Responding to Climate Change: Barriers to Reflexive Modernization in U.S. Agriculture

Diana Stuart, Rebecca L. Schewe, Matthew McDermott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


The authors apply Ulrich Beck's theory of reflexive modernization to examine how farmers in the United States perceive and respond to climate change. Using a case study, the authors identify diversions from Beck's original theory and explore the importance of social constructionist and political economy perspectives. The article focuses on corn farmers in southwestern Michigan to examine climate risk recognition and reflexive responses, concentrating on the role of nitrogen fertilizer as a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Results from interviews, focus groups, and a mail survey indicate that dualistic worldviews and exposure to limited and/or biased information can inhibit farmers from acknowledging climate change as a risk. In addition, structural barriers inhibit farmers from reducing nitrogen fertilizer application in response to climate change. These findings offer insights applicable to climate change mitigation efforts and also demonstrate the importance of both social constructionist and political economy perspectives to identify barriers to reflexive modernization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)308-327
Number of pages20
JournalOrganization and Environment
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • agriculture
  • climate change
  • corn production
  • fertilizer
  • political economy
  • reflexive modernization
  • reflexivity
  • risk society
  • social construction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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