Constructed solutions to constructed constraints: Resource scarcities and technological change

Janne Korhonen

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Is necessity the mother of innovation, and if so, why many extremely urgent problems such as climate change or cheap electricity storage still remain unsolved? Why even extraordinary incentives often fail to generate technological change that would solve the problem in hand? This thesis examines the relationship between resource scarcities, in particular energy and raw materials, and technological change. Drawing on and developing the literature on resource scarcities, constraints and innovation, the study presented here helps us to understand how perceptions of scarcities influences technological change, and how scarcities may even reproduce themselves through technological decisions influenced by such perceptions. Scarcities are found to be very much a question of power between those who would use the resources and those who control the resource use. Amartya Sen's concept of ''entitlement'' or its developments (e.g. Daoud's ''quasi-scarcity'') are found to be necessary for understanding how technology developers - technologists - actually respond to constraints and scarcities. In short, the technological responses to resource scarcities, such as the development of less resource intensive technologies, are heavily determined by how much power the technologists possess relative to resource controllers. This power, or entitlement to a resource, depends not only on the importance of the industry or the resource, but also on the perceptions of technology. In cases where scarcity-altering novel innovations are perceived to be within relatively easy reach, the technologists have less power and lower entitlement to the scarce resource. These findings are based on and illustrated by two case studies in history of technology. The main case study examines the history behind one mining company's decision to develop a radically novel ''flash smelting'' copper furnace as a response to post-Second World War electricity shortage in Finland. This development, by state-owned copper producer Outokumpu, slashed energy requirements for copper smelting, and became almost the standard method for copper smelting, one point producing as much as 60 percent of world's primary copper. The second case study looks at the development of jet engine cooling systems in the Second World War Germany as a result of Germany's lack of access to nickel, a strategic metal necessary for, among many other uses, high-temperature jet turbine components. As such, this thesis contributes not only to the emerging ''ingenuity'' and ''scarcity, abundance and sufficiency'' research streams, but also to the history of technology and to the history of post-war Finland, particularly the so-called ''war reparations period'' (1944-1952).
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Välikangas, Liisa, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-7755-0
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-7756-7
Publication statusPublished - 2017
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • scrcities
  • constraints
  • technological change
  • copper smelting
  • Finland


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