Enabling collective agency for sustainability transformations through reframing in the Xochimilco social–ecological system

Lakshmi Charli-Joseph, Jesús Mario Siqueiros-García, Hallie Eakin, David Manuel-Navarrete, Marisa Mazari-Hiriart, Rebecca Shelton, Patricia Pérez-Belmont, Beatriz Ruizpalacios

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Collective agency, the capacity of individuals to mobilise according to shared goals, is crucial for social–ecological transformation. However, in stagnant situations, where individuals in a social–ecological system tend to resist transformation due to interests in the status quo, the emergence of collective agency faces numerous barriers. This research asks how to design and implement spaces and methodologies that help to address such barriers. We posit that these spaces and methodologies ought to facilitate processes to reframe shared perceptions of social–ecological situations through: (1) questioning dominant narratives about a situation, (2) building capacities to reframe the situation, and (3) enacting new compelling narratives that support the group’s transformative agency. Our research shows that building a strong bond among participants is key but requires reframing tools that are infrequently used in academically driven participatory research; in particular, tools for reflexivity together with creating safe-enough spaces where participants can be truly open. Reflexivity and openness are conditions for allowing deep transformations of meanings, fostering new collaborations and promoting agency towards novel pathways forward. Through convening diverse social actors—from local farmers, residents in irregular settlements, governmental and non-governmental organisations, to academics—our 2.5-year “Transformation Laboratory” (T-Lab) showed the effectiveness of experiencing reflexive reframing tools to transform both perceived situations, and the participants' agency (i.e., the meanings and values of their role, capacities, and interests) concerning the situation. Our results support the importance of reframing in building collective agency for transformations. Throughout the process, participants deconstructed their narratives, constructed new ones, and enacted them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1215-1233
Number of pages19
JournalSustainability Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2023


  • Collective agency
  • Narratives
  • Reframing
  • Social–ecological system
  • Transformations
  • Xochimilco

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Health(social science)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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