Loss and social-ecological transformation: Pathways of change in xochimilco, Mexico

Hallie Eakin, Rebecca E. Shelton, J. Mario Siqueiros-Garcia, Lakshmi Charli-Joseph, David Manuel-Navarrete

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number15
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2019


  • Identity
  • Mexico
  • Sense of place
  • Solastalgia
  • Transformation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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