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The Ambivalence of Scarcity and Other Essays

Paul Dumouchel

Publication Year: 2014

First published in French in 1979, “The Ambivalence of Scarcity” was a groundbreaking work on mimetic theory. Now expanded upon with new, specially written, and never-before-published conference texts and essays, this revised edition explores René Girard’s philosophy in three sections: economy and economics, mimetic theory, and violence and politics in modern societies. The first section argues that though mimetic theory is in many ways critical of modern economic theory, this criticism can contribute to the enrichment of economic thinking. The second section explores the issues of nonviolence and misrecognition (méconnaissance), which have been at the center of many discussions of Girard’s work. The final section proposes mimetic analyses of the violence typical of modern societies, from high school bullying to genocide and terrorist attacks. Politics, Dumouchel argues, is a violent means of protecting us from our own violent tendencies, and it can at times become the source of the very savagery from which it seeks to protect us. The book’s conclusion analyzes the relationship between ethics and economics, opening new avenues of research and inviting further exploration. Dumouchel’s introduction reflects on the importance of René Girard’s work in relation to ongoing research, especially in social sciences and philosophy.

Published by: Michigan State University Press

Series: Studies in Violence, Mimesis and Culture

Title page, Series page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

"The Ambivalence of Scarcity” originally published as “L’ambivalence de la rareté” in L’Enfer des choses (Paris: Seuil, 1979); “Indifference and Envy: Th e Anthropological Analysis of Modern Economy” originally published in Contagion 10 (2013):149–160; “A Mimetic Reading...

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pp. ix-xxii

The first essay, which gives this collection its title, is the English translation of my contribution to L’enfer des choses: René Girard et la logique de l’économie, which Jean-Pierre Dupuy and I published in 1979. “The Ambivalence of Scarcity” is an attempt to apply mimetic theory...

Part 1. On Economy and Economics

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The Ambivalence of Scarcity

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pp. 3-96

Economists and thinkers in the liberal tradition, such as Hume, Locke, and Malthus, generally explain violence, vice, and misery by a single cause: scarcity. Th is idea is very frequent in modern economic and social thought. It can also be found in Marx; the way it is expressed is diff erent, but the idea is the...

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Indifference and Envy: Girard and the Anthropological Analysis of Modern Economy

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pp. 97-108

René Girard himself has not written very much on economics, at least explicitly, though his works are full of insights into and short remarks on the sacrificial origin of diff erent economic phenomena or the way in which mimetic relations and commercial transactions are oft en intertwined and act...

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A Mimetic Rereading of Helmut Schoeck’s Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour

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pp. 109-126

In spite of its title, Helmut Schoeck’s Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour1 does not so much constitute a theory of envy properly speaking as an attempt to establish what could be called the case for envy. In fact, Schoeck’s book contains very little about envy from a theoretical point of...

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Homo mimeticus as an Economic Agent

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pp. 127-138

In L’enfer des choses: René Girard et la logique de l’économie Jean-Pierre Dupuy and I presented a mimetic reading of the modern economy.1 Our goal was to apply Girard’s approach to understand the rise and development of the modern capitalist economy. For my part, that endeavor took...

Part 2. On Mimetic Theory

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Mimetism and Autonomy

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pp. 141-154

Aft er what has just been said, I think all that there remains for me to do is to try to sew John the Baptist’s head back onto the autonomy of the social, and show how the autonomy of society is related to the theories about autonomy that have been presented to us since the beginning...

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Violence and Nonviolence

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pp. 155-170

The following is a revised version of an article that was originally meant to be published in Alternatives non-violentes (ANV). In March 1979, that journal organized a roundtable with René Girard and four activists from the Mouvement alternatives non violentes (MAN) on the possibility...

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Differences and Paradoxes: Reflections on Love and Violence in Girard’s Work

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pp. 171-180

"Like violence, love abolishes diff erences,” says René Girard in Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World.1 Yet, clearly, if both love and violence abolish differences, love does not do so in the same way as violence. Girard says that “love makes no distinctions between beings.”2 In...

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Creation and Conversion in Girard

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pp. 181-194

The question of creation and its relationship with mimesis in René Girard can be approached first through literary creation. Such an approach has a twofold advantage. First, it is faithful to Girard’s intellectual evolution, since he began his work with reflection on the relationships...

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Mimetic Theory: Concepts and Models

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pp. 195-208

René Girard is generally considered a writer with a doctrine, an author with sweeping theses of fundamental importance, such as, to name only a few, his theses on the origin and social function of violence, on the founding mechanism of human institutions, on the nature of the sacred...

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“De la méconnaissance

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pp. 209-224

The idea of méconnaissance plays a major role in the work of René Girard. It is one of the central concepts of his mimetic theory. Méconnaissance is at the heart of the mechanism that brings about the resolution to the mimetic crisis, and it is, according to him, a necessary condition...

Part 3. On Violence and Politics in Modern Societies

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Hobbes: The Sovereignty Race

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pp. 227-250

Bishop Bramhall suspected that a sordid story of murder lay upon the threshold of the Hobbesian contract. Whether this was rhetoric or intuition, Hobbes is certainly the social contract thinker closest to Girard. He is one of the rare philosophers who does not underestimate...

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pp. 251-258

In Japan, in particular in junior and senior high school, there is a violent phenomenon known in Japanese as ijime, a term that could be translated as “bullying.” While the word may be culturally marked, the phenomenon it refers to is certainly universal. Bullying is a process through which a...

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From Scapegoat to God

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pp. 259-274

How does the victim become god? According to Girard, it is through victimization, through the violence that is exerted against him or her that the victim is changed into a deity. Th at is the process through which violence is transmuted into the Sacred. It is the unanimous transfer of reciprocal enmity...

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Violence and Indifference

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pp. 275-286

In a recent book,1 Norman Geras suggests that we are bound by a contract of mutual indifference, but neither in the sense that such a contract took place in the past between members of our society nor in the sense that a contract of indifference is a hypothesis that can explain our behavior or a rational fiction...

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Mimetism and Genocides

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pp. 287-300

At first sight, detailed descriptions of modern collective violence, especially political violence, such as pogroms, race riots, ethnic cleansing, the Holocaust and genocides, make these phenomena look very different from the mimetic crisis described in Girard’s theory. Indeed, almost all analyses of these forms...

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Suicide Attacks: Military and Social Aspects

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pp. 301-318

According to those who carry them out, suicide attacks result from a power imbalance. They are the weapons of the weak and the poor. Those who cannot afford the luxury of computer- and laser-guided smart bombs launched from high altitude instead send fighters ready to die...

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Inside Out: Political Violence in the Age of Globalization

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pp. 319-332

One characteristic of globalization that oft en goes unnoticed, perhaps because it is so evident, is that it has no outside. There is nowhere beyond, no place that can be viewed as an outer space, as a location that globalization has not reached. Globalization has no border...

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Conclusion: Ethics, Economics, and the State

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pp. 333-350

This book began with economics; it ends with politics. It opened with an analysis of scarcity as a means of protection against violence, while its last chapter is on political violence in the age of globalization. Th is end, however, brings us back to the beginning. As I have tried to argue elsewhere...


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pp. 351-370


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pp. 371-378


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pp. 379-383

E-ISBN-13: 9781609174170
E-ISBN-10: 1609174178
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611861327
Print-ISBN-10: 1611861322

Page Count: 388
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Studies in Violence, Mimesis and Culture