Circular Economy in Sweden: a critical discourse analysis of the Swedish government’s strategy to transition

University essay from Lunds universitet/Sociologi

Abstract: The concept of a circular economy (CE) has gained traction in the EU as a pathway towards sustainability. However, beyond the goal of closing resource loops there is no consensus on the key components of CE. Efforts to triangulate a definition of CE found that it is mainly a model for economic prosperity that aims to reconcile economic growth with sustainability. In 2020, the Swedish government adopted a new strategy to transition to a CE. This thesis examines the document detailing the strategy through employing a critical discourse analysis conceptual framework and the ‘What’s the problem represented to be?’ method for policy analysis. By integrating these two frameworks the goal is to uncover power-relations and ideologies hidden in the problem representation constructed in the document. In addition, two theoretical perspectives from environmental sociology are utilized to discuss the findings of the analysis: the treadmill of production (ToP) and ecological modernization theory (EMT). The analysis concludes that the problem representation is dominated by a depoliticized technical framing that relies on oversimplistic solutions while ignoring complex factors, e.g. rebound effects. Moreover, the social dimension – e. g. consumer culture and differing levels of consumption – is mostly left unproblematized. Thus, the strategy document constructs a problem representation that fails to challenge the unsustainable social practices of the status quo. Lastly, it is argued that the transition strategy is highly compatible with the emphasis on modernization of EMT, while ToP warns us to be critical of any problem representation put forth by treadmill elites.

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