What theories of value (could) underpin our circular futures?

Ben Lowe, Andrea Genovese

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The transition to a circular economy is often presented as a straightforward, neutral and apolitical process, characterised by an implicit techno-optimistic and eco-modernist stance. However, in their recent paper on ‘circular futures’, Bauwens et al. (2020) illustrate that the circular economy is best understood as an umbrella term that might come to define very contrasting visions of sustainable development. Despite this, there continues to be a lack of discussion about the basic assumptions regarding social and economic structures on which the circular economy should be based, with research predominantly focusing on technical and practical questions. Therefore, in this conceptual paper, we assess the a priori compatibility of different plausible configurations of the circular economy with the principal theories of value found in mainstream and heterodox economics. We argue that these futures are themselves value articulating institutions that implicitly adhere to a theory of value even if this is not recognised. Moreover, given that theories of value go to the heart of how economies and societies function and reproduce themselves, we argue that circular economy research should recognise the importance of value and acknowledge how value theory might enable or contradict the visions of sustainable development articulated.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalEcological Economics
Early online date5 Mar 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

© 2022 The Authors

This paper was supported by the following European Union research
programmes: H2020-MSCA-ITN-2018 scheme, grant agreement number
814247, ReTraCE (Realising the Transition to the Circular Economy)
project; H2020-MSCA-RISE-2018 scheme, grant agreement number
823967, ProCEedS (Promoting the Circular Economy in the Food Supply
Chain) project; H2020-SC5-2020-2 scheme, grant agreement number
101003491, JUST2CE (A Just Transition to the Circular Economy)

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