Environmental cognitions mediate the causal explanation of land change
Causal explanations of land change are fundamental in land system science, yet existing findings are difficult to synthesize due to the imprecise terminology and the various analytical frameworks they have applied. This paper compares three existing conceptual frameworks, in terms of underlying driving forces and proximate causes, actors, and environmental cognitions, by aligning the relevant elements into a causal chain. We find that the elicitation of environmental cognitions helps in providing a detailed description of this causal chain. By synthesizing case study evidence on agricultural land change into the generalized causal chain, we find that the effects of underlying driving forces on land change have been substantially mediated by environmental cognitions. Operationalizing environmental cognitions requires more efforts than regular actor-based studies, but a proper understanding of its mediating role should be accounted for in local scale studies and is essential for human-centred policy design.