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Volume 51 / Social Sciences


ANTONIO UGALDE, Professor of Sociology, University of Texas, Austin

ONE TOPIC WHICH IS BEGINNING to attract the interest of sociologists in the region is the condition of women in the labor force and their position in the family. The exploitation of women is well documented in the many articles annotated below: females receive lower pay than their male counterparts, their employment is frequently temporary, they are seldom given decision-making authority, and enjoy few training and promotion opportunities. In rural areas women are asked to assist in agricultural activities during critical moments, but men do not reciprocate by lending a helping hand in household chores at times of need. Apparently, the traditional division of labor between the sexes is easily disregarded when those in need of help are men who under no circumstances will carry out activities traditionally assigned to women. A useful work that addresses this issue is the study by Arizpe and Botey (item bi 91002221). Also, authors who have researched the condition of women in Nicaragua (items bi 91003000, and bi 88003245) agree that the revolution accomplished much in incorporating women into the labor force, but not enough to eradicate the machismo and sense of superiority that is pervasive among men in the labor force.

Within the field of political sociology - which continues to dominate the discipline - there are important contributions in several subspecialties which should be singled out. One of them is voting behavior. There are several studies which analyze the last decade's electoral reforms in Mexico and their impact on returns. The work by Zepeda Patterson on the 1985 federal election (item bi 91002904) provides a useful background to Mexico's tortuous political transformation and to the 1988 crisis.

A second area of interest within the field of political sociology is the study of private and public institutions. Here we should mention as particularly relevant Piñeyro's work on the Mexican army (item bi 88002765); Arredondo's insightful study of mass media oligopolies (item bi 88002789); Saragoza's careful analysis of the Monterrey elite (item bi 91002875); and an outstanding exposé of pharmaceutical industries in Mexico written by Brudon, a Swiss pharmacist, who approaches the study from a sociological perspective (item bi 91002400).

A third leading concern in political sociology of the region is the problem of power relations in rural areas and the political dimensions of development in these areas. In the past, Mexican and Central American sociologists have devoted more energy and time to the study of the exploitation of the peasantry than to the urban proletariat. This tradition continues in spite of the fact that the percentage of rural population continues to decline rapidly in this region.

Many excellent articles and monographs annotated below address different aspects of these rural problems. Overall, however, their authors agree that: 1) the modernization of agriculture is transforming the peasant into a proletarian worker whose continued presence can be guaranteed only by supplementing his income with temporary migrant labor and/or the non-agricultural employment of other members of the family - Bartra and Otero provide a useful historical evaluation of these changes in Mexico (item bi 91002237); 2) there is complicity between the State and its institutions (including rural development banks) in creating this situation, a fact which is well illustrated by Achío Tacsan in his study of the sugar industry in Costa Rica (item bi 88002748) as well as by Pucciarelly (item bi 91002872) and Rello (item bi 88002752) in their works on Mexico; and 3) the dominant classes are displacing peasants from their land and their traditional crops while introducing more and more cash crops for exports, often with US foreign assistance, a point particularly well documented by Boyer's research in Honduras (item bi 91002959). In sum, the modernization and capitalization of agriculture has impoverished Mexican and Central American peasants. While more food is being produced in these areas there is, paradoxically, concomitant hunger spreading throughout them. Barkin's and Suárez's El fin de la auto-suficiencia alimentaria (item bi 91002238) is a landmark work that addresses many of these issues.

In the mid 1980s the UN supported several regional symposia for the purpose of analyzing social movements. The proceedings of these meetings have been published (items bi 88002769, bi 91002871, and HLAS 49:6128) and they make an important contribution to the literature on social movements. In addition to the latter, the works by Paré (item bi 91002813) and Wellinga (item bi 91002903) on rural and urban movements respectively are particulary illuminating.

As is well known, in 1985 Mexico City suffered a devastating earthquake. Within days, sociologists developed a battery of survey instruments and applied them to a large sample of victims of the disaster (item bi 91002873). Several articles based on that data were published. This effort has given us a more accurate knowledge of the social dimensions of the tragedy, and, as Massolo (item bi 91002422) explains in detail, of the incompetent response of PRI leaders and bureaucrats. This almost instant research undertaken by Mexican sociologists on the aftermath of the earthquake is exemplary. Perhaps this valuable experience could serve as the foundation for a Latin American sociology of natural disasters and hopefully, prevent similar mismanagement of future relief efforts. It should be kept in mind that almost every year in Latin America floods, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, and earthquakes take an enormous human toll and leave behind hundreds of thousands of victims, most of them homeless, impoverished and severely affected by trauma.

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