What's the problem? How 'industrial culture' shapes community responses to proposed bioenergy development in northern Michigan, USA

Weston M. Eaton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Why do two similar places respond to the same renewable energy technology development proposal in contrasting ways - as a problem in one community, and a non-problem in the other? In response to William Freudenburg's call to examine the role of ideologies in the social construction of both environmental problems and non-problems, and drawing from Ann Swidler's concept of cultural resources, this paper develops and applies an integrative framework the author calls industrial culture. The paper examines how industrial cultures - the stories, discourses, orientations, and practices around industrial development and accompanying environmental degradation that are commonplace in particular locales - shape community responses to proposed future development by both constraining and providing opportunities for new trajectories of action. This process is illustrated with a comparative case study of two adjacent and outwardly similar industrialized northern Michigan communities with legacies of environmental degradation that encounter the same bioenergy development proposal but respond in contrasting ways. Findings suggest community residents construct industrial cultures around both a) past industrial development and environmental degradation and b) the imagined future impact bioenergy development would have on the community. The paper extends the literature on environmental non-problems by showing how the social construction of non-problems is driven not only by explicitly articulated ideologies, but also by unquestioned common sense.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-87
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Rural Studies
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science


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