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19th European Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production – Circular Europe for Sustainability: Design, Production and Consumption

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The discourse of power in perceptions of risk in transitioning to a circular economy for UK SME manufacturing

An area that has had little attention in socio-technical transitions research has been the role of regime cultures, ideologies and discourses in constraining or accelerating transition. “Hearts and minds” is an often used expression in discourses on change, but what do we really know of what influences the hearts and minds of SMEs, the manufacturing regime, and the way sense is made of decisions relating to material use and transitioning to a circular economy? This research looks to investigate hearts and minds within the manufacturing regime and, more importantly, why they exist. A discourse analysis approach has been adopted given that discourse is pervasive and the most fundamental form of interaction in society. Furthermore, discursive interaction is a large part of how we “do things”, how we come to recognise what people think or believe or why they act the way they do. Discourse is an important component in the shaping, influencing, interpretation and acceptance of or denial of changes to existing dominant systems. However, discourses on the circular economy take place in the context of existing linear economy derived capital intensive, durable, geographically widespread material, physical or institutional arrangements. Such arrangements can exert significant influence on current and future discourses and the hearts and minds of actors associated with the manufacturing regime. Therefore, important to this research is acknowledging and examining relationships between the discursive and the existing culturally, socially and politically embedded systems, structures, beliefs, values, attitudes and material and institutional conditions in the social network of influence of SMEs that potentially influences how SMEs make sense of their actions on material use and transitioning to a circular economy. A mixed methods approach to data collection has been adopted combining one-to-one interviews with SMEs and members of the wider network of influence of SMEs, ethnographic methods, facilitated workshops and the collection of a corpus of public domain materials aimed at businesses. Data collection and analysis is an iterative process throughout this research built upon a structured, iterative seven step analytical framework that combines constructivist grounded theory strategies and a critical discursive psychology perspective. Essential to this approach has been the interpretation of patterns of discourse in relation to what the discourse is doing, how the discourse is constructed, the “resources” called upon, the action orientation of the discourse and what versions of the world (e.g. assumptions, beliefs, values, perceptions) are being constructed or stabilised. An analysis of the variations and consistencies of the discursive patterns has been carried out to provide insights into the hearts and minds of SMEs and circular economy stakeholders in relation to SMEs, risk and transitioning to a circular economy. Critically, relationships between the patterns of discourse and the cultural, historical, political, material and institutional conditions of the manufacturing regime have been investigated with the aim of developing hypotheses for testing. Such hypotheses look to question or affirm current interpretations of the conditions under which hearts and minds can be influenced on transitions in material use and adoption of circular economy principles in manufacturing.

Ann Stevenson
Cardiff University
United Kingdom


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