Skip to main content
SLU publication database (SLUpub)
Doctoral thesis, 2023

The ambiguous nature of hope : How a discourse of hope shapes the communicative conditions for exploring challenges in the circular economy transition

Åhlvik, Therese


There is a widespread notion in society that communication about sustainability must be characterised by hope in order to advance the sustainability transition. It is also acknowledged that sustainability issues are complex, contested and involve large-scale collaboration between actors across different sectors with often diverse and conflictual interests and goals. The transition presupposes democratic processes where this complexity is fully appreciated. This requires communicative conditions that allow different interests and perspectives to be explored and disagreement to be expressed. In this dissertation, I investigate the communicative consequences of a discursive norm that favours expressions of hope in meetings about the circular economy, a context where the hope norm is prominent. The circular economy is considered to provide a “win-win” solution to the conflict between economic growth and the environment. However, the transition to a circular economy requires that the challenges inherent in navigating conceptual ambiguity, establishing large-scale collaboration and addressing political obstacles are explored. Using methods of conversation and discourse analysis, I investigate how a hope discourse is expressed in circular economy meetings and how it shapes the communicative conditions for meeting participants to explore challenges, and whether disagreements and a diversity of perspectives are expressed. I identify discursive repertoires that construct a collective of actors that are “stronger together” and create a driving force to bring about “real” change. Exploring these repertoires in more detail, I demonstrate that hope discourse discursively closes down the joint exploration of ambiguities, challenges and disagreements. Furthermore, hope discourse obscures talk about accountability, responsibility and agency. This results in a vague and shallow exploration of problems and challenges. I therefore conclude that the dominant hope discourse prevents actors from developing a richer understanding of the complexity of the sustainability transition.


hope; discourse; environmental communication; circular economy; discourse psychology; critical discourse psychology; inspirational meetings; sustainability

Published in

Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae
2023, number: 2023:93
ISBN: 978-91-8046-240-2, eISBN: 978-91-8046-241-9
Publisher: Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
    Economic Geography
    Communication Studies

    Publication Identifiers


    Permanent link to this page (URI)