Journal Article

The Scare, Naturalisation and Politicisation of Scarcity

Published on 1 January 2010

Leading 20th-century French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, sums up nicely what is taken to be a given in dominant academic and policy thinking: scarcity is an all-pervasive fact of our lives and much of human existence has been caught up in struggles against scarcity. As several authors in this book demonstrate, the scarcity postulate (that human wants are unlimited and the means to achieve these are scarce and limited) underpins modern economics which, in turn, has helped promote a universalized notion of scarcity. In this chapter, I discuss the legacy of the scarcity postulate and demonstrate how understandings of scarcity have largely been naturalized and universalized in a range of academic disciplines and dominant policy debates. 2 I argue that the scare, naturalization and politicization of scarcity has profound implications for society/nature relations and the different ways in which science and technology, as well as the market and institutions, are evoked as the universal fix. But alter-native ways to conceptualize scarcity that question this universal application exist and must be drawn on. These take into account often neglected cultural, historical, institutional and socio-political and distributional issues which help us to break away from the totalizing effects of the scarcity postulate.


Lyla Mehta

Professorial Fellow

Publication details

published by
Mehta, L.