Purpose The purpose of this paper is to analyze the role of uncertainty in purchasing and supply management, and the changes of this role over time.

Design/methodology/approach The paper is based on a literature review of the development of purchasing and supply management over time and how these issues have been related to uncertainty and dependence. This examination also required analysis of the impact of other concepts from behavioral sciences: interdependence, power and control.

Findings The paper shows that the relationship between purchasing management and uncertainty has changed substantially over time. Traditionally, uncertainty was avoided, while firms today are engaged in efforts of handling the consequences of uncertainty. This modification affected the features of buyer-supplier relationships, as well as the perspectives and the exploitation of power, control and dependence.

Originality/value The paper demonstrates both positive and negative consequences of uncertainty, depending on the approach applied in purchasing. Moreover, the analysis shows that uncertainty cannot be avoided. Modifications of purchasing management will reduce certain types of uncertainty. But the same modification also results in increases of other forms of uncertainty.