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Journal article

Figuring the transition from circular economy to circular society in Australia

Waste diversion Circular economy Sustainable Development Goals Waste minimization Australia

The combined pressure of economic, environmental, and social crises, including bushfires, waste management, and COVID created conditions for a turn to the circular economy in Australia. In addition to a dominant circular discourse of ecological modernization in state and federal policy and business and public consultations, other more socially inclusive and ecologically sensitive discourses are circulating. The two main competing discourses are a tech-centric circular economy and a reformist circular society, the latter reflected in ‘growth agnostic’ doughnut economics. In the context of unambitious federal and state policies, the circular transition is being supported by a range of intermediary organizations whose key representatives envision or ‘figure’ the sustainability transition in hybrid discursive combinations. Few studies of the circular economy transition in Australia exist and none focus on competing discourses and intermediation for sustainability transition. Since intermediary organizations both discursively reflect and lead the circular change, fuller understanding of how circularity is interpreted or ‘figured’ by key actors is crucial.

This study identifies how twenty representatives from intermediating organizations actively ‘figure’ the process of the circular transition for Australia, including while managing the tension between personal positions and organizational missions. Employing the concept of figured worlds this qualitative thematic discourse interview study analyses how, drawing on available circular discourses, key actors and their organisations actively ‘figure’ the present and future circular transition. The study contributes to debates on circular discourses, nature, and the limitations of the circular economy in Australia, the relational space of intermediation, and the nature of MLP transitions for a sustainable circular transition economy in Australia.

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