Conceptualizing controversies in the EU circular bioeconomy transition

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The transition towards a circular bioeconomy (CBE) in the European Union is not without contestation. In particular, research has highlighted potential trade-offs of the large-scale production of bio-resources, for instance with environmental quality goals. To date, however, it remains underexplored in the CBE literature how controversies develop throughout a transition process. To address this gap, this paper explores where controversies are situated in a transition, how they change throughout, and how they influence the transition process. First, we suggest that controversies can be situated on and between different system layers within a transition. Second, we offer an explanation of how controversies evolve, as actors confirm, integrate, disintegrate and polarize underlying storylines. Third, these controversies can have both productive and unproductive outcomes while they unfold throughout a transition. We illustrate this understanding with the example of biorefineries as CBE key technology and discuss a research agenda on controversies in sustainability transitions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2079-2090
Issue number10
Early online date23 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022


  • Biorefinery
  • Circular bioeconomy
  • Discourse coalition
  • European Union
  • Policy controversy
  • Sustainability transition


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