Communication between hope and ambiguity – on coordination for conversion to a circular economy in sustainable food systems

Last changed: 05 December 2018

This projects aim to study how the ambiguous, and both challenging and hopeful, concept "circular economy" is used in texts. The linguistic contexts and different meanings that the term is linked to are also examined.

How is the collaboration around concrete circular economic projects going to work? How do the involved actors talk? How are decisions made? Do the actors agree or disagree with each other? How does this interaction lead to concrete actions such as plans, infrastructure and manufacturing? These are some of the questions that hopefully will be answered in this research project.

Circular economy in practice

In addition, experienced practitioners who have worked with circular economics will gather to explore experiences of good and less good forms of cooperation and communication methods. Once the project is completed, the practicioners will propose solid advice on how to interact and communicate in order to achieve circular economics, so that the tensions around this new way of working are made clear and handled.

Circular economy to address sustainability shortages

Public, private and non-profit actors in the food system have noted system-level sustainability shortages in terms of poor resource utilization. The term "circular economy" has been used to describe the intended solution and has quickly become a popular term for changed production and consumption patterns.

Circular economy is rooted in a criticism of established principles of production and consumption, which are believed to lead to poor resource utilization, overuse of resources and waste issues. As the concept involves a series of working methods that may mean different things for different social actors, and challenge established and dominant working methods and traditional relationships between supplier and customer, the realization of circular economics within the food system places great demands on interaction and communication.

In the research project we assume that the different parties need to defy norms of consensus and find ways to clarify, investigate and deal with disagreements as a way to learn about what circular economy means.

The project includes the following subprojects:

  • A discourse analysis of what meaning is given to Circular economy (CE) in different ways of using the term
  • Case studies of CE projects to identify the communicative procedures and norms used and how to handle paradoxes and disagreements
  • An interactive research module with a workshop where practitioners from the food system share experiences and formulate a best practice for collaboration on CE
  • A synthesis of the three previous subprojects that suggest a method of collaboration and communication about CE in the food system.

The project is funded by FORMAS.


Circular Economics (CE) is usually described as resource recycling or reuse with as high a value as possible. The term has become a significant term and is seen as a more sustainable alternative to the dominant linear system.

The food system strives to include CE principles and to change current production and consumption systems to close material and energy flows. This transformation requires effective collaboration between a variety of players, which is a challenging coordination and communication task, as the CE concept is hopeful and ambitious but also ambiguous.

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