Do responses to the COVID-19 pandemic anticipate a long-lasting shift towards peer-to-peer production or degrowth?

Sustain Prod Consum. 2021 Jul;27:2165-2177. doi: 10.1016/j.spc.2021.05.018. Epub 2021 May 25.

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic simultaneously triggered a sudden, substantial increase in demand for items such as personal protection equipment and hospital ventilators whilst also disrupting the means of mass-production and international transport in established supply chains. Furthermore, under stay-at-home orders and with bricks-and-mortar retailers closed, consumers were also forced to adapt. Thus the pandemic offers a unique opportunity to study shifts in behaviour during disruption to industrialised manufacturing and economic contraction, in order to understand the role peer-to-peer production may play in a transition to long-term sustainability of production and consumption, or degrowth. Here, we analyse publicly-available datasets on internet search traffic and corporation financial returns to track the shifts in public interest and consumer behaviour over 2019 - 2020. We find a jump in interest in home-making and small-scale production at the beginning of the pandemic, as well as a substantial and sustained shift in consumer preference for peer-to-peer e-commerce platforms relative to more-established online vendors. In particular we present two case studies - the home-made facemasks supplied through Etsy, and the decentralised efforts of the 3D printer community - to assess the effectiveness of their responses to the pandemic. These patterns of behaviour are related to new modes of production in line with ecological economics and as such add capacity to a broader prefiguration of degrowth. We suggest an adoption of a new "fourth wave" of DIY culture defined by enhanced resilience and degrowth to continue to add capacity to a prefigurative politic of degrowth.

Keywords: 3D printing; Degrowth; Micro-production; Peer-to-peer; Prefigurative politics.