The role of agency in social tipping processes
Abstract. Positive social tipping processes – nonlinear, transformational change that improves long-term sustainability and well-being of people and planet – have recently witnessed growing interest in socio-ecological research. In addition to structural and systemic changes, shifts in prevailing social norms and worldviews are key for accelerated societal transformation. Enabling conditions include human agency – the capacity or ability to influence the outside world. Drawing on literature from different disciplines, we present an agency in social tipping framework that examines the notion of agency and its determinants, the relationship between individual and collective agency, and how collective agency can trigger social tipping points, potentially leading to large societal transformation. We use the framework and a case study of the shift to plant-based diets to illustrate the role of agency in positive social tipping processes. And finally, we identify and discuss a range of intervention points that might increase perceptions or feelings of both individual and collective agency, potentially overcoming the knowledge-action gap that is preventing large-scale societal action.
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