Farmers’ Perceptions of Climate Change in Context: Toward a Political Economy of Relevance

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Sociologists commonly hypothesise that experiencing the impacts of climate change will lead actors, including farmers, to desire to address climate change. It is increasingly clear that farmers can detect the regional biophysical expressions and impacts of climate change. However, this has not led farmers to desire to take action on climate change. This begs the question: how then are farmers interpreting these experiences? We argue that political-economic context, the structural conditions of capitalist production, contributes to how farmers perceive and understand the impacts of climate change. We draw from our novel political economy of relevance theoretical framework and apply this framework to a sample of over 100 qualitative interviews with Iowa and Indiana row-crop farmers. We focus on their experiences with heavy rain events, a key impact of climate change in the Midwest. Our findings suggest that farmers become aware of, interpret and respond to heavy rain events within the context of capitalist production. This leads most farmers to see heavy rain events as barriers to achieving capitalist goals, rather than as signals of the reconsider climate scepticism or the need to mitigate contributions to climate change.




Houser, M., Gunderson, R., & Stuart, D. (2019). Farmers’ Perceptions of Climate Change in Context: Toward a Political Economy of Relevance. Sociologia Ruralis, 59(4), 789–809.

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