that sets competition, efficiency, and
ecological sustainability in harmony:
Estonia supports most of the measures
in the Circular Economy Package of the
European Commission, which aim to
promote the growth of competitive and
sustainable economy in the European
Union by increasing more effective and
sustainable implementation of resources
within the entire product value chain.
We note here that while such
collisions of the market and ecological
orders may signal contradiction
and conflict, some management
theorists argue such dissonance could
instead act as a form of strategic
ambiguity that enables very different
constituencies, say, corporations
and green NGOs, to work together
without having to resolve fundamental
differences. This noted, it is unclear
what the relationship is between the
kinds of circularity in the circular
economy that maximize profits and
the kinds of circularity that maximize
environmental benefits. Whether this
is a fundamental contradiction or a
productive strategic ambiguity, only
time will tell.
Ann Mische [ 2] suggests that
narrative and even grammar in
documents suggests how different
groups understand social and
technological change. In our final
example, an Italian Environment
Ministry document, we note how
there is almost no rhetorical extension
toward the future. In other words,
the necessary long-term future
orientation of an ecological order of
worth is missing. The word future very
rarely appears, the present tense is
prevalent, and future-characterizing
nouns (such as aspirations, challenge,
progress, vision, etc.) are noticeable
by their absence. What seems to
be at stake is more the short-term
destiny of the Italian economy than
the long-term environmental future.
The transition to a circular economy is
presented as a resource for improving
the competitiveness of the Italian
Here is an entrepreneurship
that believes in Italy and in Europe,
which knows to bet on an innovation
environment, now a decisive element for
competitiveness in the global market.
[And which] serves to project ourselves
in the only possible future, the circular
economy and sustainable development as
the cornerstone of doing business.
In our Italian example, we see the
market order of worth as the primary
frame, with the ecological frame little
more than a new marketing strategy for
Italian economic competitiveness.
In this article we show how resources
from social science and cultural
analysis can help us analyze imagined
futures. Imagined futures do not
lie over the temporal horizon; they
are very much in the here and now.
They condition our imaginative
relationship to the future and how we
understand social and technological
change—the future projections of
our societies. In doing so, they have
very real effects—for example, in
terms of the allocation of resources,
political attention, and professional
expertise, and of individuals’ capacity
to imaginatively project themselves
into wider social programs. And
imagined futures contribute to path
dependencies—roads left untrodden
and possibilities unimagined, on the
one hand, and avenues opened up and
novel routes taken, on the other.
We’ve seen how the imagined
futures of the circular economy
often elide everyday life, even while
acknowledging the centrality of
consumption to the model. More
expansive imaginaries of everyday
futures posit radically changed
forms of consumption, such as
collaborative consumerism. But these
imagined everyday futures assume
norms and patterns of consumption
transformed, while offering little
by way of projected context that
might show how such changes will
come about. On top of this, they
draw on potentially fundamentally
incompatible justifications, or orders
We live in times of a widely
acknowledged crisis of political
imagination, a crisis in the imagined
futures of social democracy and
capitalism, often characterized as
a collective failure to imaginatively
project progressive social and
technological change. In that context,
engaging critically with imagined
futures of everyday life is crucial
work, not least for those working to
DOI: 10.1145/3047415 COP YRIGHT HELD BY AUTHORS. PUBLICATION RIGHTS LICENSED TO ACM. $15.00
materialize them into new technologies.
Here, we illustrate how theoretical
tools from cultural and social theory
might be of help in this pursuit.
1. European Commission. Closing the Loop—
An EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy.
European Commission (COM614), 2015;
2. Mische, A. Measuring futures in action:
Projective grammars in the Rio+ 20 debates.
Theory and Society 43 (2014), 437–464.
3. Braungart, M. and McDonough, W. Cradle
to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make
Things. Vintage Books, London, 2002.
4. Mylan, J., Holmes, H, and Paddock, J. ReIntroducing consumption to the ‘circular
economy’: A sociotechnical analysis of
domestic food provisioning. Sustainability
8 (2016), 794.
5. Warde, A. and Southerton, D. eds. The
Habits of Consumption. COLLeGIUM:
Studies across Disciplines in the Humanities
and Social Sciences vol 12. 2012; https://
6. Warde, A. Consumption and theories of
practice. Journal of Consumer Culture 5, 2
7. Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Towards
the Circular Economy: Opportunities for
the Consumer Goods Sector Report 2. 2013;
8. Boltanski, L. and Thévenot, L. On
Justification: Economies of Worth. Princeton
Univ. Press, Princeton; Oxford, 2006.
Daniel Welch is a research associate at the
Sustainable Consumption Institute, University
of Manchester, where he lectures in sociology.
His research interests include the sociology of
future projections, particularly how the future
of consumption and transformations toward
sustainability are imagined and mobilized in
professional practice and political discourse.
Margit Keller is a senior researcher of
social communication and head of the Institute
of Social Studies, University of Tartu, Estonia.
She coordinates the Research Network of
Sociology of Consumption of the European
Sociological Association. She studies
interventions into everyday practices and
Giuliana Mandich is a professor of
sociology at the University of Cagliari, Italy.
She coordinates the Research Network
of Sociology of Everyday Life of the Italian
Sociological Association. Her research is on
space, time, and practice in everyday life and
the future as a cultural dimension.