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

Text written on blackboard: "It's enough!"
Gerd Altmann on Pixabay
#Climate Regions

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 our EU 1.5° Lifestyles colleague Pia Mamut (RIFS Potsdam and University of Münster). 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" (Mamut 2023: 215). In other words, sufficiency in the sustainability discourse "may be simultaneously promoted and encouraged or suppressed and fought against", as well as mutate "into a trigger of resistance against non-sustainability" or be "a barrier to far-reaching change" (ibid.: 215).

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 recognise 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.

For more detailed insights, please do not hesitate to contact Pia Mamut.

Halliki Kreinin, RIFS Potsdam