  1. reading compulsory readings and related literature (will be sent to you upon registration);
  2. writing a Reading Report (instructions will be sent to you upon registration)
  3. attending the sessions and engaging your views during discussion.

Please register using the form below to receive more information and a reading list.

Allan Stoekl

Bio: Allan Stoekl is emeritus professor of French and Comparative Literature at Penn State University, and is currently Visiting Scholar in the Architecture Dept. at the University of Pennsylvania. He has written widely on twentieth century French intellectual history, and, more recently, on questions of energy use and expenditure in a cultural context (Bataille’s Peak: Energy, Religion, and Postsustainability [2007]). He is currently at work on a book on what he deems to be three varieties of sustainability, which may or may not be compatible.


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