In this paper, we critically explore the evolution and impact of the concept ‘bioeconomy’ as a descriptor and driver of diff erent scientific, technological, and policy initiatives in the life sciences. We unpack the different ways bioeconomy has been framed – as an emergent, present, or sometimes promissory economic regime underpinned by particular socio-technical practices - by tracing how its use has evolved in different disciplinary field and sectors. We also critically analyse three key reports that attempt to measure the size and contribution of the bioeconomy at regional levels. Our overarching questions are: What is the bioeconomy, how has it been used in different fields, and how might it be best understood and valued both economically and politically? In answering these questions, we build on and contribute to critical scholarship in science and technology studies, particularly theoretical work on biovalue, commodification, and assetisation; using this in conjunction with our empirical concept search and document analysis to contribute new knowledge and understanding of the bioeconomy’s past, present, and future.