The Slow Movement comprises an eclectic gathering of people devoted to slow activism, the first and most prominent of these being the Slow Food movement. Slow activism calls for a deceleration of the pace of modern technological life, arguing that advanced capitalism is dominated by a logic that equates speed with efficiency.
For slow activists, opportunities for a contemplative relation with others and the natural world are decreasing in an ever-accelerating world. Temporally, our very being in the world is challenged by a relentless demand to decide, respond, and act without adequate time to really engage with the complexity of life. A culture of haste infiltrates our twenty-first-century social and political spaces.
In response to this culture, Slow Food was one of the first such movements to emerge in the Western world.
In 1989, Carlo Petrini challenged the proliferation of industrialised fast food, championing in its place simple hand-crafted meals that embraced the produce and the traditions of local cuisine. Slow Food has developed from this to celebrate the pleasures of slow cooking, and convivial sharing of food with others in a more leisurely, less commercial context.
In addition, the movement raises awareness of the ecological and educational issues associated with the production and consumption of food globally. As such, it provides the basis for a political awareness of issues such as sustainability and cooperative small-scale agriculture as alternatives to fast food and large-scale food production.
The Long Now Foundation, founded in San Francisco in 1996, counters today’s accelerating culture by fostering long-term thinking and responsibility. It challenges the nexus between efficiency, productivity and speed, promoting “slower/better” over “faster/cheaper”. While the sentiment of “slower/better” – in the context of food – has at times been criticised as elitist and gourmet-driven, the Slow Food movement actually revives Petrini’s early social protest, promoting equitable food policy and justice for those most disadvantaged by global food systems.
Terra Madre, for example, is an international network promoting sustainable agriculture and biodiversity in order to guarantee good, clean, and fair food. International debates now typically focus on access to local, sustainable and nutritious food for groups in the community who are often overlooked in ethical debates and social policy. The movement in Portland, Oregon, for example, argues that Latino farmworkers must be part of any Slow Food activism, if it is to evolve.
There are now 1,500 Slow Food convivial in 150 countries around the world, in the Global North as well as in Niger, Angola, Bolivia, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. Further, Slow Food has inspired a series of movements in response to the dehumanising effects of globalisation.
The movements in series include Slow Gardening, Slow Cities (Città Slow), Slow Schools, Slow Education, Slow Parenting, Slow Travel, Slow Living, Slow Life, Slow Reading, Slow Goods, Slow Money, Slow Investment, Slow Consulting, Slow Ageing, Slow Cinema, Slow Church, Slow Counselling, Slow Fashion, Slow Media, Slow Communication, Slow Photography, Slow Science, Slow Technology, Slow Design, Slow Architecture, and Slow Art. The last of these, Slow Art, exposes capitalist thinking by acknowledging its complicity with a system that benefits both materially and culturally from exploitation of the non-western world.
This self-awareness among people in affluent countries is, more and more, a defining feature of what marks a practice as slow. In the global South, the Slow Movement manifests as a concern with Slow Urbanism and Slow Governance, exploring connections between urban crises, economic downturns, migration, dispossession, expulsion, and exclusion. In these contexts, there is an intimate relation between slow activism and the reclamation of common land.
While there is considerable diversity in the way slowness is embraced by grassroots movements around the world, what unites them is arguably a determination to experience the pleasure of engaging the basic needs of everyday life with a kind of artful slowness. Such movements seek a more substantial and sustained relation with the complexity of the world.
Carl Honoré’s book In Praise of Slow, first published in 2004, explored how industrialised societies could think of slowness in terms of a movement with the potential to challenge the belief that “faster is always better”.
Since this time, the Slow Movement has evolved to more consciously embrace its practice of slow activism throughout the globe. In part, this activism involves challenging our roles as passive consumers in a capitalist system devoted to unchecked economic growth and exchange.
Reclaiming slowness extends also to cultural spaces devoted to “thought”. The equation of speed and haste with efficiency is embedded in a typical European style of instrumental rational thought, where attention gives way to calculation, and thinking – in general – is reduced to an empty, technical manipulation and application of fact. Slow philosophy is the practice of resisting the kind of thought that is incapable of collecting itself, pausing, considering and contemplating.
In this, it is a particularly deep-felt and critically reflective form of slow activism. Just as the Slow Movement draws, in modern and contemporary ways, on non-dominant practices, so too does slow philosophy. Slow philosophy is the practice that challenges an instrumental relation to life; it is, above all, the cultivation of a heightened attentiveness. It provides intense encounters that open us to the beauty and strangeness of the world, and this intensity is what arguably lies at the heart of all slow activism.
Excerpted with permission from Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary, Edited by Ashish Kothari, Ariel Salleh, Arturo Escobar, Federico Demaria, Alberto Acosta, Tulika Books / Authors Upfront.