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This panel invites anthropological engagements with the promise and effects of circular economies in a world of global commodity and waste flows. It will explore intersections between circular economic practice and theory, with the aim of examining alternative and non-hegemonic traditions.
Aspirations towards circular economies are ever more present and popular in policy circles. The EU has adopted an ambitious "circular economy action plan", while in China the circular economy (xunhuan jingji) has been enshrined in law since 2008. While such policies are often constrained to regional or national scales, examples of dumping, recycling, over-consuming, and over-producing indicate the spread of "circles" across global geographies. As such, circular economies materialise not only through "circularity" but also through global circulation.
Although the multivalent concept is meant to represent an intervention in all aspects of the economy, it has particular salience with regard to waste. This panel is thus especially interested in the uneven circulation of waste in both its direct material forms and through its representations in circular economy thinking.
Despite flourishing disciplinary studies of waste, anthropological engagements with the circular economy have largely consisted of critiques, either of the basis of circular cosmologies (Graeber 2012) or of the new exclusions and continued exploitations that circularity permits (Alexander 2016). Does anthropology have more to contribute to a concept that is increasingly restructuring global flows of virgin commodities, recyclables, and waste? With circularity present in one of anthropology's foundational economic analyses - the Trobriand Kula Ring - what can earlier cyclical models identified and used by economic anthropologists tell us about current imaginaries? What are the frictions that emerge as concepts and materials travel across different geographic contexts? What are alternative, non-hegemonic ways to think and practice circular economy?