In this chapter, we analyse the academic debates that gave context to ideas about circularity and we trace the historical development of the concept of circular economy. The historical antecedents of the circular economy are linked to debates sparked by the work of the likes of Thomas Malthus (1766–1834) and Henry George (1837–97), who brought to light questions of scarcity and of the role of innovation in economic growth and depression cycles. The debate came to fruition during the Cold War as a confrontation between the Cornucopians and the Prophets of Doom, in which economic growth and the environment were framed as being at odds with each other. According to the Prophets of Doom, resource scarcity and biophysical limits would put an end to economic growth, as exemplified by the publication of The Limits to Growth report by the Club of Rome in 1972. On the other hand, the Cornucopians argued that environmental constraints could be overcome through technological progress and human ingenuity. Against this backdrop, ideas about circularity started to emerge through Kenneth Boulding’s essay “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth” (1966), Stahel and Reday-Mulvey’s proposal for a closed-loop economy in 1976, the development of ideas about industrial symbiosis from industrial ecology, and the cradle-to-cradle narrative from life-cycle assessment. Through this historical overview, we identify the disciplines, narratives and intellectual debates that have informed and shaped thinking about the circular economy. We conclude the chapter by discussing the tensions that exist between the different schools of thought that inform the circular economy, and the emerging criticisms from the social sciences.