Rethinking economic ontologies: From scarcity and market subjects to strong sustainability

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterScientificpeer-review


In this chapter we track the influence of the dominant neoclassical economic model’s mindset and ontological framework, which steers actively focus away from institutional transformation toward strong sustainability. The wide penetration of the neoclassical way of thought in environmental debates and public policy in general “naturalises” its primary assumption, disabling capacities to see alternatives to it. We tackle to central ontological assumptions and challenges of neoclassical economics: the conceptions of ‘scarcity’ and ‘market subjects’. We argue that the economic ontology of strong sustainability should take as starting points an emphasis on the given material condition (as opposed to given preferences), including a recognition of limits rather than leaning on the notion of scarcity. This has direct connections to the need to open the category of preferences for normative scrutiny. Optimisation of material use relative to any preferences does not suffice. Rather, limited resources should be used to meet real needs and aim at the creation of use-value rather than exchange value, and to focus on the organisation of social life to support common use of goods. This will steer the metatheory away from the incentive systems to a repolitisation of the environmental debate.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStrongly Sustainable Societies : Organising Human Activities on a Hot and Full Earth
EditorsKarl Johan Bonnedahl, Pasi Heikkurinen
Place of PublicationAbingdon, Oxon ; New York, NY
Publication date2019
ISBN (Print)978-0-8153-8722-0, 978-0-8153-8721-3
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-351-17364-3
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeA3 Book chapter

Publication series

NameRoutledge Studies in Sustainability


  • 999 Others
  • ontology
  • social ontology
  • economic ontology
  • scarcity
  • market subjects
  • repolitisation
  • strong sustainability
  • ecological economics
  • degrowth
  • economic growth
  • 512 Business and Management


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