Call for Papers – Contested realities of the Circular Economy

Contested realities of the Circular Economy

Call for papers for a special issue of Culture and Organization

Volume 26, issue 2, 2020

Submission deadline November 15th 2018.


Guest editors: Hervé Corvellec (University of Lund), Steffen Böhm (University of Exeter), Alison Stowell (Lancaster University) and Francisco Valenzuela (University of Chile)


This call for papers invites contributions that question the Circular Economy in innovative ways. In the past few years, the Circular Economy (Stahel 2016) has surfaced as a reference framework for economic, industrial, and environmental strategies and policies for different organizations, such as: the government of the People’s Republic of China and the European Union; the World Economic Forum, Zero Waste Europe and Greenpeace; and mega companies such as Cisco, H&M and Renault, as well as activist associations promoting bulk retail, repair, sharing, and other instances of sustainable consumption.

Chinese and European politicians and bureaucrats, top-level managers, and activists join in a plea to replace today’s take-make-use-waste economic system, called the Linear Economy, by an economic system where materials and goods circulate in circular ways. Drawing on the 4R-model (Reduce, Reuse, Refurbish, Recycle), the Circular Economy is to turn waste into resource, and lay the groundwork for a zero waste economy (Greenpeace 2016). Industrial circles are to mimic natural circles (McDonough and Braungart 2009; Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey Center for Business and Environment 2015) to develop and prolong resource productivity (Blomsma and Brennan 2017), create closed loop production and consumption systems (Hobson 2016), manage material scarcity (Bermejo 2014) and integrate economic activity and environmental wellbeing (Murray, Skene et al. 2017). The Circular Economy is to decouple environmental pressures from economic growth (Ghisellini, Cialani et al. 2016) and allow for an economic growth respectful of the planet’s boundaries (H&M 2014).

But what is this more than enthusiastic reception of the Circular Economy a sign of? The emergence of new marketing languages and imaginaries (den Hollander, Bakker et al. 2017)? A genuine ground for green-and-lean consumption (Tukker 2015; Pollard, Turney et al. 2016), and sustainability-aware  subjectivity (Jones 2010)? A new sustainability paradigm (Geissdoerfer, Savaget et al. 2017)? The ground for a new material and environmental ethics (Gregson, Crang et al. 2015)? A way to replace the negative connotation of sustainability and sustainable development with a positive view of relationships between economy and environment (Valenzuela and Böhm 2017)? Another avatar of ecological modernization (Gregson, Crang et al. 2015)? A new form of greenwashing – circular washing – aimed at creating a diversion from the need to fundamentally re-think rules of natural resource uses? There is a need to critically engage with the discourses and practices of the Circular Economy, examining its assumptions, claims, contradictions, and therefore limits.

This special issue aims at bringing together critical, interpretive and theory-driven papers that go beyond the often repeated, but largely a-historical, a-practical, and a-theoretical, claims that the Circular Economy will help organizations solve 21st century problems. There is, for example, a rich history of economic and social practices (think of the frugality of survival practices during various wars) that could be seen as precursors of the Circular Economy, and one might ask: If such practices have been around for some time, why have they not been able to address the questions the Circular Economy aims to answer? Likewise, the Circular Economy has a lot to say about materials and their flows, but very little about humans and the social dimension of circular activities (Bozkurt and Stowell 2016; Gregson, Crang et al. 2016). Based on what we already know of the global flows of recycling today (Alexander and Reno 2012; Carenzo 2015), what are the work and labour implications of circular-economic practices in terms of race, class, gender, geographical and distributional justice? Equally, how can one conceptualize the changes in the subjectivities and responsibilities of producers and consumers in a circular economy; will there be winners and losers? Are consumers aware that in a circular economy they will not own anything but would become totally dependent on their instant payment- and creditworthiness?

We welcome contributions that address the organisational and social aspects of the Circular Economy, including questions of power, process, and labour; its cultural aspects, including symbolic, political, and historical dimensions; its theoretical aspects, including how the Circular Economy relates to organizational theories of sustainability, change, and materiality; and its ethical aspects, including questions of justice, Otherness, and responsibility. Here is an indicative, arbitrary and in no way exhaustive list of possible topics:

  • Ethnographies of organizational transitions to the Circular Economy, including specific aspects of such transitions, such as product design, restorative and regenerative strategies, and the development of circular business models.
  • People at work in the Circular Economy: organizational, local, regional, and global approaches.
  • The Circular Economy and innovation, for example recycling techniques, technologies, information technology and social media.
  • Organizing materials in a circular economy, from mines to landfills (and the atmosphere) via storehouses and homes.
  • Scales of circularity: micro-, meso- or macro-loops?
  • The Circular Economy and systemic transformations of consumption.
  • Circular-economic governance: soft, strict, or otherwise (e.g., nudge), exploring, in particular, the role of incentives and legislation.
  • The Circular Economy and master-metaphors: from utopias to dystopias, from socialism to sustainable development, and from the myth of the eternal return to the Anthropocene.
  • The management of externalities in the Circular Economy.
  • The Circular Economy experience of countries at war, for example Nazi Germany, but also of countries under embargo, for example Cuba.
  • Regional differences in the Circular Economy, for example between the “Global North” and the “Global South”; circular economy and de-globalization.
  • Examining the discursive development of the Circular Economy, focusing on the roles of key organizations and institutions, such as the Ellen McArthur Foundation, McKinsey, the European Union and the World Economic Forum.
  • Deconstructing the Circular Economy discourse, for example, how the European Union connects the Circular Economy to safety as much as environmental sustainability.
  • The Circular Economy as aesthetic, but also as play, derision, irony, and provocation.
  • How the contemporary circular economy fails.
  • The Circular Economy as paradigm shift.

Qualitative papers that open new spaces of reflection and understanding of the Circular Economy in organizations are welcome, regardless of their theoretical sources of inspiration. Innovation in writing and composing style are also welcome. In addition to scholars working in management and organization studies we therefore welcome contributions from – inter alia ­- anthropology, sociology, philosophy, politics, art history, communication, film, gender and cultural studies.

Submission and informal enquiries

Please ensure that all submissions to the special issue are made via the ScholarOne Culture and Organization site at You will have to sign up for an account before you are able to submit a manuscript. Please ensure when you do submit that you select the relevant special issue (Volume 26, Issue 2) to direct your submission appropriately. If you experience any problems, please contact the editors of this issue.

Style and other instructions on manuscript preparation can be found at the journal’s website: Manuscript length should not exceed 8000 words, including appendices and supporting materials. Please also be aware that any images used in your submission must be your own, or where they are not, you must already have permission to reproduce them in an academic journal. You should make this explicit in the submitted manuscript.

Manuscripts must be submitted by November 15th 2018.

Prospective authors are invited to discuss manuscript ideas for the special issue with the guest editors before the deadline for submissions.  They can be reached via e-mail at: SICANDO@TELIA.COM



Alexander, C. and J. Reno. 2012. Economies of recycling: The global transformations of materials, values and social relations. London: Zed.

Bermejo, R. 2014. Circular Economy: Materials Scarcity, European Union Policy and Foundations of a Circular Economy. In Handbook for a Sustainable Economy. R. Bermejo (Ed). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands: 269-287.

Blomsma, F. and G. Brennan. 2017. „The Emergence of Circular Economy: A New Framing Around Prolonging Resource Productivity.“ Journal of Industrial Ecology 21(3): 603-614.

Bozkurt, Ö. and A. Stowell. 2016. „Skills in the green economy: recycling promises in the UK e-waste management sector.“ New Technology, Work and Employment 31(2): 146-160.

Carenzo, S. 2015. Materialidades de la ‘basura’ y praxis creativa: aportes para una etnografía de tecnologías cartoneras (Materialities of ‘waste’ and creative praxis: contributions for an ethnography of cardboard-collecting technologies). In Recuperadores, residuos y mediaciones: Análisis desde los interiores de la cotidianeidad, la gestión y la estructuración social (Recoverers, residues and mediations, analysis from the inner boundaries of everydayness, management and social structure). G. Vergara (Ed). Buenos Aires: Estudios Sociológicos Editora: 157-174.

den Hollander, M. C., C. A. Bakker and E. J. Hultink. 2017. „Product Design in a Circular Economy: Development of a Typology of Key Concepts and Terms.“ Journal of Industrial Ecology 21(3): 517-525.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey Center for Business and Environment. 2015. Growth within: A circular economy vision for a competitive Europe. Isle of Wight: Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Geissdoerfer, M., P. Savaget, N. M. P. Bocken and E. J. Hultink. 2017. „The Circular Economy: A new sustainability paradigm?“ Journal of Cleaner Production 143: 757-768.

Ghisellini, P., C. Cialani and S. Ulgiati. 2016. „A review on circular economy: the expected transition to a balanced interplay of environmental and economic systems.“ Journal of Cleaner Production 114: 11-32.

Greenpeace. 2016, 2016. „Zero Waste & Circular Economy.“   Retrieved June 14, 2017, from

Gregson, N., M. Crang, J. Botticello, M. Calestani and A. Krzywoszynska. 2016. „Doing the ‘dirty work’ of the green economy: Resource recovery and migrant labour in the EU.“ European Urban and Regional Studies 23: 541-555.

Gregson, N., M. Crang, S. Fuller and H. Holmes. 2015. „Interrogating the circular economy: the moral economy of resource recovery in the EU.“ Economy and Society 44(2): 218-243.

H&M. 2014. H&M 100% Circular Lab [film] H&M.

Hobson, K. 2016. „Closing the loop or squaring the circle? Locating generative spaces for the circular economy.“ Progress in Human Geography 40(1): 88-104.

Jones, C. 2010. „The Subject Supposed to Recycle.“ Philosophy Today 54(1): 30-39.

McDonough, W. and M. Braungart. 2009. Cradle to cradle: Remaking the way we make things. London: Vintage.

Murray, A., K. Skene and K. Haynes. 2017. „The Circular Economy: An Interdisciplinary Exploration of the Concept and Application in a Global Context.“ Journal of Business Ethics 140: 369-380.

Pollard, S., A. Turney, F. Charnley and K. Webster. 2016. „The circular economy, a reappraisal of the ‘stuff’ we love.“ Geography 101(1): 17-27.

Stahel, W. R. 2016. „Circular economy – A new relationship with goods and material would save resources and energy and create local jobs.“ Nature(March(431)): 435-438.

Tukker, A. 2015. „Product services for a resource-efficient and circular economy – a review.“ Journal of Cleaner Production 97: 76-91.

Valenzuela, F. and S. Böhm. 2017. „Against wasted politics: A critique of the circular economy.“ Ephemera 17(1): 23-60.

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