Reconciling agency and structure in empirical analysis: Smallholder land use in the Southern Yucatán, Mexico

Roy Rinku Chowdhury, B. L. Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

114 Scopus citations


The agent-structure binary in human-environment relations has historically ascribed primacy to either decision-making agents or political-economic structures as the anthropogenic force driving landscape change. This binary has, in part, separated cultural and political ecology, despite important research weaving structure and agency in each of these and related subfields. The implications of approaching explanations of land use using this binary are illustrated systematically, drawing from empirical research on smallholder land use in the southern Yucatán of Mexico, a development frontier and environmental conservation region. The land-use strategies of mixed subsistence-market smallholder cultivators are explored through agent, structure, and integrated agent-structure models addressing parcel allocations to a suite of regionally evolving and/or extant land uses. The models are compared to illustrate what understanding is missed by a focus on either approach alone and what is gained by joining them. Results suggest that focusing on structure or agency alone may lead to inadequate and even erroneous characterizations of the variables that are of interest to the chosen approach. A sectorally disaggregated approach can identify suites of factors that drive particular land uses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)302-322
Number of pages21
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Cultural and political ecology
  • Land use
  • Land-change science
  • Mexico
  • Regression models

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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