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Loss and social-ecological transformation: pathways of change in Xochimilco, Mexico

Hallie Eakin, School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona
Rebecca E. Shelton, School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona
J. Mario Siqueiros-Garcia, Instituto de Investigaciones en Matemáticas Aplicadas y en Sistemas (IIMAS), Unidad Mérida, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Yucatán, México
Lakshmi Charli-Joseph, Laboratorio Nacional de Ciencias de la Sostenibilidad (LANCIS), Instituto de Ecología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad de México, México
David Manuel-Navarrete, School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona


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We explore how loss of livelihood, loss of ecological function, and loss of group identity are linked in the process of social-ecological change through the narratives of stakeholders associated with the wetland of Xochimilco in Mexico City. Drawing from interviews, focus groups, and participatory workshops with a variety of residents and city administrators, we analyze narratives about what is valued, what is problematized, and what social and ecological relationships appear as critical from the perspective of contemporary residents and officials. Loss is prominent in these narratives, capturing the interdependence of ecology, identity, meaning, and livelihood for the inhabitants. We trace these narratives to the historical roots of center-periphery politics of land and water use, situating the current dynamic context within the social-ecological system’s long pathway of change. Diffuse blame for social-ecological change expressed in the narratives appears to inhibit collective action, as does a conflicted history of local response to the city’s control of resources. We posit that finding a sustainable pathway forward may depend in part on how residents are able to cognitively or emotionally accommodate landscape change while still enabling the values they have come to associate with the landscape. Such accommodation may entail accepting some degree of loss in system function and structure, but this loss may also provide opportunities for new social-ecological relations that enable the persistence of local identity.

Key words

identity; Mexico; sense of place; solastalgia; transformation

Copyright © 2019 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087