CFP: Informality, legitimacy and authority in the age of the “Circular Economy” (AAG)


Informality, legitimacy and authority in the age of the “Circular Economy”
Call for Papers, AAG 2017 Boston


Freyja Knapp, University of California, Berkeley
Manisha Anantharaman, St. Mary’s College of California

Sponsored by:
The Development Geographies Specialty Group

The circular economy is the “new kid on the block” in the arena of technological and managerial responses to intensified waste production and resource shortages. Circular economy strategists seek to apply technical and design solutions to improve resource efficiency, reuse, and repurposing, hoping for new waves of economic growth even in times of crisis. In parallel, the urban infrastructure needed for circular resource flows is being remade through processes of zoning and land use regulation in concert with waves of gentrification and displacement. This session seeks to explore the relationship between the growing activity and interest in the circular economy (a subset of the “green” or sustainable economy) with contemporary urban conflicts over so-called “nuisance” land uses, commodity property rights (e.g. who owns curbside recyclables), race, and class. These conflicts recapitulate familiar patterns of dispossession or appropriation, but with a green-economy gloss that often masks socio-environmental injustices.

Critical engagement with circular economy ideas and practice is of essence, especially as the concept has recently gained prominence as a global sustainability strategy attractive to policymakers and businesses. In this eagerness to realize the “win-win” solutions that the circular economy promises, the socio-spatial practices that comprise circularity occur in the shadows of the excited claims of sustainable development and consumption, eliding the politics of expertise and practice embedded in urban re-cycling work.

This panel seeks to add to the growing critical scholarship on the green economy and invites researchers studying discards, recycling, repurposing and allied processes from a critical perspective to explore the hidden effects of the circular economy transition. We are particularly interested in scholarship that seeks to trouble the North-South distinction in waste/discard studies. Some themes that we seek to explore include, but are not limited to:

  1. How is the circular economy conceptualized across different places?
  2. What physical, policy, and labor infrastructures articulate with the circular economy, and how are they changing?
  3. How are waste gleaning/picking and recycling activities in the so-called “informal sector” articulating with new urban structures under the banner of circular economy?
  4. What are parallels or contradictions between the unlicensed waste collection economies in the global North and the global South?
  5. What does sustainability and justice mean within a circular/green economy?
  6. What spatial politics are at work with “cleaning and greening up” the city?
  7. How are patterns of economic development and gentrification intersecting with already-existing circularities?
  8. How are notions of authority, expertise, or rights leveraged in contestations over who may legitimately participate in the green economy, and how?
  9. How can we rethink “informality” through the circular economy?


Abstracts (250 words) should be sent to Freyja Knapp freyja (at) berkeley (dot) edu and Manisha Anantharaman ma20 (at) stmarys-ca (dot) edu by October 21. We will notify accepted participants by October 24. The deadline to submit abstracts to the AAG Annual Meeting is October 27.

Freyja Knapp is a doctoral candidate in the Environmental Science Policy and Management Department at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research focuses on the politics of transnational resource extraction from high-value discard streams such as electronic scrap.

Manisha Anantharaman is assistant professor in the Justice, Community and Leadership program at Saint Mary’s College of California. Trained as an interdisciplinary environmental scientist, her research and teaching interests straddle sustainability and social justice, applying participatory and ethnographic methodologies to understand how waste-related sustainability initiatives in urban India do, or do not, address labor and social justice concerns.