How farmers “repair” the industrial agricultural system

Matthew Houser, Ryan Gunderson, Diana Stuart, Riva C.H. Denny

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Scholars are increasingly calling for the environmental issues of the industrial agricultural system to be addressed via eventual agroecological system-level transformation. It is critical to identify the barriers to this transition. Drawing from Henke’s (Cultivating science, harvesting power: science and industrial agriculture in California, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2008) theory of “repair,” we explore how farmers participate in the reproduction of the industrial system through “discursive repair,” or arguing for the continuation of the industrial agriculture system. Our empirical case relates to water pollution from nitrogen fertilizer and draws data from a sample of over 150 interviews with row-crop farmers in the midwestern United States. We find that farmers defend this system by denying agriculture’s causal role and proposing the potential for within-system solutions. They perform these defenses by drawing on ideological positions (agrarianism, market-fundamentalism and techno-optimism) and may be ultimately led to seek system maintenance because they are unable to envision an alternative to the industrial agriculture system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)983-997
Number of pages15
JournalAgriculture and Human Values
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020


  • Agriculture
  • Agroecology
  • Ideology
  • Nitrogen
  • Non-point source pollution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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