The Contested realities of the Circular Economy

Research output: Contribution to journalSpecial Issue (editor)


We acknowledge that the CE is not one ‘thing’, but, rather, could be seen as an ‘empty signifier’ (Valenzuela and Böhm 2017), which allows for a whole range of interpretations and approaches to be bundled together under the term ‘circular economy’. Indeed, the CE is said to have 114 definitions (Kirchherr et al. 2017), which implies that academics and practitioners do not necessarily agree on precisely what the CE entails and how it should be implemented. In short, the CE is a contested concept (Korhonen et al. 2018), which is not surprising as essentially all approaches that try to square the circle of business-society-nature relations can be questioned and challenged from a variety of different viewpoints (McManus 1996; Carew and Mitchell 2008). Despite this ‘emptiness’ of the CE, allowing for open interpretation and even free, creative associations between a range of economic, social and environmental factors (Murray et al. 2017), influential economic and political actors have been allowed to hegemonize the CE discourse. The result has been the narrowing down of latent possibilities in the systems thinking that underpins the CE.


External organisations
  • University of Exeter
  • Lancaster University
  • University of Chile
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Business Administration


  • Circular Economy
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-174
Number of pages178
JournalCulture and Organization
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Feb 5
Publication categoryResearch