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Volume 61 / Social Sciences

SOCIOLOGY: ECUADOR


WILLIAM F. WATERS, Senior Associate, Center for Global Health, and Associate Professor, Department of Global Health, The George Washington University


THREE TRENDS CAN BE NOTED in sociological research on Ecuadorian themes during this period. First, continued interest in traditional areas of inquiry such as poverty, rural development, ethnicity, and gender produced significant advances. Second, work on the impact of globalization at the local, regional, and national levels contributed to important international debates. Third, analyses of social movements and sociopolitical change reflected dramatic social, political, and economic change in Ecuador.

Gender, ethnicity, poverty, and inequality have long been topics of great interest. Recent contributions in these areas advanced our understanding substantially. Most notable is the work on Afro-Ecuadorian identity, seen from the perspective of rural-urban migration, relations with the mestizo majority, gender, and racism. Several authors show that racism against blacks is systematic and ingrained in Ecuadorian society, but is poorly understood and scarcely acknowledged (items #bi2004000802# and #bi 00006863#). Other groups are now being addressed; for example, Roberts' work shows how the contemporary role of Ecuadorians of Middle Eastern origin is based on family structure and participation in social, political, and economic institutions (item #bi2004000234#).

Gender analysis, always a strength, has taken several new turns. Traditional approaches to gender relations in the economic and political spheres argue that forms of participation in what have been thought of as male domains affect rural society in general and the implementation of rural development projects in particular (item #bi2002002188#). Two newer approaches have emerged. Methodologically, sophisticated statistical techniques were used to study education, employment, and wage discrimination. Conceptually, there was increased interest in masculine identity, as exemplified by the cited work edited by Andrade and Herrera (item #bi2004000801#). In particular, the phenomenon of machismo was studied from the perspective of masculinity as a dominant ideology, as well as with respect to perceptions of homosexuality.

Poverty and inequality have been studied systematically for at least two decades. The work by León and Vos is a testimony to this tradition and to the use of different methodologies used to measure poverty (item #bi2002000687#). Other works also take a traditional approach by employing culture of poverty theory. Similarly, the work by Larrea and Sánchez addresses poverty, employment, and equity using the basic needs approach developed decades ago (item #bi2004000239#). Nevertheless, these works breathe fresh life into the discussion by analyzing current data to argue that contemporary social policy must focus on redistribution through the creation of productive employment and human resource development. While interest in health was less evident in this period than in the past, the cited work by Raúl Harari and colleagues demonstrates the importance of this issue from both a conceptual and a policy perspective (item #bi2004000803#). Health is seen as embedded in broader social structures, and the health system as part of prevailing policy prescriptions.

A final area in which significant contributions were made to traditional areas of inquiry is rural sociology and development. Here, the contributions of Martínez Valle are noteworthy because they demonstrate how the peasantry has evolved in complex ways and that multioccupational strategies to address problems of near landlessness and poverty are critical to understanding and to implementing rural development programs (items #bi2004000804# and #bi2002000672#).

The impact of globalization is a topic of worldwide concern, and several works cited here are first-rate contributions to the discussion. First, it was recognized that the rule of the state is limited by integration into transnational systems. Second, comparative methodologies were employed to show the complex and sometimes contradictory effects of international migration on local communities. Key findings revolve around differences between wage-based and entrepreneurial migration to the US and Europe. The works of Jokisch and Kyle (items #bi2002004000# and #bi2004000235#, respectively), in particular, show that different forms of transnational migration are products of specific historical developments, which in turn produce different effects on communities of origin and on patterns of integration into social structures overseas. The former includes the impact of remittances, decomposition of household structure, and the loss of human resources.

Research on sociopolitical structures and change took several forms. First de la Torre and others show that the phenomenon of populism is best understood not as the manipulation of ignorant masses though demagogic rhetoric and empty promises, but in terms of mechanisms that provide opportunities for political participation and a sense of belonging to broad sectors of society that are excluded by traditional political parties and politicians (item #bi2002000684#). A second focus was on sociopolitical restructuring, particularly decentralization and deregulation. The work of Verdesoto suggests that the transfer of functions, attributes, responsibilities, and resources to subnational and local levels can contribute to the resolution of problems of instability, corruption, and inefficiency (item #bi2002000688#).

A third area of study concentrates on the emergence of the indigenous movement as a key player in the nation's political and social development. New analyses, such as those by Lucero and Perreault (items #bi2004000240# and #bi2004000241#, respectively) demonstrate how earlier processes that had consolidated land rights and ethnic and class identity have failed to resolve problems related to the poverty of indigenous peoples. They have, though, provided a solid base from which indigenous groups are emerging as actors onto the national political stage in ways that could not have been predicted a decade ago, and which may well be unique not only in Latin America, but in the world.


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