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Agency and social-ecological system (SES) pathways: the Transformation Lab in the Xochimilco SES

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Presentation by J. Mario Siqueiros, February 2019, at a STEPS Seminar at the Institute of Development Studies.

More information: https://steps-centre.org/project/pathways-network/

Published in: Environment
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Agency and social-ecological system (SES) pathways: the Transformation Lab in the Xochimilco SES

  1. 1. Agency and social-ecological system (SES) pathways: The Transformation Lab in the Xochimilco SES J. Mario Siqueiros Lakshmi Charli-Joseph; Hallie Eakin; Rebecca Shelton; Beatriz Ruizpalacios; David Manuel-Navarrete
  2. 2. Xochi team Azael,Flora, Ana Bertha, Rubén, Uriel, Sara, Enrique, Laura, Darío, Federico, Paty
  3. 3. The central idea ● We argue that the cause of the sense of despair, anxiety and indifference among Xochimilco’s inhabitants is the loss of a life- world due to social and ecological degradation. ● At its core, the loss of life-worlds in Xochimilco is related to a system level depletion of the opportunities for people to relate meaningfully to others and to the environment: i.e. loss of agency. We believe that there is a set of reasons behind this loss, all of them related to a systemic process of alienation from the place and from the inhabitants own agency. ● A life-world may not be recovered or restored but new possible and desirable life-worlds can be imagined, aimed and enacted. From a 4E and phenomenological perspective, we suggest that this can be done, as we implemented it in a T-Lab, by recovering agency through finding new effective ways to connect habits and skills with social-ecological features.
  4. 4. Theme ● We argue that the loss of a life-world due to social and ecological degradation is the cause of the sense of despair, anxiety and indifference among Xochimilco’s inhabitants. ● At its core, the loss of life-worlds in Xochimilco is related to a system level depletion of the opportunities for people to relate meaningfully to others and to the environment: i.e. loss of agency. We believe that there is a set of reasons behind this loss, all of them related to a systemic process of alienation from the place and of the inhabitants own agency. ● A life-world may not be recovered or restored but new possible and desirable life-worlds can be imagined, aimed and enacted. From a 4E and phenomenological perspective, we suggest that this can be done, as we implemented it in a T-Lab, by recovering agency through finding new effective ways to connect habits and skills with social-ecological features.
  5. 5. Theme ● We argue that the loss of a life-world due to social and ecological degradation is the cause of the sense of despair, anxiety and indifference among Xochimilco’s inhabitants. ● At its core, the loss of life-worlds in Xochimilco is related to a system level depletion of the opportunities for people to relate meaningfully to others and to the environment: i.e. loss of agency. We believe that there is a set of reasons behind this loss, all of them related to a systemic process of alienation from the place and from the inhabitants own agency. ● A life-world may not be recovered or restored but new possible and desirable life-worlds can be imagined, aimed and enacted. We suggest that this can be done, as we implemented it in a T-Lab, by recovering agency through finding new effective ways to connect habits and skills with social-ecological features.
  6. 6. Summary 1. Is Capitalism, the only game in town? 2. Theoretical background 3.T-Lab 4. Xochimilco’s critical case of Solastalgia 5. T-Lab: reframing the system and reframing agency 6. Conclusions
  7. 7. Capitalism, the only game in town ● Capitalist realism – There is no alternative to capitalism – Capitalism is more a political project than an economic one By MACBA CC BY-SA 2.0 https://bit.ly/2Sz4D7E
  8. 8. Capitalism, the only game in town Neoliberalism has pushed towards the idea that there is no other option but Capitalism, and that everything is fix and given.
  9. 9. Capitalism, the only game in town ● Neoliberal agenda: – Annihilation of consciousness: ● Class consciousness ● Psychedelic consciousness
  10. 10. Capitalism, the only game in town Psychedelic consciousness: Reality is malleable, that actually nothing is given and we can transform it. Colin Hoskins/Stockimo/Alamy https://ind.pn/2HYIJXd Daniel Kramer 1964 https://goo.gl/8SqaCB
  11. 11. Capitalism, the only game in town Darwin C. (1837) First Notebook on Transmutation of Species ● The notion of ‘psychedelic consciousness’ appeals immediately to agency. It appeals to the fact that we can conceive the set of possible transformations, so to speak, the possible pathways to choose from. Moreover, that, we as agents can transform the human or the social- ecological realm.
  12. 12. Theoretical Background How can these ideas be made operative in order to analyse the situation of the people of Xochimilco?
  13. 13. Theoretical Background ● Phenomenology ● 4E approach to cognition – Embodied, embedded, extended, enactive.
  14. 14. Theoretical Background Why phenomenology and a cognitive approach?
  15. 15. Theoretical Background Cognition: it is about how an organism gets engaged with the environment (Clark 2003) Phenomenology and the 4E approach are about the relationship between an individual and its environment –specially from the first person perspective.
  16. 16. Theoretical Background ● Three concepts: – Agent-Environment System – Life-world – Habits – Skills
  17. 17. Theoretical Background ● Agents and the environment form a single dynamical system. ● Such systems form a Life-world (Husserl 1970; Schütz; Ihde 1990; Ingold 2000): the world that is meaningfully experienced by an agent and its community.
  18. 18. Theoretical Background ● The connection between agents and the world has two important interdependent components: – Affordances (Gibson, 1979; Chemero 2003, 2013) – Habits (Barandiaran & DiPaolo 2014)
  19. 19. Theoretical Background ● Affordances are meaningful features of whole situations in which an agent is engaged. – Affordances are meaningful because they emerge from a history of interactions over which the agent has developed skills to perceive and act. – The execution of these skills are meaningful when they produce changes in the environment that make sense to the agent.
  20. 20. Theoretical Background Habits (skills bundle together): – We often do one thing in mostly the same way, that actually is a display of many interrelated skills. – Social and cultural habits are socially transmitted and learnt and we have many institutions devoted to that purpose. – Habits, also bundle together to form a Life- world.
  21. 21. Theoretical Background ● Agency: – Agency is an emergent property of an individual and an environment. – An agent is an individual who can display or enact its habits effectively and in a meaningful way for itself in relationship with an environment. – Agents display “regional identities” or, in terms of Pierre Bourdieu, agents are defined according to their field of action. Someone can be a farmer, an academic and an gender rights activist and for each of these -there is a set of habits.
  22. 22. T-Lab:Transformation Laboratory Xochimilco by Federico Contreras, T-Lab participant
  23. 23. T-Lab:Transformation Laboratory ● Fundamental role of agency in transformation processes ● How to create spaces that foster transformation ● Criteria and methods that contribute to how to identify, build, and measure agency ● Re-conceptualizing the way of relating in socio-ecological systems (e.g. Mezirow 2000, Scott 2003) ● T-labs –Dominant domain to be challenged; Diverse perspectives that see the problem in a different way; Agency, institutional context to act, partnerships; Window of opportunity; Social-ecological component
  24. 24. T-Lab:Transformation Laboratory ● Research question: – How can theory on transformation be operationalized through transdisciplinary interventions designed to foster collective agency? ● Hypothesis: – By creating a space where processes of re-framing the system, reflecting on the individual and group capacities take place and creating relationships based on trust –meaningful social relationships. ● Objective: – To explore the conditions favourable for the emergence of individual and collective agency to address a wicked sustainability challenge.
  25. 25. T-Lab:Transformation Laboratory ● Participants: – Farmers -Chinamperos – Urban irregular settlers – Academics
  26. 26. T-Lab:Transformation Laboratory
  27. 27. T-Lab:Transformation Laboratory Total surface area: 118 km2 (8 % of the total Mexico City area)
  28. 28. T-Lab:Transformation Laboratory ● Since pre-hispanic times, Xochimilco has supplied food & water ● Rapid desiccation in 20th century ● 1950 all water artificially supplied from treated wastewater ● Recognition - importance of wetlands in sustainable city functioning: Flood regulations, livelihoods, ecosystem services in general. ● Considered one of the most diverse and productive agricultural systems known to date.
  29. 29. T-Lab:Transformation Laboratory Urban sprawl 1950-2000
  30. 30. T-Lab:Transformation Laboratory ● Area: 12,517.8 ha. 20% is urban soil and 80% soil of conservation (21.3% is the Natural Protected Area; 58.3% is conservation land, including rural communities). ● Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site - 1987 ● Ramsar site no. 1363 “Sistema lacustre ejidos de Xochimilco y San Gregorio Atlapulco” - 2004 ● Natural Protected Area (Área Natural Protegida con carácter de Zona de Conservación Ecológica “Ejidos de Xochimilco y San Gregorio Atlapulco”) - 2006
  31. 31. Xochimilco’s critical case of solastalgia and sense of loss ● The loss of the ecosystem, farming traditional practices, and the aesthetics of Xochimilco were themes always present during our T-Lab. ● To some extent, this sense of loss was also shared by urban settlers. Ovaciones, April 14, 2018 https://goo.gl/WnjVb3
  32. 32. Xochimilco’s critical case of solastalgia and sense of loss ● 3 values: – Self-sufficiency – Identity – Landscape aesthetics Photos by Marisa Mazari
  33. 33. Xochimilco’s critical case of solastalgia and sense of loss ● Participants relate the loss of these aspects: – Low self-esteem – Depression – Alcoholism – Anxiety
  34. 34. Xochimilco’s critical case of solastalgia and sense of loss ● Our argument is that the experience referred by the participants in the T-Lab is linked to 2 factors: – Alienation from the place. – Alienation from their own agency.
  35. 35. Xochimilco’s critical case of solastalgia and sense of loss ● Our argument is that the experience referred by the participants in the T-Lab is linked to 2 factors: – Alienation from the place. – Alienation from their own agency.
  36. 36. Xochimilco’s critical case of solastalgia and sense of loss ● Alienation from the place due to top-down policies: – The place has systematically been taken away from its inhabitants. – Historically Xochimilco has been subjected to Mexico City: Food and Water but for some time there was enough for everybody. – Population has never been part of urban planning and development. – Tourism is an extraneous force that inhabitants cannot control. – Many ecological projects have been implemented despite residents and farmers. E.g. introduction of carp fish.
  37. 37. Xochimilco’s critical case of solastalgia and sense of loss ● Alienation from the place due to top-down policies: – People is simply not part of the plan of the region, either they were not part of the planning process. – Neither they are part of the future of the place. – The place do not belong to them.
  38. 38. Xochimilco’s critical case of solastalgia and sense of loss ● Alienation from their own agency: – Events at different scales: ● The implementation of policies – i.e, introduction of carp fish; ● Practices and use of the place at regional scale – i.e. using the wet land as a deposit for construction debris; ● Immigration and irregular urbanization – Wastewater in the channels ● Intensive farming – Use of pesticides and agrochemicals
  39. 39. Xochimilco’s critical case of solastalgia and sense of loss ● Alienation from their own agency: – Stakeholders identify the causal factors of Xochimilco as exogenous, although they cannot pinpoint exactly what or who are those causes. – Agency drive that is changing Xochimilco is somewhere else but in themselves. – Power structures and the current socio-economic and political system seems to be acting and reaffirming this situation all the time. – The sense of loss and despair, as well as the sense of lack of agency, is caused by a constant process of alienation.
  40. 40. Xochimilco’s critical case of solastalgia and sense of loss ● The reasons behind: – Xochimilco’s degradation is a wicked problem, there is simply no unique cause behind it. – Degradation is systemic and it happens at every possible level: ● It is cause by the construction industry and its alliances with the organized crime, ● It is degraded by the absence of Law enforcement due to political reasons, and ● It is also degraded by the chinamperos non-sustainable practices or irregular settlers throwing wastewater to the channels.
  41. 41. Xochimilco’s critical case of solastalgia and sense of loss ● The reason behind: – From our phenomenological and 4E perspective degradation of the environment has two important implications: ● Traditional” affordances are disappearing, that is, that the opportunities for action that emerge from the interaction between an agent skills and habits and the properties of the environment have started fading away. ● Affordances disappear because the properties of the environment are constantly degraded. ● E.g., agrochemical pollution in the water in the channels may pollute the soil of chinampas preventing from certain traditional farming practices to be executed
  42. 42. Xochimilco’s critical case of solastalgia and sense of loss ● The reason behind: – If environmental features disappear, then affordances fade away and psychological and socio-cultural skills and habits are irrelevant and ineffective.
  43. 43. Xochimilco’s critical case of solastalgia and sense of loss If affordances are not there to allow habits to be enacted, the relationship with the environment becomes meaningless: i.e., nothing that I do, turns in the way I expect and in the way that I was taught.
  44. 44. Xochimilco’s critical case of solastalgia and sense of loss The degradation of the environment, the disappearing of affordances, and the irrelevance of skills and habits represent the end of a life- world and the alienation of our own agency.
  45. 45. T-Lab Mark Fisher argued that the capitalist system works to naturalise itself as the only way to go. Moreover, “its ideological purpose is to forestall any imagination of a different future . . .” (Meagan Day 2018).
  46. 46. Xochimilco’s critical case of solastalgia and sense of loss When the links get broken (affordances), and when most or all links are broken, there is no other way than to think that the way things are, are meant to be that way: There are no pathways! The individual has been alienated from its own agency.
  47. 47. Xochimilco’s critical case of solastalgia and sense of loss ● Examples: – Nothing new has been tried since the 1970’s. – There are many groups working in the area with minimal impact –on the rural or the urban repeating the same formula over and over again-. – Many work locally but are affected globally. – Beliefs mismatch with actions.
  48. 48. T-Lab ● In retrospective: – By reframing the system and agency we tried to: ● Identify new or previously not seen contexts with affordances that would allow skills and habits to be enacted – And by doing this, ● Re-allocating agency back to it the participants as well as to reconnect with the environment meaningfully.
  49. 49. T-Lab ● This implied the use of different methods. – These tools supported re-framing as well as processes of reflexivity
  50. 50. T-Lab ● Results – Co-created interest in “building bridges” by recognizing that there is shared socio-ecological 'destiny'. – Engagement for a new collaborative project among core participants based on the idea of exploring new pedagogy aiming at creating bridges and community between the two worlds, with water as the connector.
  51. 51. T-Lab ● Insights – Reframing ● Agency re-allocation (from exo to endo). ● Problem domain: shift in discourse/narrative - more systemic, affective view/understanding, owning the problem domain. – New reciprocal empathy among chinamperos and urban residents towards both sides precarious life. – New connections and collaboration among participants. – The participant’s realisation that T-Lab was a space of experimentation and for the construction of social fabric.
  52. 52. Conclusions ● The sense of loss and despair result from not being able to connect effectively with the environment. ● Missing affordances that support a Life-world may lead to a feeling of being trapped. ● T-Lab may have contributed to the identification of new affordances that would open-up possible pathways of action for some people of Xochimilco.
  53. 53. Thank you! Email: jmario.siqueiros@iimas.unam.mx Twitter: @jmsiqueiros

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