Rethinking political agency: The role of individuals’ engagement, perceptions and trust in transitioning to a low-carbon transport system

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Although there are many technological solutions and policy approaches for transitioning to a fossil-free society, effective action is still lacking. We need a new way to address the issue, one that inspires and attracts the widest possible group of society. Against this background, the aim of this paper is to explore citizens' political agency in influencing transport policy, and the inner and outer factors that encourage or hinder related engagement at individual and collective levels. Based on a national survey in Sweden (N = 1,210) and a mixed-methods approach, our findings show the importance of people's perceived possibilities to influence policy and their trust in authorities when engaging and exercising political agency. They also shed light on the complex, intertwined nature of these three factors (i.e. engagement, perceived influence, trust), and the role that the perceived environmental effectiveness of low-carbon transport options, climate change awareness, sociodemocratic issues, and underlying human inner dimensions play in this context. The findings highlight the role of perceptions and emotions that are engrained at individual, cultural and structural levels. This is key, as one identified obstacle to engagement is the belief that individuals have no influence. With due limitations, our results support calls for an expanded view of political agency that goes beyond political and institutional actors, and recognises each individual's capacity to contribute to transformative change. We conclude that fostering political agency for a low-carbon transport system is a dual process of addressing both structural and personal (capacity) factors to increase individual and collective engagement, enhance perceptions of possibilities to contribute, and address trust-related issues. All of which need to be given greater consideration to transform transport and climate policy more broadly.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Issue number132197
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Aug 1

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)


  • Behaviour change
  • Citizen participation
  • Climate governance
  • Collective agency
  • Individual agency
  • Inner transition


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