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New Book: Sufficiency – an Emerging Discourse? At the Crossroads of Mainstreaming and Transformation

Sufficiency, a concept that propagates social and ecological enoughness and limits is becoming increasingly important in societal discourse — for political actors, researchers and civil society actors alike. The concept is explored in depth in a new book titled “Sufficiency – an Emerging Discourse? At the Crossroads of Mainstreaming and Transformation” published in the Nomos Sustainability Series by the ZIN-member Dr. Pia Mamut (University of Münster and RIFS Potsdam). The book can be used by researchers and policymakers who want to help sufficiency make its urgently needed contribution to sustainability.

Dismantling and addressing Sufficiency’s Transformation Paradox

The overarching challenge that this book addresses is sufficiency’s transformation paradox which lies in its immanent tension between being an essential element of transformation, on the one hand, and being too radical — in both the progressive and the reactive senses of the word — for actual policy implementation, on the other.

The book makes three contributions to understanding and dealing with the transformation paradox of sufficiency. In a nutshell, these contributions clarify that sufficiency is used not only in one, but in a variety of ways in the overarching environmental and social science discourse (namely, rigorous eco-sufficiency, eco-modern sufficiency, and political eco-sufficiency) and that it also appears in different forms and strengths as a social norm in the studied energy and climate model regions (i.e., sufficiency performed as climate-friendly behaviours, sufficiency understood as engagement for the good life in the region, and sufficiency as a sacrifice). Examining this variety of interpretative patterns helps explain why sufficiency is demonised by some, considered the main sufficient condition for full-hearted transformation by others, and simultaneously fits comfortably into the status quo of a capitalist society. In other words, sufficiency in the sustainability discourse may be simultaneously suppressed and fought against or promoted and encouraged, as well as be a barrier to far-reaching change or mutate into a trigger of resistance against non-sustainability.

Unleashing sufficiency’s untapped transformative potential

The book concludes that while sufficiency has become a significant normative source of sustainability transformation, it has been mainstreamed in a way that weakens its transformative potential. This limits sufficiency's role to behaviour change in the private sphere, with its potential as a societal organising principle in policy-making still largely unexplored.

To unleash sufficiency’s untapped transformative potential, the book calls for

  • strengthening sufficiency in environmental governance by making it subject to participatory negotiation processes,
  • the need to recognize and politically address the structural embeddedness of sufficiency, moving beyond the narrow focus on individual behaviour change, and
  • integrating social and global justice perspectives into sufficiency discourse, advocating for research that connects these concepts, particularly in various contexts and scales in the Global South.