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Volume 59 / Social Sciences


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

THE ECONOMIC DOWNTURN IN MEXICO has reduced the number of commercial presses that publish in the field of sociology, but this limitation has not hindered the publication of an extremely large number of sociological studies. Because of space limitations, the materials reviewed during this biennium are limited almost exclusively to monographs and edited volumes, and only a few of the hundreds of articles that have appeared. For some time now, edited volumes have become the preferred mode of publication among Mexican sociologists and the practice appears to be on the increase. Because of the absence of profit incentives in the private sector, most volumes are published by state and municipal governments, including public universities, or by agencies of the federal government, and frequently the volumes contain papers read at workshops and conferences.

There are some consequences of publishing through publicly subsidized regional outlets. On the one hand, there are more publications addressing local and regional problems. Therefore, researchers working outside mainstream academic centers have greater access to avenues of publication and useful information is made available on a wide variety of sociological topics and Mexican locales. On the other hand, because these publications are subsidized, there is a tendency to include as many contributions as possible and many volumes appear not to have required a peer-review process; as a result the quality of the publications suffers. The volumes annotated in HLAS 59 frequently include more than 10 reworked conference papers; given the necessarily limited length of HLAS reviews, offering an overview of the materials is challenging.

Rural sociology, one of the mainstays of Mexican sociology, is slowly decreasing in importance. This is in part because Mexico in the second half of the 20th century has become an urban society, and in part because the spirit of the Mexican Revolution, the impetus for agrarian studies in the social sciences, is fading. Yet there continue to be excellent studies of rural communities and agricultural policies. Special attention has been given to the impact of the 1992 agrarian code promoting the privatization of ejidos. Researchers tend to agree that the new code impoverishes the peasantry and favors the middle and large farmers. Examples of excellent rural sociology publications during this biennium are items #bi 98000953# and #bi 99005156#.

It is not an exaggeration to affirm that nearly all Mexican sociologists and US Mexicanists have felt an imperative to interpret the 1992 uprising in Chiapas and the ensuing political conflict involving the Zapatista national liberation movement. As a result, a large number of articles and papers have been written in the last few years discussing the meaning, social foundations, political ideology, and future of the movement. Interpretations are as varied as they are bountiful, but most authors are critical of the way federal and state governments have handled the events, and they blame corrupt officials and capitalism for the exploitation of the indigenous peoples and the widespread poverty in a region that is endowed with abundant natural resources.

The deterioration of the economy that began in the early 1980s continued during the 1990s with no end in sight. Sociologists have examined in great detail the causes, social and political consequences, and solutions advanced by the government, as well as the remedies imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to heal the Mexican economy and modernize the country. The amount of information gathered is impressive and the verdict unanimous: the World Bank's recipe for modernizing Mexico—and the rest of the third world, namely decentralizing, privatizing, and downsizing the public sector; increasing labor flexibility; devaluing the currency; increasing exports; and reducing public subsidies—is one of the causes of the country's economic deterioration. In addition, the World Bank's program has increased income disparity, disproportionately benefitted global corporations, increased unemployment and underemployment, impacted negatively on the nutritional and health status of the population, and worsened the quality of life of a large majority. Solid research on the impact of the World Bank's policies includes items #bi 98011538#, and #bi 98001084# .

Solidaridad (PRONASOL), the focus of several studies reviewed here, was the most heralded integrated program of the Salinas administration (1988–94) to palliate the negative effects of the economic recession. Few deny that Solidaridad had some very beneficial outcomes, but independent researchers agree that it did not have a lasting impact and that it was used as much for the political benefit of the providers as for the recipients. Ironically, while the overt policy of the government was decentralization, Solidaridad promoted centralization by concentrating power in the hands of Salinas and his immediate collaborators. Excellent insights on Solidaridad and other poverty reduction programs can be found in items #bi 98001090# and #bi 98000960#.

Quantitatively, the study of gender has become the most important sociology speciality in Mexico, second only to political sociology. Many of the sociologists who study gender combine their research on women with another specialty, such as criminology, reproductive behavior, political sociology, labor force, or the family. The result of combining gender and other specialities is not only the strengthening of gender studies, but the development of other fields that until recently were of little concern to Mexican sociologists. For example, violence has become the most pressing social problem in Mexico today, but until recently the study of crime and the criminal justice system did not attract the interest of Mexican sociologists. It was only in the last biennium that the study of crime began to receive some attention, and the trend has intensified during this biennium. Excellent examples of this trend are works by Azaola Garrido, which examine gender and the criminal justice system (items #bi 98000970# and #bi 98000984#), as does the collection of articles edited by Martinez de Castro (item #bi 99000673#).

Political sociology continues to be the bulwark of Mexican sociology and there is high quality research on social movements, labor unions, interest groups, and political behavior. Excellent examples of this work include items #bi 98011534# and #bi 98011544#. During this biennium there has been a special emphasis on the analysis and interpretation of the political transformation and democratization that is taking place slowly in Mexico. The series El Debate Nacional provides an outstanding summary of the changes occurring in the country, and is obligatory reading for those interested in updating their knowledge of the Mexican political system (see items #bi 98013819# and #bi 99000671#). Finally, it is of interest that the theme of human rights is beginning to be approached from a political sociology perspective.

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