WP1: A circular approach to ideas

The project CIRCLE aims to take an interdisciplinary perspective on circular resource use in and between agricultural, aquaculture and forestry. This means that, in addition to tackling the complexities of cross-sectoral cooperation and resource circulation, we intend to do so in a way that combines insights from various disciplines.

In principle, the circular economy would seem to be well suited to this kind of approach. It is a matter of political and scientific concern (to borrow Bruno Latour‘s concept) that evokes different practices and values to different groups across the political and academic spectrum. Furthermore, there are no definite and widely accepted matters of fact about what a circular approach can do to tackle pressing sustainability issues (though there is definite potential), nor is there consensus about what constitutes true circularity in practice. It is a contested and uncertain phenomenon where we can observe complex entanglements of technologies, hard data and hopes for a brighter future permeated by technopolitical rhetoric and entrepreneurial opportunism. Bringing together people from different academic backgrounds to unpack this would seem like a very reasonable first step. However, merging disparate disciplinary worldviews into a coherent conceptual framework to study a multifaceted phenomenon can be messy business. 

In order to deal with this, we have tried to take things slow and build Work Package 1 from the ground up. We are currently in the process of developing a series of theory primers that will serve as the building blocks for our conceptual framework. This task turned out to be relatively straightforward, despite my initial fears and reservations. It proved to be easy to agree upon a list of topics for the theory primers. All it took was a couple discussions via Zoom and short email exchanges. However, I have this nagging sensation that the reason was that we are still at a stage of our work where we can keep our disciplinary intuitions and biases separate and defer to the expertise of our partners. Sure, the internal review process (where a partner will review another partner’s theory primers) will probably introduce some juicy complexity into the proceedings, but the feedback will likely concern passages that are perhaps unclear to someone who is not knowledgeable about the intricacies of cost benefit analysis or the ethics of care. The question of how and whether the various ideas hang together will not yet be on our minds.

I am certain that there will come a point in Work Package 1 when balancing the conceptual inputs of biologists and sociologists will give us intense migraines, but, luckily, we are not quite there. For now, we can learn how everyone in the team approaches conceptual work, explore ideas that we find interesting and potentially relevant, and force ourselves to clearly communicate our take on why a particular concept or theory will be useful for the project. Not everything included in the theory primers will be used in the preparation of the conceptual framework. Not every concept that was initially chosen will play a significant role. Nonetheless, I am hopeful that the time devoted to this task will not have been wasted.  Rather, it will have served as input for the next stage of our work.