Books  Sustainable Development  Economics, Business & Industry  Environmental Economics 

The Limits to Scarcity: Contesting the Politics of Allocation

Edited By: Lyla Mehta

304 pages, Maps, figures, tables, graphs, index


Paperback | Dec 2010 | #189169 | ISBN-13: 9781844075423
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £19.99 $24/€22 approx

About this book

Scarcity is considered a ubiquitous feature of the human condition. It underpins much of modern economics and is widely used as an explanation for social organisation, social conflict and the resource crunch confronting humanity's survival on the planet. It is made out to be an all-pervasive fact of our lives - be it of housing, food, water or oil. But has the conception of scarcity been politicized, naturalized, and universalized in academic and policy debates? Has overhasty recourse to scarcity evoked a standard set of market, institutional and technological solutions which have blocked out political contestations, overlooking access as a legitimate focus for academic debates as well as policies and interventions?

Theoretical and empirical chapters by leading academics and scholar-activists grapple with these issues by questioning scarcity's taken-for-granted nature. They examine scarcity debates across three of the most important resources - food, water and energy - and their implications for theory, institutional arrangements, policy responses and innovation systems. The book looks at how scarcity has emerged as a totalizing discourse in both the North and South. The 'scare' of scarcity has led to scarcity emerging as a political strategy for powerful groups. Aggregate numbers and physical quantities are trusted, while local knowledges and experiences of scarcity that identify problems more accurately and specifically are ignored.

Science and technology are expected to provide 'solutions', but such expectations embody a multitude of unexamined assumptions about the nature of the 'problem', about the technologies and about the institutional arrangements put forward as a 'fix'. Through this examination, the authors demonstrate that scarcity is not a natural condition: the problem lies in how we see scarcity and the ways in which it is socially generated.

'Scarcity, like abundance, is not a neutral fact. It has powerful meanings and uses. In this timely and provocative book, Lyla Mehta follows the political career of scarcity in the modern world and, in turn, makes us look at the shape of that world in a new light.' Frank Trentmann, author of Free Trade Nation and Professor of History, Birkbeck College, University of London 'As environmental and economic challenges trigger the latest round of doom-laden scares about the scarcities facing humanity, leading thinkers offers us a vital, timely reminder that these are created by people and institutions, enwrapped with power, and lead to winners and losers. Definitely required reading for all seeking serious and realistic ways to meet sustainability challenges without undermining social justice.' Melissa Leach, Director, ESRC STEPS Centre and Professorial Fellow, Institute of Development Studies (IDS), University of Sussex


Foreword by Steve Rayner; Acknowledgements; 1. Introduction; Part I. Why does Scarcity Matter? 2. Commentary; 3. The Scare, Naturalization and Politicization of Scarcity; 4. Everybody's Got the Fever: Scarcity and US National Energy Policy; 5. The Ghost of Malthus: Narratives and Mobilizations of Scarcity in the US Political Context; Part II: Economics and Scarcity; 6. Commentary; 7. What Did Economists Do with Scarcity? 8. Economics and Scarcity: With Amartya Sen as Point of Departure? 9. Deconstructing Economic Interpretations of Sustainable Development: Limits, Scarcity and Abundance; 10. Water Can and Ought to Run Freely: Reflections on the Notion of 'Scarcity' in Economics; 11. A Bit of the Other: Why Scarcity Isn't All it's Cracked Up To Be; Part III: Resource Scarcity, Institutional Arrangements and Policy Responses: Food, Agriculture, Water and Energy; 12. Commentary; 13. 'Scarcity' as Political Strategy: Reflections on Three Hanging Children; 14. Seeing Scarcity: Understanding Soil Fertility in Africa; 15. Chronic Hunger: A Problem of Scarcity or Inequity? 16. A Share Response to Water Scarcity: Moving Beyond the Volumetric; 17. Advocacy of Water Scarcity: Leakages in the Argument; 18. The Construction and Destruction of Scarcity in Development: Water and Power Experiences in Nepal; 19. Afterword; Appendix 1; Institute of Development Studies Conference Statement on Scarcity

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Lyla Mehta is a sociologist and Research Fellow with the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex and a Professor at the Department of International Environment and Development (Noragric) Norwegian University of Life Sciences. She is also a member of the scientific committee of the Global Environment Change and Human Security Project, International Human Dimensions Project. She has worked extensively on issues concerning scarcity, access and rights to resources addressed through the case of water. Other interests include rights and the gendered dimensions of forced displacement and resistance and the cultural politics of sanitation, environment and development. She is the author of 'The Politics and Poetics of Water: Naturalising scarcity in Western India', editor of 'Displaced by development: confronting marginalisation and gender injustice' and the co-editor of 'Forced displacement: Why rights matter.'

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