Sub-theme 40: Meeting the Anthropocene: Waste All Inclusive!

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Hervé Corvellec
Lund University, Sweden
Alison Stowell
Lancaster University, United Kingdom
Francisco Valenzuela
University of Chile, Chile

Call for Papers

This sub-theme invites contributions that explore the organizing of waste in all its diversity: all kinds of waste from garbage to CO2 via mining, industrial and nuclear waste; but also of waste related practices, from highly efficient productions of disposable items to the industrial management of waste through the emission of greenhouse gases at every stage of the value chains, the routine production of food waste injustice, or efforts at developing a waste free circular economy. The purpose is to make the ‘invisible visible’ in the new era called the Anthropocene. This includes critical questioning of responses given by organizations that address ecological, economic, and other social challenges, in ‘the age of waste’ that the Anthropocene represents. Waste is everywhere, and this is because organizational waste practices are omnipresent.
What are organizations doing, not doing, pretending to do, missing, or envisaging to meet the waste challenges of global warming, ecosystems degradation and destruction, global social inequalities in waste degraded environments, waste-related health and safety problems inclusive of food safety and air quality, the coexistence of hunger and food waste, diminution of biodiversity, plastic littering of the oceans, electronic dumping grounds, freshwater shortage, limits of social and planetary boundaries, etc.? How does paying attention to waste and discarding activities yield fresh insights?
The process and practices of wasting is at the bedrock for private, public, non-profit, informal organizations and indigenous communities – who have responded to these challenges for centuries (Douglas, 1966; Hird, 2015; O’Brien, 2008; Scanlan, 2005; Strasser, 1999), making organizing activities visible. This brings into question the effectiveness of approaches, such as Lean Management, Design for Disassembly, Cradle-to-Cradle certifications, Environmental Management Systems such as ISO14001:2015, Product-Service-Systems, Take-back systems, Producer responsibility, Urban Mining, Circular Business Models, or Social Movements (e.g., Zero Waste), Partnerships and even CSR (Blomsma & Brennan, 2017; Corvellec & Hultman, 2012; Corvellec et al., 2020; Glasbergen et al., 2007; Hird, 2015; Korhonen et al., 2018; Moog et al., 2015; Pickren 2014; Puckett et al., 2002; Stål & Corvellec, 2018; Stowell & Warren, 2018), have actually made? In what ways have these delayed real and meaningful actions, and what actual effects and impacts have these approaches had?
With the Anthropocene being “the Age of Waste” (Corvellec, 2019), these explorations become more pressing with agendas like the Circular Economy rapidly mobilizing in business and policy spheres. The Circular Economy, in particular, offers a tool for more radical systems redesign and transition towards a more sustainable world through ‘better’ resource management – efficacy, efficiency, discard less and reduce waste are central themes. Chinese central and regional governments (Su et al., 2013), developing regions in Bolivia (Ferronato et al., 2019), the European Union (European Commission, 2018), the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2015), Circle Economy (2020) and others have championed the Circular Economy.

  • Is this new approach radical enough to tackle the global challenges of waste that we face today (Unruh, 2018; Valenzuela & Böhm, 2017), or is this the latest attempt of a dying, linear system to rescue itself and keep our waste activities invisible?

  • What are the implications of this invisibility to consumer practices? What does this type of work actually look like?

  • How do we actually work, manage and organize in a Circular Economy (Bozkurt & Stowell, 2016; Dembek, 2020; Georges & Romme, 1999)? And how is value calculated, measured and accounted for anyway?

  • Equally, who is or should be setting these value and valuation standards (Espostio et al., 2018; Völker et al., 2020)? Private corporations, governments or NGOs or all of them (Keblowski et al., 2020)?

  • How do we actually know that our economies and societies are becoming more circular? (Circle Economy, 2020; Stahel, 2016; Zwiers et al., 2020)?

  • How effective are solutions like the circular economy (Gregson et al., 2015; Gregson et al., 2017; Haas et al., 2015)?

  • Can any organization be waste free, especially if one considers humans and non-humans in addition to material and energy flows (Corvellec, 2018; Murray et al., 2017)?

At present, the invisibility of waste is a viewed as a sign of ‘good organization’, however, given that waste touches on every aspect of individual and organized life (Corvellec, 2016; Perry et al., 2010), examining the Anthropocene through the lens of waste could move us beyond the spectacle of waste to clarify what human activity actually entails, and how this impacts the Anthropocene. We welcome contributions that respond to the above-outlined opportunities and challenges. Here is an indicative, arbitrary and in no way exhaustive list of possible topics:

  • Waste in the circular economy

  • People at work with waste and/or circularity: organizational, local, regional and global approaches

  • Consumption in the age of waste: do we have to consume radically less?

  • The spatiality of sustainability, circularity and disposal practices

  • Waste and globalization: trade, material flows, and regional inequalities

  • Organizing extended producer responsibility (EPR)

  • Between hope and distress: subjectivity, emotions, affect, and commitment of organizational members towards sustainability, circularity /or zero waste

  • Strategies for value creation and destruction

  • The management of externalities in management and governance

  • Organizing materials, energy, and waste: Strategies and leadership, and governance and regulation in the Anthropocene as an age of waste

  • Non-humans in the organizing material and energy flows

  • Hierarchical vs. horizontal modes of organizing material distributions

  • Scales of transition to a circular economy: micro-, meso- or macro-loops?

  • Dystopia: What if nothing is done?

We welcome papers that open new spaces of reflection, understanding and critique, regardless of their theoretical sources of inspiration and methodological approaches. Innovation in writing and composing style are also welcome. In addition to scholars working in organization and management studies, we welcome contributions from – inter alia – anthropology, sociology, psychosocial studies, geography, philosophy, politics, art history, communication, film, gender and cultural studies, among others.


  • Blomsma, F., & Brennan, G. (2017): ”The emergence of circular economy: A new framing around prolonging resource productivity.” Journal of Industrial Ecology, 21 (3), 603–614.
  • Bozkurt, O., & Stowell, A.F. (2016): “Going green? Skills and jobs in the UK E-waste management sector. “ New Technology, Work and Employment, 31 (12), 1–15.
  • Circle Economy (2020): The word is now 8.6% circular, available at:
  • Corvellec, H. (2019): “Heterogeneous answers to challenges raised by an heterogeneous material.” Society and Business Review, 14 (2), 130–130.
  • Corvellec, H. (2018): “Waste as scats: For an organizational engagement with waste.” Organization, 26 (2), 217–235.
  • Corvellec, H. (2016): “Waste management: The other of production, distribution and consumption.” In: K.M. Ekström (ed.): Waste Management and Sustainable Consumption: Reflection on Consumer Waste. Oxford: Routledge, 88–101.
  • Corvellec, H., Böhm, S., Stowell, A., & Valenzuela, F. (2020): “Introduction to the special issue on the contested realities of the circular economy.” Culture and Organization, 26 (2), 97–102.
  • Corvellec, H., & Hultman, J. (2012): “From ‘less landfilling’ to ‘wasting less’: Societal narratives, socio-materialty and organisations.” Organizational Change Management, 25 (2), 297–314.
  • Douglas, M. (1966): Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. London: Routledge.
  • Dembek, A. (2020): “Knitting an action net to reduce plastic waste: Reusable takeout food containers in New York City.” Culture and Organization, 26 (2), 159–174.
  • Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2015): Towards the Circular Economy: Business Rationale for an Accelerated Transition, available at:
  • Esposito, M., Tse, T., & Soufani, K. (2018): “Introducing a circular economy: New thinking with new managergerial and policy implications.” California Management Review, 60 (3), 5–19.
  • European Commission (2018): Circular Economy Strategy, available at:
  • Ferronato, N., Rada, E.C., Gorritty Portillo, M.A., Cioca, L.I., Ragazzi, M., & Torretta, V. (2019): “Introduction of the circular economy within developing regions: A comparative analysis of advantages and opportunities for waste valorization.” Journal of Environmental Management, 230, 366–378.
  • Georges, A., & Romme, L. (1999): “Domination, self-determination and circular organizing.” Organization Studies, 20 (5), 801–831.
  • Glasbergen, P., Biermann, F., & Mol, A.P. (eds.) (2007): Partnerships, Governance and Sustainable Development: Reflections on Theory and Practice. Edward Elgar Publishing: Cheltenham.
  • Gregson, N., Crang, M.A., & Antonopoulos, C. (2017): “Holding together logistical worlds: Friction, seams and circulation in the emerging ‘global warehouse’.” Environment & Planning D: Society and Space, 35 (3), 381–398.
  • Gregson, N., Crang, M., Fuller, S., & Holmes, H. (2015): “Interrogating the circular economy: The moral economy of resource recovery in the EU.” Economy and Society, 44 (2), 218–243.
  • Haas, W., Krausmann, F., Wiedenhofer, D., & Heinz, M. (2015): “How circular is the global economy? An assessment of material flows, waste production, and recycling in the European Union and the world in 2005.” Journal of Industrial Ecology, 19 (5), 765–777.
  • Hird, M.J. (2015): “Waste, environmental politics and dis/engaged publics.” Theory, Culture and Society, 34 (2–3), 187–209.
  • Kębłowski, W., Lambert, D. & Bassens, D. (2020): “Circular economy and the city: An urban political economy agenda.” Culture and Organization, 26 (2), 142–158.
  • Korhonen, J., Nuur, C., Feldmann, A., & Birkie, S.E. (2018): “Circular economy as an essentially contested concept.” Journal of Cleaner Production, 175, 544–552.
  • Moog, S., Spicer, A., & Böhm, S. (2015): “The politics of multi-stakeholder initiatives: The crisis of the Forest Stewardship Council.” Journal of Business Ethics, 12 (3), 469–493.
  • Murray, A., Skene, K., & Haynes, K. (2017): “The circular economy: An interdisciplinary exploration of the concept and application in a global context.” Journal of Business Ethics, 140 (3), 369–380.
  • Perry, M., Oskar, J., & Normark, D. (2010): “Laying waste together: The shared creation and disposal of refuse in a social context.” Space and Culture, 13 (1), 75–94.
  • Pickren, G. (2014): “Political ecologies of electronic waste: Uncertainty and legitimacy in the governance of e-waste geographies.” Environment and Planning A, 46 (1), 26–45.
  • Puckett., J., Byster, L., Westervelt, S., Gutierrez, R., Davis, S., Hussain, A., & Dutta, M. (2002): Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia. Seattle: BAN.
  • Stahel, W.R. (2016) “Circular economy: A new relationship with goods and material would save resources and energy and create local jobs.” Nature, 531 (7595), 435–438.
  • Stål, H.I., & Corvellec, H. (2018): “A decoupling perspective on circular business model implementation: Illustrations from Swedish apparel.” Journal of Cleaner Production, 171 (Supplement C), 630–643.
  • Stowell, A.F., & Warren, S. (2018): “The Institutionalization of suffering: Embodied inhabitation and the maintenance of health and safety in e-waste recycling.” Organization Studies, 39 (5–6), 785–809.
  • Strasser, S. (1999): Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash. New York: Holt Publications.
  • Su, B., Heshmati, A., Geng, Y., & Yu, X. (2013): “A review of the circular economy in China: Moving from rhetoric to implementation.” Journal of Cleaner Production, 42, 215–227.
  • Valenzuela, F., & Böhm, S. (2017): “Against wasted politics: A critique of the circular economy.” Ephemera, 17 (1), 23–60.
  • Völker,T., Kovacic, Z., & Strand,R. (2020): “Indicator development as a site of collective imagination? The case of European Commission policies on the circular economy.” Culture and Organization, 26 (2), 103–120.
  • Unruh, G. (2018): “Circular economy, 3D printing, and the biosphere rules.” California Management Review, 60 (3), 95–111.
  • Zwiers, J., Jaeger-Erben, M., & Hofmann, F. (2020): “Circular literacy: A knowledge-based approach to the circular economy.” Culture and Organization, 26 (2), 121–141.
Hervé Corvellec is a Professor of Business Administration at the Department for Service Studies, Lund University, Sweden. He has over 20 years of experience in interdisciplinary research environments during which he has conducted research about organizational behavior and business ethics in relationship to railroad planning, risk in public transportation, wind power siting, and waste management. Hervé has published, among others, in ‘Accounting, Organizations and Society’, ‘Culture and Organization’, ‘Environment and Planning A’, ‘Gender, Work and Organization’, ‘Journal of Business Ethics’, ‘Journal of Cleaner Production’, ‘Journal of Material Culture’, ‘Marketing Theory’, ‘Organizations’, ‘Waste Management’, and ‘Waste Management & Research’.
Alison Stowell is a Lecturer at Lancaster University and currently an Associate Director of the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business Research Centre, United Kingdom. She has over a decade of research experience on societal, organisational and management responses to waste. Although her preoccupation has been on electronic waste (e-waste), her curiosity has broadened to other complex forms. Alison has worked on interdisciplinary projects ranging from attempts to quantify e-waste, to exploring unreported e-waste flows, to business and societal implications for flexible electronics. She has published articles in ‘Culture and Organization’, ‘Ephemera’, ‘Etnografia e Ricera Qualitativa’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Technology, Work and Employment’, ‘Society and Business’, and more.
Francisco Valenzuela is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Administration, University of Chile. His research interests are diverse, ranging from the embodiment of affect, identity and ideology at the workplace, to the discourses and subjectivities that underpin practices of waste management and socio-environmental governance. Theoretically, his work draws from the fields of Lacanian psychoanalysis, psychosocial studies and post-Marxist political economy. Francisco is currently co-director of MINGA –Chilean Group of Organization Studies- and part of the MayFly Books editorial collective. As an early career researcher, he has published articles in ‘Organization Studies’ and ‘Ephemera’.
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