Sub-theme 67: Critical Organizational Anthropocene Studies

Hervé Corvellec
Lund University, Sweden
Alison Stowell
Lancaster University, United Kingdom
Steffen Boehm
University of Exeter, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

This sub-theme invites contributions that question the responses given by organizations to ecological, economic and social challenges in the Anthropocene, such as global warming, ecosystems destruction, diminution of biodiversity, plastic littering of the oceans, fresh water shortage, limits of planetary and social boundaries, etc. What are organizations doing, not doing, pretending to do, missing, or envisaging? How is the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change translating into organizational practices? Is anything happening in the boardrooms beyond non-committing statements of intention?
The purpose of this sub-theme is to bring together papers that critically question today’s conventions on (corporate) sustainability. How much of a difference do approaches such as Design for Disassembly, Cradle-to-Cradle certifications, ISO14001:2015, Product-Service-Systems, Environmental Management Systems, Environmental Accounting, Circular Business Models, or Partnerships for Sustainability (Blomsma & Brennan, 2017; Glasbergen et al., 2007; Korhonen et al., 2018; Moog et al., 2015; Stål & Corvellec, 2018) actually make? How much of these are mere delaying promises of a transition at some imprecise point in the future, and what actual effects and impacts have these sustainability approaches had?
Today, China (Su et al., 2013) and the European Union (European Commission, 2018) put their faith in developing a Circular Economy. But is any organization circular, especially if one considers humans and non-humans in addition to materials and energy flows (Murray et al., 2017)? Is this new approach radical enough to tackle the global challenges we face today (Unruh, 2018; Valenzuela & Böhm, 2017)? Or is this the latest attempt of a dying, linear system to rescue itself? How circular is the circular economy (Haas et al., 2015; Gregson et al., 2015; Gregson et al., 2017)?
We welcome contributions that address the organizational challenges in a wide range of sustainability and circular economy approaches that characterize the Anthropocene, including questions of power, process and labour; cultural aspects, including symbolic, political and historical dimensions of answers to these challenges or lack thereof; theoretical aspects, including how organizations define sustainability, circularity, resilience and risk of unsustainability; and its ethical aspects, including questions of justice, Otherness and responsibility.

Here is an indicative, arbitrary and in no way exhaustive list of possible topics:

  • People at work with sustainability: organizational, local, regional and global approaches

  • Between hope and distress: The analysis of subjectivity, emotions and/or affect to understand the commitment of organizational members towards sustainability ideals

  • Making organizational sense of ecological challenges, sustainability and resilience

  • Sustainability as the organization of embodied practices

  • Sustainability as the collective reorganization of responsibility

  • Ethnographies of organizational sustainability strategies, restorative and regenerative strategies, and the development of sustainable and circular business models

  • Sustainability and social innovation

  • Organizing materials, energy and waste for sustainability

  • Sustainability and systemic transformations of consumption

  • The management of externalities in management and governance

  • The discourse of circularity and/or sustainability as a form of ideology

  • Scales of sustainability: micro-, meso- or macro-loops?

  • The spatiality of sustainability practices

  • Regional differences in the strategies for sustainability, for example, between the “Global North” and the “Global South”, including de-globalization

  • Governance for sustainability: soft, strict, or otherwise (e.g., nudge), exploring, in particular, the role of incentives and legislation

  • Examining the discursive development of sustainability and resilience practices, from the United Nations or the European Union to individual organizations through lobbies such as Greenpeace or the World Economic Forum

  • From organizational sustainability to organizational resilience and beyond

  • Sustainability and resilience as master-metaphors: from utopias to excuses for doing nothing, through incantations and desperate efforts to rescue the world from capitalist obsession for resource exploitation

  • Post-sustainability, post-resilience and dystopia: what if nothing is done?

We welcome papers that open new spaces of reflection and understanding of the answers, or lack thereof, that organizations provide to the challenges of the Anthropocene, regardless of their theoretical sources of inspiration and methodological approach. Innovation in writing and composing style are also welcome. In addition to scholars working in management and organization studies, we welcome contributions from – inter alia – anthropology, sociology, geography, philosophy, politics, art history, communication, film, gender and cultural studies.


  • 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.
  • European Commission (2018): Circular Economy Strategy. Implementation of the Circular Economy Action Plan, available at:
  • Glasbergen, P., Biermann, F., & Mol, A.P. (eds.) (2007): Partnerships, Governance and Sustainable Development: Reflections on Theory and Practice. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.
  • 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.
  • 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, 128 (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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Unruh, G. (2018): “Circular economy, 3D printing, and the biosphere rules.” California Management Review, 60 (3), 95–111.

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 in ‘Accounting, Organizations and Society’, ‘Environment and Planning A’, ‘Culture and Organizations’, ‘Journal of Cleaner Production’, ‘Journal of Material Culture’, ‘Journal of Organizational Change Management’, ‘Journal of Business Ethics’, ‘Marketing Theory’, ‘International Journal of Project Management’, ‘Waste Management & Research’, and more.
Alison Stowell is a Lecturer at Lancaster University, UK, and an affiliate of the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business Research Centre. Her research focuses on social and organisational responses to the challenges of waste. Specific areas of interest include organisation and management responses, waste policy, negotiating values attributed to waste and waste as a particular type of work. Although, for the past ten years her preoccupation has focused on electronic waste (e-waste, e.g. computers, laptops, mobile telephones. etc.), her curiosity relates to most forms. Alison has published articles in ‘Organization Studies’, ‘New Technology, Work and Employment’, ‘Etnografia e Ricera Qualitativa’, ‘Meiji Business Review’, and ‘Systemist’.
Steffen Boehm is Professor in Organisation and Sustainability and Director of the Sustainability an Circular Economy Research Cluster at University of Exeter Business School, UK. His research focuses on political economy, and ecology, and justice of the food-energy-water-climate-land-labour nexus. Since his PhD at Warwick University, Steffen has been interested in critical and interdisciplinary perspectives of organizing, understood as a broader social, economic and political process. Since a study trip to South America in 2006, he’s extended his research interests to include ecological aspects of organizing, and more recently got interested in the circular economy as a systems approach that proposes radically new ways of organising business-society-nature relations. Steffen has published in ‘ephemera’ (which he co-founded), ‘Organization’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Environment and Planning A’, ‘The Sociological Review’, ‘Carbon Management’, ‘Journal of Business Ethics’, ‘Discourse & Society’, ‘Climate Policy’, ‘Business Ethics: A European Review’, ‘Revista de Administração de Empresas’, and more.