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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Performing the Circular economy: how an ambiguous discourse is managed and maintained through meetings

Rödl, Malte; Åhlvik, Therese; Bergeå, Hanna; Hallgren, Lars; Böhm, Steffen


The circular economy (CE) is seen as a structural solution to society's sustainability problems. But with a large diversity of definitions, CE is also often portrayed as immature or in need of conceptual synthesis. Rather than treating the bemoaned ambiguity as a problem, in this article we analyse its implications on CE practice at the example of meetings aimed at popularising CE to businesspeople. To this end, we build on a grounded theory approach to analyse ethnographic and participant observations of CE meetings in Sweden from a performativity perspective. We identify four major communication norms that are enabled by ambiguity in the observed meetings, and simultaneously manage and maintain this ambiguity. The communication norms consist of implicit standards for how people ought to act, talk, respond, and reflect in the meetings. We contribute to CE scholarship by showing how ambiguity is not a sign of failure or immaturity, but an integral and productive part of CE discourse, as it enables diverse actors to congregate around shared aims. Our findings may help CE practitioners and scholars to make explicit the ambiguity of the CE concept in meetings, and ultimately to navigate in debates about what society and economy we want to live in.


Circular economy; Performativity; Metacommunication; Ambiguity; Discourse; Floating signifier; Communication norm

Published in

Journal of Cleaner Production
2022, Volume: 360, article number: 132144