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Volume 59 / Social Sciences

SOCIOLOGY: CENTRAL AMERICA


TIMOTHY P. WICKHAM-CROWLEY, Associate Professor of Sociology, Georgetown University


ALTHOUGH NO SINGLE TOPIC captures the diversity of recent writing about Central American sociology, certainly the focal issue for this biennium was the publication of Stoll's critique of the (auto)biography of Rigoberta Menchú (item #bi2002004502#) and the scholarly and political reactions to Stoll, the best exemplar to date being the collection edited by Arias (item #bi2002004501#). Clustered together in these books and other writings are multiple and illuminating controversies over Guatemalan and scholarly politics; research methods in anthropology; issues of objectivity, subjectivity, and simple scholarly accuracy; and discussion of how scholars "should" treat the testimonio genre (as autobiography, literature, or something else) that has become so common, and of which I, Rigoberta Menchú (1984) is the most famous instance. The debate now squarely confirms the obvious: Guatemalanist scholarship on these matters is now much superior to its state before the appearance of Stoll's carefully researched and documented book, a work that prepublication "scholarly" reviewers had blackballed at some presses before it found a publishing venue.

That controversy surely is related to a still-growing literature trying to understand Central America in its postinsurgency period, even if part of Goodwin's No Other Way Out (item #bi2002004500#) provides a powerful analysis of the civil wars themselves. Many scholars have thus devoted themselves to understanding how the end-of-war and war-related events themselves are continuing to influence deeply social life and social movements in the isthmus. Some have focused on the great upsurge in ordinary criminal violence, including homicides, in postwar El Salvador. Others have examined more closely migratory and economic impacts of that period, some of them increasingly looking quite permanent, notably in Belize. The most exceptional look at migration and return is surely Camacho and Aguilar's Memoria de la esperanza on Guatemala (item #bi 99000098#).

Many scholars have focused on women's organizing experiences that carried through or came after the war, with their focus increasingly turning away from the effects of war itself, and notably to those movements concerned with women's formal political participation (or absence thereof), and also attempts to find social space for small but notable lesbian movements in the region. Scholars continue to explore issues yet further afield, including women's labor-force and artisanal experiences in recent years and how they intertwine with women's roles as wives and homemakers (poorly, it seems, from their often unsympathetic spouses' perspectives).

The intersections of gender and sexuality are especially well highlighted when scholars turn their analytical lenses to gays and lesbians in the region, whose experiences are considered in multiple works here, or to subtle interpretations of beauty pageants and ceremonies (items #bi 97015925# and #bi 97015924#). AIDS and its proximate causes continue to attract some analytical attention in three works covering the entire region, Nicaragua, and Honduras. In addition, two forms of sexual crime, male prostitution and incest, are carefully studied in three books on those hitherto understudied topics; as are men's sexual experiences in Central American jails. Men in jail and male prostitution are both treated by Schifter, only two of whose numerous contributions dealing with sexuality and sexual identity are reviewed here (items #bi 00005470# and #bi 98010358#).

Demography and the sociology of religion continue to be areas of mostly traditional and increasingly novel analyses, respectively; yet both types enrich our understanding. A wide array of useful demographic knowledge emerges from one collection in particular, De los mayas a la planificación familiar: demografía del istmo, where multiple contributors tackle a wide array of topics with an even wider wealth of data, including important ecological issues in some cases (item #bi2002004413#). In the sociology of religion, the field has now mostly rid itself of the casual and summary comments encountered previously about evangelicals, CEBs, or "traditional" Catholicism. Instead, every entry selected here focuses upon inter-religious dynamics in villages or nations, or across the region as whole; by so doing, the authors lead us to a better understanding of the complex "religious field" that Central America has become.


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