The Circular Economy in Europe: Critical Perspectives on Policies and Imaginaries, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Circular Economy in Europe

Critical Perspectives on Policies and Imaginaries, 1st Edition

By Zora Kovacic, Roger Strand, Thomas Völker


216 pages | 17 B/W Illus.

Purchasing Options:$ = USD
Hardback: 9780367183585
pub: 2019-12-19
SAVE ~$28.00
Available for pre-order. Item will ship after 19th December 2019

FREE Standard Shipping!


The Circular Economy in Europe presents an overview and a critical discussion on how circularity is conceived, imagined and enacted in current EU policy-making.

In 2013, the idea of a circular economy entered the stage of European policy-making in the efforts to reconcile environmental and economic policy objectives. In 2019 the European Commission declared in a press release that the Circular Economy Action Plan has been delivered. The level of circularity in the European economy, however, has remained the same.

Bringing together perspectives from social sciences, environmental economics and policy analysis, The Circular Economy in Europe provides a critical analysis of policies and promises of the next panacea for growth and sustainability. The authors provide a theoretical and empirical basis to discuss how contemporary societies conceive their need to re-organise production and consumption and explores the messy assemblage of institutions, actors, waste streams, biophysical flows, policy objectives, scientific disciplines, values, expectations, promises and aspirations involved.

This book is essential reading for all those interested in understanding how ideas about the circular economy emerged historically, how they gained traction and are used in policy processes, and what the practical challenges in implementing this policy are.

Table of Contents


Author biographies

Preface by Series Editor


Chapter 1: Introduction: The 16th Century map


Has the Circular Economy been delivered?

The 16th Century Map

Part I: A difficult concept

Part II: Critiques of the circular economy

Part III: A way forward?

How to read this book


Chapter 2: Limits to Growth: Historical Antecedents of the Circular Economy

Chapter abstract


The context: the tension between the economy and the environment

The circular economy: building blocks of the concept

A fragile alliance



Chapter 3: Enter Ellen: The Circular Economy Hits the European Scene

Chapter abstract


2013 – Ellen MacArthur Foundation

2014 – A cautious transition to the circular economy

2015 – A more ambitious vision of the circular economy

2016 – Implementing the Circular Economy

2017 – Public Performance of the Circular Economy

2018 – Measuring the Circular Economy


Chapter 4: Circular Economy: A concept in the making

Chapter abstract


Dflkjdrl haqwnmz

The legitimacy crisis of the European Union

The institutional context of the European Commission

Climate change and the context of environmental concerns

What comes next (in the book)



Chapter 5: Postulating Circularity: Biophysical Flows and the Problem of Entropy

Chapter abstract


Can the economy go in circles? What would that mean?

Humans and their economic activities are dissipative systems

Stocks, flows and funds

Squaring the circle: Economic growth, sustainability and the circular economy


Chapter 6: Imagining Circularity -The Circular Economy as a Sociotechnical Imaginary

Chapter abstract


Imagination in technoscience and policy -Imagining circularity

Times, futures and collective imagination

Imagination as collective practice

Imagining circularity in EU policy

Assembling imaginative resources

Visualising circularity

Imagining circularity and rehearsing tropes


Chapter 7: Measuring Circularity: Indicator Development in the Circular Economy

Chapter abstract


Quantification in governance

Indicator politics

Measuring progress and quantifying circularity

Numbers, collective imagination and authority


Chapter 8: Governing circularity: How to Govern in the Nexus

Chapter abstract


Theoretical lenses

Techno fixing policy

An apparent consensus

The Circular Economy has been delivered



Chapter 9: Narratives of Stop and Go

Chapter abstract

Introduction: going beyond unfair criticisms of the proponents of the circular economy

Bios & Geos: two competing grand narratives

Narratives of Stop and Go



Chapter 10: What kind of science is needed in a changing world?

Chapter abstract


Normal accidents

Knowledge for a changing world


Governance in complexity

Scientific advice to policy

Some problems may not have a solution

Less ambitious, more sensible policies


Chapter 11: From the 16th to the 21st Century


Coming to terms with incomplete knowledge

Logic of choiceand logic of care

The 21stCentury map

Non-violence and non-action: ancient oriental perspectives on governance


About the Authors

Zora Kovacic is a post-doctoral research fellow at the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities, at the University of Bergen, Norway. Kovacic was trained in the social sciences, with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Development Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (UK) and a Masters of Science in Environmental Studies from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Spain) and the Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg (Germany), which included ecological economics and environmental engineering. Kovacic obtained her PhD in 2015 from the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA) of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Guided by post-normal science, her research focuses on the challenges of uncertainty and complexity that emerge when scientific knowledge is used in policy-making. She analyses and theorizes how quantitative evidence and uncertainty are mobilised in sustainability and development policies.

Roger Strand is Professor of philosophy of science at the University of Bergen, Norway, originally trained in the natural sciences with additional studies in philosophy and Classical Latin. Since 1993, he has been affiliated with the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities (Senter for vitenskapsteori, SVT), University of Bergen, where he also served as the Director in the years 2005-11. Throughout his research career, Strand has worked on issues of methodological underdetermination in science, scientific uncertainty and complexity. This has gradually led his research into broader strands of philosophy, ethics and social research and broader issues of policy, decision-making and governance at the science-society interface. He has led numerous research projects on the ethical and societal aspects of biotechnology emerging sciences and technologies, addressing the need for more dynamic governance of science in society.

Thomas Völker is a science and technology studies (STS) scholar currently working as a policy analyst in the research department of the Austrian Science Fund. Völker is initially trained in sociology, obtaining a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from the University of Vienna. In his PhD thesis he studied "futuring" practices in transdisciplinary sustainability research from an STS perspective. After finishing his PhD at the University of Vienna in 2015, Völker joined the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), where he developed his research interests towards questions about participatory decision-making at the multiple interfaces between science, policy and society. Völker has been working both in academia and policy with his research focusing on practices of knowledge production and circulation in environmental governance as well as on collective experiments with participatory democracy in policy making.

About the Series

Routledge Explorations in Sustainability and Governance

Routledge Explorations in Sustainability and Governance aims to expose the glaringly obsolete narratives currently used to frame relevant sustainability issues and to provide alternative, fresh narratives better tuned to our present reality. The books in this series will contribute useful insights to the debate on sustainability by providing a critical appraisal of ideological leftovers and outmoded and perhaps dangerous beliefs, as well as a more sobering view of the role of technology and innovation in relation to sustainability. This book series will be characterized by politically incorrect views, thinking outside the box, and unorthodox proposals in relation to sustainability of human development.

We invite book proposals that address a relevant issue in relation to the framing of sustainability issues and/or governance, by exposing a systemic problem found in the pre-analytical framing – i.e. the adoption of an obsolete narrative (perception/representation of an issue), and provide an alternative take on it and a possible way out from the box.

To submit proposals, please contact the Editor, Rebecca Brennan (

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Environmental Economics
NATURE / Ecology
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Policy / Environmental Policy