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SCARCITY EXCHANGES: Iain Boal and Lyla Mehta on Concepts of Scarcity


Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 6:30 PM (BST)

SCARCITY EXCHANGES: Iain Boal and Lyla Mehta on...

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That resources are diminishing is a commonplace, but scarcity is about much more than the destruction of our natural resource base: it is a socially and economically constructed condition that affects us all, and will increasingly do so. Scarcity Exchanges is a series of exchanges on and around the topic of scarcity, bringing together some of the leading thinkers in the field to expound on one of the most pressing, but often avoided, issues of the day.


In his remarks, "Scarcity and the necessities of life", Iain Boal will review the Reverend Malthus' definition of economics as "decision under scarcity", and ask whether another economics, indeed another world, is possible.

Lyla Mehta's talk, Taking the scare out of scarcity: Why ‘perfect storm’ narratives serve to keep the poor poor,  draws on a recent publication ‘The Limits to Scarcity: Contesting the Politics of Allocation’ to argue that spreading fear about the planet’s diminishing resources serves only to keep poor people poor and enrich those already wealthy.  The talk traces the  intellectual history of scarcity and looks at scarcity debates across water,  food,  and energy  and their implications for theory, institutional arrangements and policy responses. The assumption that needs and wants are unlimited and the means to achieve them are scarce has led to scarcity emerging 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. But scarcity is not a natural condition: the problem lies in how we see scarcity and the ways in which it is socially generated.  Thus, focus needs to be on the fundamental issues of resource allocation, access, entitlement and social justice, rather than drawing on simplistic universalising notions of scarcity.

Iain Boal is a social historian and co-founder of the Retort collective, an association of radical writers, artisans, and artists in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has taught at Harvard, Stanford, and the University of  California, Berkeley and Santa Cruz. He is presently Research Fellow of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, University of London. Lyla Mehta is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex and an Adjunct Professor at Noragric, Norwegian University of Life Sciences. She is a sociologist and her work focuses on the politics of scarcity, water and sanitation, gender, forced displacement and resistance, rights and access to resources and the politics of environment/ development and sustainability. Several of her publications have been concerned with scarcity including the recently edited work ‘The Limits to Scarcity: Contesting the Politics of Allocation.' 

Have questions about SCARCITY EXCHANGES: Iain Boal and Lyla Mehta on Concepts of Scarcity? Contact SCIBE

When & Where

University of Westminster, Marylebone Campus
Cayley Lecture Theatre
35 Marylebone Road
NW1 5LS London
United Kingdom

Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 6:30 PM (BST)

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Scarcity and Creativity in the Built Environment (SCIBE) is a research project led by Jeremy Till at the University of Westminster, with partners at the Oslo School of Architecture and TU Vienna. The project is funded by HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area). For details of the project and Scarcity Exchanges see  


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