Ecological Modernization Theory

Key Challenges to Ecological Modernization Theory: Institutional Efficacy, Case Study Evidence, Units of Analysis, and the Pace of Eco-Efficiency” by Richard York, University of Oregon, and Eugene A. Rosa, Washington State University, currently appears as one of the most frequently cited articles in Organization & Environment, based on citations to online articles from HighWire-hosted articles. Professor York kindly shared his thoughts about the article.

Rosa and I wrote “Key Challenges to Ecological Modernization Theory” to help dispel some of the common myths about solutions to the environmental crisis by sharpening the analytical assessment of theory.

Ecological modernization theory, which had begun to gain prominence in the environmental social sciences by the start of the new century, was an interpretive framework aimed at explaining responses to environmental problems in modernity. By asserting that the institutions of modernity, including science and technology, can solve environmental problems without fundamental social change, ecological modernization theory denied the importance of natural limits on societies and challenged radical approaches to transforming the socio-ecological order.

Our article showed that ecological modernization theory was not built on solid methodological, empirical, or theoretical ground, and, therefore, had failed to support its grand claims. I think this is the basic reason for the success of the article – it unveiled the flaws of a fashionable theory and helped refocus attention on the ecological contradictions of modernity.

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