An ideological critique of a degrowth (circular) metabolism


  • Emma Griffith Universiteit van Amsterdam
  • Federico Savini Universiteit van Amsterdam


circular economy, degrowth, subjectivity, (counter)hegemony, materiality




The paper explores a degrowth circular economy, namely a planning program of reducing and reusing urban material flows within cities. To do so, I will question the circular economy (CE) from a perspective of hegemony, ideology, and subjectivity. The paper, thus,  aims to conceptualise the relation between institutions and subjectivity in the study of the CE. While the CE is presented as a radical solution to the linear urban economy, critics point out that its current mainstream applications are underpinned by technocratic and ecomodernist ideologies (Genovese and Pansera, 2021). Indeed, mainstream CE approaches are clearly oriented to develop new technologies, regulations, and practices to generate economic value from waste (Savini, 2023). Departing from recent literature on the ideological roots of CE, this paper analyses how such ideologies materialise in the institutions and regulations that govern the material flows of resources and waste within regions, which is their social metabolism. It analyses how social norms about actors’ responsibilities, geography, and value of waste and resources are enacted through planning regulations. In so doing, I will reflect on the institutional dimensions that structure hegemony or promote counter-hegemony in the field of the circular economy.

To do so, I will reflect on the relation between subjectivity and materiality. This will allow to shed light on the transformation of the self, and on how hegemony influences subjectivity. In the context of CE, I conceptualize subjectivity as one's perception of the self in relation to materials, such as waste, food, land, water. Self-transformation is increasingly emphasized in the academic literature as necessary to degrowth transitions but remains undertheorized and somewhat ‘idealistic’. I will show how different social norms are enacted in the process of defending and contesting particular views of the CE in land development. This move is in line with recent critiques that emphasize that visions of circular cities must include an understanding of how the circular economy is embedded in society (Calisto Friant, Vermeulen and Salomone, 2023; Ziegler et al., 2023).

I exemplify this framework through the case of a fertile land of 100 hectares in the southwest border of Amsterdam which will become the site for a new distribution center: the Lutkemeerpolder. The future of the Lutkemeerpolder is a space of ideological conflict, where an hegemonic view on industrial urban growth is set against a counter-hegemonic practice of agroecological commoning. This case shows how ideologies materialize in the built environment through regulations, and how different subjects contest such approaches to the urban metabolism. The discussion of the case allows to confront two opposite visions of circularity defined by how they assign value and define subjects’ relation with materiality, raising important questions for a shift towards a post-growth planning practice.


Calisto Friant, M., Vermeulen, W. J. and Salomone, R. (2023) ‘Transition to a Sustainable Circular Society: More than Just Resource Efficiency’, Circular Economy and Sustainability, pp. 1-20.

Genovese, A. and Pansera, M. (2021) ‘The circular economy at a crossroads: technocratic eco-modernism or convivial technology for social revolution?’, Capitalism Nature Socialism, 32(2), pp. 95-113.

Savini, F. (2023) ‘Futures of the social metabolism: Degrowth, circular economy and the value of waste’. Futures, 150, 103180.

Ziegler, R., Bauwens, T., Roy, M. J., Teasdale, S., Fourrier, A. and Raufflet, E. (2023) ‘Embedding circularity: Theorizing the social economy, its potential, and its challenges’, Ecological Economics, 214, 107970.