Unpacking the circular economy: A problematizing review

Tulin Dzhengiz*, Elizabeth M. Miller, Jukka Pekka Ovaska, Samuli Patala

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)
14 Downloads (Pure)


Transitioning to a circular economy (CE) model has been proposed to solve many grand environmental challenges. While research on CE has been extensively reviewed, less is known about the implicit underlying assumptions of this work. Understanding these assumptions is critical as they typically go unchallenged yet play a significant role in shaping research fields. In this paper we conduct a problematizing review to critically analyse and make explicit the in-house, root metaphor and ideological assumptions that inform the framing of CE. Firstly, we demonstrate various in-house assumptions about CE, such as an emphasis on the business case for CE and the relationship between CE and corporate sustainability. Secondly, root metaphor assumptions include circularity and industrial relationships resembling biological metabolisms. Finally, the dominant ideological assumptions-neoliberalism and ecological modernization-guide scholarly thinking about growth, consumption and profit maximization. Based on our analysis and drawing on the ongoing CE debates within broader environmental studies, we suggest new agendas for future research. We contribute to the growing literature on CE in business, management and organization studies by identifying assumptions that may be misleading or limiting for future CE research, as well as to the conversations on grand challenges by discussing the implications of how challenges and solutions are framed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)270-296
Number of pages27
Issue number2
Early online date2 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


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