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Title: Is Convergence Around The Circular Economy Necessary? Exploring the Productivity of Divergence in US Circular Economy Discourse and Practice
Amid the growth of circular economy research, policy, and practice, there are increasingly loud calls for a unified and singular definition of circularity. This unity is needed, proponents argue, to enable swift action in the face of climate and environmental crises. Our work interrogates the ideal of convergence around the circular economy. We ask whether circularity must be singular and uniform in order to be effective. Based on convergence science research and social theory rooted in ideas of divergence, our paper draws on observations of a convergence science workshop, focus groups, interviews, and questionnaires with US-based circular economy professionals to explore shared and divergent understandings and practices of circularity. We find that even among a relatively homogeneous group of research participants (in terms of race, class, and education), there is significant divergence in terms of both practices and perceptions of circular economy principles. We focus in this paper on how research participants understand innovation in the circular economy as just one potential illustration of divergent circularity. Our research contributes to an understanding of circular economy knowledge politics, illuminating how circularity is contested even among those who advocate most strongly for its implementation. We ultimately find opportunity and promise precisely in the spaces of contestation, and see divergence as a way to hold space for multiple ways of being and relating to economies, materials, and beings. These more inclusive pathways, we argue, may be necessary to ensure just and effective transitions to more circular economic forms.  more » « less
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Circular Economy and Sustainability
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National Science Foundation
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