Buildings have always been reused for both pragmatic and symbolic reasons. However, out of the turbulence of the mid-twentieth century, stimulated by reactions against modern ‘clean-sweep’ planning, a new field of policy and practice emerged in the 1970s to respond to the burgeoning conservation movement and growing environmental awareness, which came to be termed ‘adaptive reuse’. The last decade in particular has seen a flourishing of interest in adaptive reuse both on the ground and in scholarship. Today, the practice is witnessed across the architectural spectrum, from starchitects to the most modest community-generated projects. Adaptive reuse is ideologically supported through heritage and carbon reduction campaigning, and is evident in policy and education. In this paper, we critically review the rise of adaptive reuse scholarship and the emergent epistemology it represents, with a focus on the past twenty years and more recent monographs in the field. What we discern in these texts is a recent shift in the debate toward a more theoretical approach to the subject. While the debate on adaptive reuse has been continuously developing since the 1970s, it did so mostly with a focus on mapping and depicting an architectural phenomenon, and identifying tools and strategies to instruct practitioners and designers. However, more recent works on adaptive reuse are increasingly seeking to go beyond a pragmatic and practice-focused approach, and to investigate adaptive reuse in a more conceptual way. In doing so, they might open up the debate to new disciplinary contributions beyond the domain of architecture and design. This paper aims to outline and contribute to this shift.