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Volume 61 / Social Sciences

SOCIOLOGY: MEXICO


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


THE INTEREST IN GENDER STUDIES noted in the last biennium continues on an even greater scale in the works reviewed for HLAS 61. This trend is hardly surprising, given that the majority of sociologists currently working in Mexico are women, and that historically the study of social conditions of women had been neglected, leaving a gap to be filled in the literature. Almost a third of the entries reviewed in this chapter are monographic studies on gender or include chapters on the subject. The study of women touches many fields including migration, violence, labor, social movements, political participation, and, in this biennium, there is a relatively large number of writings on the social conditions of rural women.

In the case of migration and gender, when the focus of the study is the push and pull factors or the study of sociodemographic variables, researchers approach the topic with questions similar to those that have been used in studies of male migration. However, when the study is focused on the consequences of male migration, a gender approach adds new dimensions; these researchers are interested in the adjustments made by the frequently female-headed household left behind. These researchers explore new familial roles, the impact of the changes on gender relations, and the impact on women's self-perceptions and sexuality. Excellent insights into some of these issues can be found in studies by Barrera Bassols and Oehmichen Bazan (item #bi2002001755#) and Poggio (item #bi2002001690#).

For the large majority of the Mexican population, economic improvements have not materialized during the past two decades; instead, the downtrend of the early 1980s continues unrelentingly. Today, Mexican workers' real income is less than what it was a quarter of a century ago, and the income disparities between the higher and lower deciles continue to grow. The number of people living in extreme poverty increased from 17 to 26 million between 1993 and 1998. In order to survive, women in poor families must work outside the household.

The conditions in the countryside are even worse, and the literature of this biennium documents two simultaneously occurring phenomena: more and more rural male dwellers are forced to migrate to look for work outside their communities; in order to survive, more and more rural women either take over the subsistence agricultural work or migrate themselves in search of seasonal agricultural labor or jobs in the urban services sector. This transformation of the agricultural labor force has been characterized as the feminization of agriculture. The roles of women in a household change when they join the labor force, and the changes have an impact on gender relations. Several books studied these phenomena; the volume edited by Artís (item #bi2002001700#) and the monograph by Marroni de Velázquez (item #bi2002001751#) both make strong contributions to these subjects.

Neoliberal policies imposed by the World Bank and adapted by the Mexican government include downsizing of the federal government, decentralization and the New Federalism, municipalization, and the privatization of ejido lands and the termination of support policies for subsistence agriculture and small farmers. Many sociologists continue to analyze the consequences of the new policies. According to recent studies, the reforms have increased poverty and widened the gap between the rich and the poor, and are responsible for the deterioration of the agricultural sector. Excellent studies that document the impact of federal policies are those by Alemán (item #bi2001002345#), Fundación Arturo Rosenblueth (item #bi2001002354#), Oehmichen Bazan (item #bi2001002350#), and Velázques García (item #bi2002001695#).

Mexican sociologists, critical of the almost exclusive primacy that the neoliberal policies give to economic growth at the expense of equity and the well being of the majority, have documented how these policies can lead to the destruction of cultural values and traditions. Sociologists are also critical of new programs such as PROGRESA funded by a World Bank loan to provide a safety net for the poor. For insightful articles on PROGRESA, see the book edited by Gómez de León et al. (item #bi2001002316#). A good discussion of neoliberal policies is presented in the volume edited by Cordera and Ziccardi (item #bi2002001691#).

Globalization and its impact on society are explored in a variety of works. Collections of articles on migration, social problems, social change, transformation of the labor force, gender, and social policies frequently include one or several articles that analyze the subject from a globalization perspective. Studies of the agricultural sector and of equity most often tend to analyze the topics from a globalization perspective. Many of these articles make a solid contribution to the worldwide literature on globalization.

Research carried out during this biennium suggests that NAFTA is responsible for escalating Mexican rural poverty and Mexico's food dependence on US imports. Some researchers have expressed fears that this dependence will lead to a lack of food security in a not too distant future. On this topic the papers collected by Gómez Cruz and Schwentesious Rindermann can be recommended (item #bi2002004889#).

Sociologists and farmers in Mexico have been aware that the large public subsidies that the US agricultural sector receives from the US federal government have contributed to the lack of competitiveness of Mexico's agriculture. Scholars have labeled the unfair practice "competencia desleal." In January 2003, NAFTA liberalized food trade. In view of the negative impact that NAFTA had on Mexican small farmers and subsistence agriculture even before the liberalization of agricultural trade, it can be expected that in the coming years conditions will become even more critical for Mexican rural dwellers. If the readings of this biennium are an indication, we could expect mounting social problems and political instability in the already volatile agricultural sector. To understand from a historical perspective some of the forthcoming problems in rural Mexico, see Warman's 20th-century history of agricultural policies, politics, and social movements (item #bi2002004290#) and the collection of articles by Zendejas and de Vries (item #bi2002004285#).

While there are fewer publications on the Chiapas conflict than in the past, sociologists continue to express an interest in the region. One noticeable shift is a more critical attitude towards the Zapatista movement. Some authors accuse the movement of creating internal conflicts within the indigenous population and of taking an authoritarian stance. For an excellent book on the complexities of Chiapas, the reader is directed to the work of Legorreta Díaz (item #bi2002001693#).

A final observation needs to be made. In the field of Mexican sociology, the absence of US scholars is very noticeable. Given the geographical proximity and ever-increasing interactions between the two nations, particularly through commerce and migration, more collaboration between sociologists of the two countries and some independent research by US scholars would be expected. Unfortunately, this is not the case. One noticeable exception is the outstanding monograph on alcoholism recovery by Brandes (item #bi2002002764#).


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