Of Loops and Circles: Imaginations and Indicators of ‘Circularity’ in EU Policy Making on the Circular Economy

Friday, 20 July 2018: 08:50
Oral Presentation
Thomas VOELKER, Joint Research Centre, European Commission, Italy
Zora KOVACIC, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain
Roger STRAND, University of Bergen, Norway
In recent years we have witnessed a growing interest in the concept of a Circular Economy in EU policy-making, which promotes a future in which linear ‘make-use-dispose’ cultures are replaced by more circular models. Visions of a Circular Economy eave together ideas of waste management, recycling, reuse and resource efficiency with visions of sharing economies, maintenance and repair cultures and discussions about product quality and longevity. Although the origins of this concept lie in waste management, current ambitions go beyond a focus on biophysical flows and draw on a broad variety of culturally situated meanings.

In this contribution we ask for the multiple meanings of ‘circularity’ in EU policy-making and explore the ongoing assembling and stabilizing of a particular imagination of circularity in a range of different sites. To do so we will draw on the concept of sociotechnical imaginaries (Jasanoff & Kim, 2009, 2015). Imaginaries are understood as collectively shared visions of desirable societal futures (social and technical order) and as a way to analyse contingencies in policy-making through highlighting especially the futuristic orientation of policy narratives.

The aim of this contribution is to explore how the vision of a circular future is being established and which social, political and epistemic orderings are related to these futures. We will proceed in three steps: first, we will discuss from a historical perspective how a particular imaginary of circularity has been assembled, rehearsed, contested and stabilized in the development of the different legislative proposals of Circular Economy. Building on that, we will look at indicators and that are currently in development for monitoring and ‘measuring’ circularity and show how indicators need to be understood as a specific site in which imagination are stabilized. In a third step we will ask for the performative dimensions of these indicators and for potential alternatives.