Nitrogen Fertilizer Dependency and Its Contradictions: A Theoretical Exploration of Social-Ecological Metabolism*


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    The author wishes to thank Richard York, Brett Clark, Rebecca Clausen, Genevieve Bannie, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments in the development of this paper.

Department of Sociology, 1291 University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon 97403; Email:


Abstract  The global agro-food system relies heavily on inorganic nitrogenous fertilizers. In addition to consuming enormous amounts of energy, this manufactured input contributes to the accumulation of reactive nitrogen in the biosphere and undermines the biological basis of agricultural production itself. While technological inefficiency and population may play a role in the phenomenon of global nitrogen accumulation, the social structural features of industrial agriculture must also be examined. The concept of social-ecological metabolism provides an important and needed conceptual framework for engaging global food security issues.