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Volume 61 / Social Sciences

SOCIOLOGY: CENTRAL AMERICA


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


RECENT SOCIOLOGICAL WORK ON CENTRAL AMERICA has been paradoxically noteworthy for the diversity of topics and nations receiving careful scholarly attention and the substantive areas of study that again (or begin to) fall into the interstices of those scholarly advances. As to nations, Panama and Belize continue to be understudied, and Costa Rica our most well researched country. With regard to topic, the study of the region's newly diverse and vibrant religious field now attracts little scholarly interest, something one could also say about classical sociological subjects such as demography (except migration), education, culture, and social-movement organizations. And it is fair to say that the sociologies of science, of medicine, and of formal organizations each have yet to establish a research presence in the region.

On the plus side, theorizing by feminists (and others) about the changing particulars of women's lives is now the single largest "field" in Central American sociology, and continues to show an impressive variety and growth arc, fueled by the increasing proportion of female PhD's, many of whom pursue such interests. That arc and scope can encompass micro-level gendered relationships (items #bi2005001154# and #bi2002002199#), continue through several collections with diverse contributions on many topics (e.g., item #bi2005001165#), and go up through the state-of-the-art contribution by Kampwirth on women and regional guerrilla movements (item #bi2005000019#). On family life, two fine contributions, one on Costa Rica and one on Guatemala, are both worthy of attention (items #bi2002002818# and #bi2005001152#, respectively). Children get some attention of their own, most notably a careful study of Costa Rican teenagers (item #bi2002004535#), and the very important release of a six-volume set from Casa Alianza Internacional on the sexual exploitation of children in Mexico and Central America (item #bi2005001156#). The common growth of street crime in postinsurgency Central America also continues to draw attention from scholars doing increasingly careful and important work, whether meticulous statistical studies within El Salvador (item #bi2001007496#), or an interview-enriched study of Honduran gangs (item #bi2001007486#), or postwar crime and violence in Guatemala (item #bi2005001166#), or a densely informative little book on the penitentiary systems of the region's seven nations (item #bi2005001153#). And we would be remiss not to draw attention to two very different, but exceptionally fine works on racism in Guatemala, one a closely argued and (survey-)researched article by Casaús Arzú (item #bi2002005253#), the other a collection by key thinkers on Guatemala, both national and foreign-born (item #bi2001007478#).

The most common strengths of sociological scholarship in the region have for long lain in the related fields of political sociology and political economy. In those fields, it is fair to say, discernible trends in topic choice are less visible than a more diverse array of works, many of them nonetheless individually notable for making new and different, yet important, contributions to scholarship that are likely to be of lasting importance, of which we should single out four. The recent book by Wood on peasants, insurgency, and the civil war in El Salvador could well be the finest single writing ever produced on those densely examined subjects, fusing sophisticated theory with deep research (item #bi2005001167#), that latter phrase also applying happily to Mahoney's treatment of the varied political-institutional trajectories of the five key nations since the mid-1800s (item #bi2005000869#). In treatments attentive to the interest blends of globalization, political economy, and the fate of labor unions, Frundt has provided us with a dense interpretive treatment focusing on labor in the region that comes close to being a reference work despite being an article-length work (item #bi2005001158#), while Robinson has expanded his earlier article-length analysis of globalization-and-response in Central America to a magnum opus of both physical and intellectual heft and importance (item #bi2005001163#).


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