Climate change, financial shocks, and fluctuations in international trade are some of the reasons why resilience is increasingly invoked in discussions about land-use policy. However, resilience assessments come with the challenge of operationalization, upscaling their conclusions while considering the context-specific nature of land-use dynamics and the common lack of long-term data. We revisit the approach of system archetypes for identifying resilience surrogates and apply it to land-use systems using seven case studies spread across Latin America. The approach relies on expert knowledge and literature-based characterizations of key processes and patterns of land-use change synthesized in a data template. These narrative accounts are then used to guide development of causal networks, from which potential surrogates for resilience are identified. This initial test of the method shows that deforestation, international trade, technological improvements, and conservation initiatives are key drivers of land-use change, and that rural migration, leasing and land pricing, conflicts in property rights, and international spillovers are common causal pathways that underlie land-use transitions. Our study demonstrates how archetypes can help to differentiate what is generic from context dependant. They help identify common causal pathways and leverage points across cases to further elucidate how policies work and where, as well as what policy lessons might transfer across heterogeneous settings.