Risk society without reflexive modernization? The case from northwestern Michigan

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Energy infrastructure projects have long been the source of public controversy, whether for economic, environmental, or social reasons. In this paper I examine the controversy surrounding the construction of a wind turbine park near Ludington, in the northwestern part of the U.S. state of Michigan from the perspectives of Beck's 'risk society' thesis and the associated concept of 'reflexive modernization'. Although many energy projects have been evaluated in such terms, the theories are traditionally presented as a single block. In this paper I re-consider the fusion of risk society and reflexive modernization through the analysis of resistance to the wind farm project outlined above. Following Beck et al.'s guidelines, I 'test' for the presence of reflexive modernization, analyzing the case study through a discourse analysis. I determine that while evidence of the 'risk society' thesis abounds, it is not entirely clear that 'reflexive modernization' is occurring. This is due, superficially, to differences in the involved parties' interests in actually changing (and being open to changing) their ontologies, policies, and procedures in response to critique; and, more fundamentally, to the inherent indeterminability of knowledge, or the realpolitik that conflict between competing claims to knowledge can never be resolved to all parties' satisfaction. To that end, I call for the re-isolation of the risk society and reflexive modernization concepts in relation to energy and other infrastructure projects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-195
Number of pages11
JournalTechnology in Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Business and International Management
  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science


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