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Globalization in Rural Mexico

Globalization in Rural Mexico
Three Decades of Change

Three decades of anthropological fieldwork in a rural Mexican community challenge contemporary views of globalization and consumption.

June 2007
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205 pages | 6 x 9 | 24 b&w illus., 1 map, 4 tables |

When the ever-intensifying global marketplace "modernizes" rural communities, who stands to gain? Can local residents most impacted by changes to their social fabric ever recover or even identify what has been lost?

Frances Abrahamer Rothstein uses thirty years of sustained anthropological fieldwork in the rural Mexican community of San Cosme Mazatecochco to showcase globalization's complexities and contradictions.

Rothstein's lucid work chronicles the changes in production, consumption, and social relations during three distinct periods: the Mexican "miracle," when economic development fueled mobility for a large segment of the population, including San Cosme's worker-peasants; the lost decade of the 1980s, when much of what had been gained was lost; and the recent period of trade liberalization and globalization, considered by many in Mexico and beyond as a panacea and a disaster at the same time.

After Mexico's textile industry decline in the late 1980s, some families of former textile workers in San Cosme opened home workshops—talleres—and a small-scale, textile-based economy took root. These families, who managed to prosper through their own trade and industry, demonstrate that those who rely on consumer demand for their livelihood need not always follow the dictate of the marketplace, but rather can position themselves assertively to influence alternative economic possibilities held close to their culture.

Employing rich ethnography and broad analysis, Rothstein focuses on how everyday life has been transformed by these processes, but shows also how important continuities with the past persist. She strikes a delicate balance between firmly grounded scientific study and a deep compassion for the subjects of her work, while challenging contemporary views of globalization and consumption.


Society of the Anthropology of Work Book PrizeSociety of the Anthropology of Work, American Anthropological Association

  • Acknowledgments
  • 1. Introduction: Anthropology and Globalization
  • 2. Mexico and the World
  • 3. From Peasants to Worker-Peasants to Small-Scale Flexible Producers
  • 4. Flexible Garment Production
  • 5. Making It in the Garment Industry
  • 6. Illusions and Disillusions: Challenging Consumption Theory
  • 7. Still Struggling: Development and Globalization in Rural Mexico
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Frances Abrahamer Rothstein is Professor of Anthropology at Towson University in Towson, Maryland.


When I first went to San Cosme Mazatecochco, a rural community in the state of Tlaxcala in central Mexico, in 1971, there were only a few small stores, and they sold just some fruits and vegetables, canned sardines, cigarettes, soda, beer, and candy. A few daily buses traveled the unpaved main street to a nearby highway and then on to the city of Puebla about ten miles away. Today, hundreds of the town's residents own cars, buses, and taxis, and convis (minivans) travel the many paved streets and the new highway that run through the community. Numerous stores in San Cosme now sell just about anything, including Internet access.


When friends, acquaintances, students, or colleagues hear about these and other changes, they usually respond with satisfaction that San Cosme is now sharing the benefits of modernization. But then, after a few minutes, they often question me as to whether such changes are really beneficial or whether the community has lost something in the process. My inclination, especially because I know that much of this modernization is related to the huge growth of garment workshops (which can be likened to sweatshops), is to judge the changes more harshly. My first response is concern about the costs of the contemporary lifestyle. Although many people can now buy an array of goods never before available to them, most are working harder and longer than ever. When I stop to consider what people in San Cosme say, however, I must recognize that they, like so many others, are pleased that they are now sharing at least some of the benefits of modernization.


This book speaks of and to the contradictions and complexities of modernization in San Cosme and by extension to communities elsewhere in the developing world. What are their gains and losses? Who has gained? And who has lost? San Cosme has been modernizing for some time. My earlier research described the shift from family agriculture to factory wage work as the primary source of income in the post-World War II period. Proletarianization, increased concern with education, and infrastructural change, including the coming of paved roads, electrification, potable water and sewage systems, altered San Cosme in the 1960s and 1970s. Those changes, I will suggest, were in many ways more profound and modernizing than the changes that occurred there in the 1990s. But it is these later changes, or what is increasingly referred to as modernity, that seem to capture us—scholars and others in the United States as well as the residents of San Cosme—the most. Why?


The changes of the 1990s in San Cosme and elsewhere are part of what has come to be called globalization. Regardless of the many different views and definitions of this term, there is widespread agreement that the flows of capital, people, images, commodities, and ideas have intensified tremendously in the last few decades. There is a sense also, both in the popular press and in scholarly discussions, that globalization represents a major transformation in the lives of people everywhere. But the inevitability, desirability, and unevenness of this transformation is contested. Even the most enthusiastic globalists note that there are losers, such as those who are brought into wage labor only to be pushed out when capital moves elsewhere where labor is cheaper. And even critics often seem to accept the inevitability or even the desirability of many of the contemporary changes, although they urge a more equal distribution of the benefits. By following San Cosme over the last half of the twentieth century, the period in which it changed from a peasant to a manufacturing community, we can see how globalization shapes everyday life today and compare it with the shaping effects of what was usually referred to as modernization or development. We can see whether and how globalization is different or is not.


Many scholars and activists have suggested that globalization is a U.S. political project, sometimes called the Washington Consensus. Williamson (2000), the economist who invented that term, notes that it came to mean the series of reforms aimed at increasing the role of market forces by liberalizing trade and financial flows, privatization, and deregulation that U.S. agencies and international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund imposed on developing countries. Critics see the Washington Consensus, or what they also refer to as "the globalization project," as a "neoliberal political ideology that . . . proclaims marketization and privatization as solutions to the world's problems" (Chase-Dunn, Kawano, & Brewer 2000, 77).


The people of San Cosme are not shaped just by globalization and the projects of outsiders. They have had and continue to have their own political projects. In the past they resisted complete dependence on wages by continuing to practice family agriculture. Today they often resist working for the many global factories near the community. But the world has changed. With increased flows of capital, people, images, commodities, and ideas, the outside is inside San Cosme as never before. Does globalization limit their options and political projects more than development and modernization did? Or can globalization enhance their opportunities for carrying out their own projects?


Modernization, Development, and Globalization: Different Faces of Capitalism


Theories of development, modernization, and globalization have attempted to describe and analyze the kinds of change experienced in San Cosme and communities elsewhere in the developing world over the last fifty years. Globalization theories usually stress connections and flows of people, things, capital, images, and ideas. In this book I assume that important connections have existed among different communities for thousands of years but that the connections that emerged with the rise and spread of capitalism in the late eighteenth century provide the framework for understanding the contemporary world. Until the last two decades, the spread of capitalism was discussed in terms of colonialism, modernization, and development, often without even mentioning capitalism. Whether these theoretical orientations were critical (Frank's [1969] dependency theory, for example, which explained development of the "metropole" as a consequence of the underdevelopment of the "satellite") or were not (Rostow's [1960] theory of stages, which attributed development to internal national characteristics such as consumer production), they projected a pattern of change which was basically linear, with few if any important variations. Some communities were more or less modern than others, but the differences were considered quantitative, not qualitative.


More recently, in what is sometimes called late capitalism (Mandel 1978), disorganized capitalism (Lash and Urry 1987), flexible accumulation (Harvey 1989; Lipietz 1987) or globalization (Appadurai 1996; Kearney 1995; Robertson 1992), profound changes assumed to be different from previous eras are described for the last few decades. These approaches to contemporary capitalism differ as to the nature of the current pattern, whether there is an overall pattern at all, the extent to which the current pattern (or patterns) is (or are) different from other manifestations of capitalism, and what the most significant new aspect(s) of contemporary capitalism might be. All analysts agree, however, that some important changes have occurred so that contemporary capitalist development is indeed different from what capitalism has been. As Jameson pointed out even before globalization became a commonly used term, there is a sense "that something has changed, that things are different, that we have gone through a transformation of the life world which is somehow decisive but incomparable with the older convulsions of modernization and industrialization" (1984, xxi).


The first part of this chapter examines how this transformation has been described and analyzed and suggests that contemporary capitalist processes, like those of the previous two centuries, can best be understood in terms of capitalist accumulation. For Marx, as Wolf (1982, 298) points out, capital accumulation occurs and capitalism emerges when wealth is used to buy labor to produce more wealth. Many analyses of capitalist accumulation, however, have ignored the differences among capitalisms and the unevenness of capitalism. In this book I argue that a more nuanced analysis of capitalist accumulation is necessary. We must incorporate capitalism's unevenness and its power to divide, differentiate, absorb, and expel. Capitalism's unevenness, may mean, for example, that one day workers in Mexico who sell their labor directly to a garment manufacturer quit or lose their jobs and begin to produce similar garments in their own homes. They may then sell garments (and the labor embodied in them, including perhaps the unpaid labor of other family members) directly to that same manufacturer or indirectly through a contractor to a manufacturer or retailer. In each of these scenarios, the workers must sell or give their labor, but the connections (or disconnections) between them and the capitalist are more obvious in the first scenario when they sell their labor directly to the manufacturer. The second scenario of disguised proletarians has the appearance of self-employment, but is one in which individuals have little choice but to sell their product (which is often made to the specifications of the buyer) to the buyer. Unpaid family workers, similarly, must give their labor to their fathers, mothers, spouses or other family members. Thus, workers are differentiated on the basis of a complex relationship between unpaid family workers, disguised proletarians, real proletarians, and capitalists. Later, if the manufacturer, retailer, or contractor goes elsewhere, to China or Swaziland, for example, still another category is generated: expelled workers.


Capital's unevenness has always meant that the relationship between labor and capital, while always based ultimately on the division between those who own the means of production and those who, because they do not have access or sufficient access to the means of production, must sell their labor or depend on others who do so is more complex than just a simple dichotomy between buyers and sellers of labor power. That capital plays also on existing differences of gender, race, and ethnicity among other factors further complicates the surface picture. The approach I take here recognizes that differentiation among workers exists, but although differences can divide workers, I suggest that differences may also provide terrains for common struggle. Many analyses give agency to capital and capitalists but not to labor. Often, if labor has agency, it is only in reaction to capitalism. Labor is rarely portrayed as having an agenda and initiatives of its own. Increasingly, it is becoming apparent, however, that there are many people whose agenda is to control, that is, to not sell their labor. Using a variety of techniques, ranging from ignoring or rejecting capitalist alternatives, innovating diverse alternatives (which may derive often from differences that exist among workers as among, for example, part-time workers who also practice family agriculture), as well as occasionally and overtly resisting capitalist alternatives, laborers in San Cosme struggle to shape a better future, if not for themselves then for their children. More and more, their vision of that future does not include wage labor.


In the second part of this chapter, which concerns fieldwork, I suggest that anthropology is well-situated to describe and analyze the complexities of the relationship between capital and labor and the diverse ways that both reveal and use their power. Whereas many approaches, including some that are critical of capitalism, deny workers' agency and see labor as acted upon and as a victim of capitalists' superior arsenal of advantage, anthropology's attention to inside, or emic, views and detailed, local-level accounts can reveal workers' alternative imaginaries and powers to influence outcomes.7 By looking at the struggle between labor and capital not in the abstract but as exemplified in a real arena and through such an anthropological lens, we can see the subtle as well as more obvious ways in which capitalism and its effects have changed and yet remain the same. And we can see how everyday people cope with and change local and extra-local forces.


Anthropology and Development


The term globalization became common in the 1990s, especially in the popular press, international business studies, and international relations. More recently, it has become popular also in anthropology. But the concerns of globalization (about flows of people, products, and so forth), global processes, and interconnections, as Eric Wolf (1982) pointed out more than two decades ago, have been anthropology's concerns since its beginnings. Nineteenth-century evolutionary anthropology, diffusionism, and the neo-evolutionism of Leslie White and Julian Steward were all concerned with the relations between and among people in different communities. Fieldwork, with its emphasis on single communities, and functionalist anthropology, which made a description of the microcosm (the community) an explanation for the macrocosm, shifted attention away from these interconnections (Wolf 1982, 14). Gradually, however, in the postwar period, concern with connections resurfaced in British anthropology with anthropologists of the Manchester School becoming concerned with social change in modern societies and in U.S. anthropology with neo-evolutionism and cultural ecology.


At the same time, in the 1950s and 1960s, the changes associated with postwar independence movements and decolonization and the growth of planned change, or what Escobar (1995) describes as the "discourse and strategy of development," led initially in economics and sociology and later in anthropology to the growth of modernization and development theory. Although development anthropologists usually continued to treat particular communities as isolated in time and space, modernization and development theories implicitly assume connections between the developed and developing (or underdeveloping) worlds. As Frank (1967) pointed out, however, the nature of those connections was never examined. Frank's theory of underdevelopment and dependency theory in general made explicit many of the connections (such as the transfer of wealth from the underdeveloped to the developed) underlying development theory and also argued that those connections, far from being benign or beneficial as assumed in most development theories, were detrimental. As many critics have pointed out, however, dependency theory, with its heavy emphasis on structure, paid little attention to difference and agency. More important, dependency theory does not capture the dynamism of capitalism and the new strategies of capital and labor in capitalism's latest phase at the turn of the new millennium, in what is now called globalization or flexible accumulation.


Focusing on Connections


What distinguishes globalization theory from earlier development theories is that regardless of what variant of it one examines, flows and connections are the focus of attention. In all the discussions of globalization, the emphasis is on movement—of people, commodities, capital, technology, images, and ideas. Many, such as Giddens (1990) and Harvey (1989), try to capture this movement with notions about the compression of time and space. Things and people move faster, more frequently, and farther than ever before. This world in motion has changed and challenged older boundaries of all kinds. Many discussions, for example, especially in sociology and political science where the nation-state has been an important unit of analysis, stress the transnational nature of contemporary flows and the effect of such flows on nation-states. This has led some to talk about the withering and "hollowing out" of the nation-state.


While there seems to be general agreement that today's world is characterized by a compression of time and space, a great deal of disagreement surrounds the extent and significance of the change (or changes) in movement. In part, the disagreement revolves around the baseline and which contemporary conditions are compared. Many who question how new globalization really is and whether movement today is really greater than in the past argue that flows of people or capital only appear greater because past movements are underestimated or ignored. Mintz (1998), for example, argues that people have always been on the move, and Gordon (1988, 63) suggests that we are witnessing a decline in the flow of productive capital. Nevertheless, regardless of such disagreements over how much more people and capital are in motion today, there is agreement that not only do many people move and increasingly imagine moving today but that images and ideas are on the move and with unprecedented velocity.


A major concern of contemporary theorists is not so much whether the flows are greater but which flows are most crucial. Earlier development and modernization theories usually stressed the diffusion of technology and values from the developed to the developing countries and the way internal barriers, such as religious beliefs or personality factors, supposedly prevent modernization. Critical theories, such as dependency theory or Arrighi's (1994) theory of uneven development, focused on the uneven flow of capital and capitalist profits. Like earlier theories of development and modernization, globalization theories vary as to whether causal primacy is given to ideas, material circumstances, production, consumption, class conflict, capital accumulation, and/or any combination of these factors. For Arjun Appadurai (1996), one of the foremost writers on globalization in anthropology and one of the theorists who sees a major transformation, the flow of ideas—through electronic media and migration—and the importance of imagination are what are causal. According to Appadurai, the increased role of imagination, triggered by the movement of images and people, is responsible for what he considers to be qualitative change in the globalized world. For others, such as Daniel Miller (1995b) who concentrates on consumption, the current flow of commodities accounts for the transformation. Still others, such as Basch, Blanc, and Szanton (1994) and those who stress transnationalism, focus on the movement of people who continue to maintain strong ties with their home communities.


Like Harvey and those who follow Marx more closely, this book begins with the struggle between capital and labor and the current form of capital accumulation, what Harvey and others call flexible accumulation. Flexible accumulation refers particularly to the contemporary pattern of the flexible commitment of capital to particular places and workers. It involves a more frequent movement of productive capital and threat of movement to new places and new workers as well as more frequent movement of finance capital to new markets. Consequently, for me, the flow of capital is crucial but not all-powerful. Even if capitalist production can shift from place to place at any given time, it must take place somewhere. At those particular times and in those places, what really happens is an outcome of the struggle between capital and labor. Thus, capital's paths and the strategies of capitalists are consequences of the struggle between capital and labor at particular times in particular places.


When I look at contemporary flows of capital, people, commodities, images and ideas, what strikes me most is the diversity and unevenness one sees in the contemporary world. Huge amounts of capital flow today to China, for example. But to Zambia or elsewhere in Africa the flow of capital has almost stopped. Today, also, the direction of capital flow varies widely. Capital flows not only within the North and from the North to the South but also from the South to the North and within the South. Capitalist investment in particular places also varies. Capital flows into Fordist production, post-Fordist production, and no production (that is, into services and financial markets).


Most discussions of capital flow assume its enormous power to go wherever, whenever, and for whatever purposes capitalists want. Capitalists' success with trade liberalization in the last two decades has certainly advanced their interests and reinforced a view of capital's limitless power. That capitalists needed to pursue a new tactic, however, was due in part to labor's successful struggle to improve working conditions and living standards during the postwar period in many parts of both the North and South. In the developed world, labor successfully pressed for higher wages, security, and expanded state benefits—all of which affected capital's profits. In developing countries, such as Mexico and many others, import-substitution industrialization (often tied to populist state policies) restricted imports to encourage national industrial development, thus limiting the flow of commodities from the advanced capitalist countries. Many developing countries, including Mexico, also placed some limits on foreign investment. Consequently, although commodities and capital often got through protectionist barriers, capitalists did not have complete freedom of choice in where and how to invest or market.


Capital, as Harvey (1989) points out, has always had its "spatial fixes." Crises of overaccumulation or surplus capital have often been addressed through geographical expansion. That capital has had to look for spatial fixes and where it finds its fixes depends on labor and the relation between the two. As Cowie stresses in his important study of the RCA Corporation's movements and site selection process throughout the twentieth century, "the evolving social history of working people was at the center of the story"(1999, 6).


The search for greater profitability by capitalists as it conflicts with the desire for better living conditions for working people includes the movement of people as well as capital. Here, too, I am struck by the diversity in patterns of movement and the often neglected but critical role of labor in determining its own movements. Discussions of migration often focus on labor's movements in relation to capital's whereabouts and, more recently, in reaction to capital's threats to move. Perhaps because I see so much through the lens of what San Cosmeros/as do, in the new millennium I see not only more movement but also greater movement being replaced by less movement. Today, while many people are on the move, many are not. Additionally, many who were on the move now stay put. Men from San Cosme migrated in large numbers weekly to Mexico City during the 1960s and 1970s. But very few moved permanently to the Federal District. Today those same men and their sons rarely migrate temporarily, seasonally, weekly, or permanently for work. Instead, they remain in the community and work, often right in their own homes. That they can remain in the community is due largely to the pattern of return or weekly migration they maintained earlier that allowed their ties and lives in the community to persist. Because they returned regularly to their families and their family agriculture, they retained kinship ties and alternative subsistence strategies that in the 1990s and today provide a base on which to build their garment production and other commercial and professional alternatives.


Today also, some women who, to borrow a phrase from Carolyn Brettell (1986), waited at home while men migrated now move—daily, weekly, or permanently—for work or study. But women also resist moving. As indicated in Chapter 5, although many women are now employed, few from San Cosme choose to work outside the community. Elsewhere, numerous differences, unevenness, and variations also characterize people's movements. Although the immigrant population of the United States has increased (Kilborn & Clemetson 2002), immigrants now come from different places and go to different places within the United States, and many immigrate elsewhere; for example, they move from Asia to the Middle East.


Where capital is invested plays a major role in forcing people from subsistence economies into wage labor and, thus, in pushing labor to migrate. But capital flow is a changing process that, as indicated above, does not always and inevitably unfold in the same way in every place. One of the themes of this book is that the continued maintenance of kinship and subsistence practices by San Cosmeros/as has enabled and encouraged them to sometimes resist wage labor, sometimes ignore capitalist wage relations, and sometimes to reconfigure wage relations. For them, moving has thus been not simply a matter of where the jobs are but also what other options they have created or can create for themselves. The flow of capital influences their movements, but so too do social relations that derive from a different noncapitalist, subsistence imaginary. That noncapitalist imaginary sees family reproduction as more important than capitalist profit. I am not proposing a culture among San Cosmeros/as that produces a different capitalism or a noncapitalist pattern. As Yanigasako (argues, "Culture does not produce capitalism; people produce capitalism. . . ." (2002, 188; emphasis added) People also produce noncapitalism. To do so, however, they need lived experiences or recent memories of alternative practices on which to build alternative visions. Among factory workers in China, for example, memories of spatial relations are not erased by newer epistemes stressing efficiency (Rofel 1993, 96). Workers "questioned and contested the new authority of efficiency with memories of previous spatial relations . . . Through these memories, they created spaces of subversion, both subtle and direct" (Rofel 1993, 99). Because until recently almost all San Cosmeros/as lived a life based on the family economy, the basis for a noncapitalist vision persists.


As I have indicated, some theories of globalization stress the flow of ideas, images, or commodities. Here, too, I am struck by variation and unevenness. While millions of people throughout the world see the same images and wear the same jeans, millions do not. Some people have access to computers, televisions, VCRs, and print media, but many others do not. Capital (through its control of the media, advertising, and markets) structures much of the flow of ideas, images, and commodities and, like other flows it affects, it does so unevenly. Additionally, as with the movement of capital and people, goods, images, and ideas are resisted, ignored, and reconfigured.


Focusing on the flow of capital while keeping in mind that it cannot go wherever or whenever it wants incorporates the notion that there are diverse and unequal flows of capital, people, commodities, images, and ideas. In this book I follow Harvey and stress the flow of capital, especially changes in the accumulation of finance capital and the liberalization of financial flows and the flexibilization of labor, as the central factors in globalization. It is important to note, however, that finance capital is not (despite the efforts of neoliberal strategists, millennial capitalists, or global financial conjurers) the only or the common pattern in all contexts even today. Flexibilization (which itself consists of a variety of practices) is similarly not found to the same extent everywhere. Furthermore, it is not, as is frequently assumed, found only in post-Fordist production (Collins 2000). How labor responds—and how capital envisions labor's response—in particular places also varies in crucial ways.


Anthropology has the potential to deepen our understanding of these complexities and differences. Anthropology's attention to detail and insider views provides an important basis on which to look at global flows without assuming or projecting a single hegemonic pattern. But anthropology must also look at broader patterns. How we can look at both the specific and the general is the subject of the next section.


Anthropology, Ethnographic Fieldwork, and Globalization


As indicated above, the concerns of globalization—global processes and interconnections—have always been anthropology's concerns. For much of the twentieth century, however, the practice of fieldwork seemed to encourage anthropologists to focus on a particular community and, except for some of the earlier Boasians who were concerned with diffusion, to treat that community as if it were isolated in time and space. Because fieldwork stressed immersion in the community, few theorized about those relations, even when in the second half of the twentieth century many anthropologists became aware of the importance of looking at extralocal relations, as Roseberry (1989) points out. Rather than using a deductive approach beginning with theory, anthropologists placed themselves in a particular community and followed their informants out of the community (Rothstein 1982). At times we tried to locate the specific places we studied in the world by using dependency or other macrotheories, but the focus of anthropological research, even in these broader studies, remained a particular community and how extralocal relations influenced that community. What happened in the communities we studied was rarely seen as affecting extralocal relations, or if we did note such effects those effects were not theorized.


In the 1970s and 1980s, a growing number of anthropologists began using class to link local and extralocal processes. But the possibilities of class analysis were not pursued in mainstream anthropology, and much of it remained rooted in the study of presumably isolated and homogeneous communities for which the potential of class analysis remained unrecognized.


Today, in response to the awareness of questions raised by our own research that went unanswered by the data gathered in single communities and to an increasing perception that the world has changed—in part because of the popular discussion of globalization and in part owing to the increasing presence of the people we have studied in the places we live and work—there is a growing body of anthropological literature from which intensive study of a single community has disappeared. In some contemporary analyses, fieldwork seems to have almost completely vanished. Other analyses use what Marcus (1998, 81) calls "multi-sited" ethnography in which "strategies of quite literally following connections, associations, and putative relationships are . . . at the very heart of designing multi-sited ethnographic research" in diverse places linked by the global flows of people, ideas, commodities, capital, and images. Multi-sited ethnography retains fieldwork, but—like the inductive approach of Oscar Lewis and others who in the 1950s and 1960s followed migrants to towns, cities, and beyond—it puts fieldwork before theory.


By not beginning with a theory of the world or the larger whole, as the sociologist Michael Burawoy has suggested, anthropologists "open up their studies to the world, without the world's becoming an object of investigation" (Burawoy 2000, 29). We should continue to do fieldwork and to follow connections that emerge in the field, but fieldwork will be more productive if we understand what connections are likely to emerge and why. That is, we need to begin with a notion of what the connections might be. It is here that the recent theories and conceptualizations of globalization may be useful. They can help us to address the questions posed in the beginning of this chapter. What is globalization? Is it new or different? Is it inevitable? Who benefits from globalization and who does not? In this approach, theory is used to guide ethnography and fieldwork. Then the revelations that come from immersion into particular ways of life and listening to diverse views of life can refine, refute, and verify theoretical conceptions at higher levels of generalization.


It is important to stress that a community-based approach, guided by theory, does not confine itself to research in the community. For theoretical and empirical reasons, the field-worker does leave a particular community. My fieldwork was centered in San Cosme, but I went with San Cosmeros/as to many sites in the states of Tlaxcala and Puebla and in the Federal District. At times my travel with them brought me also to various places in other Mexican states and New York City. For theoretical reasons, I (or an assistant) also went to the state capital of Tlaxcala to interview people on state economic development, union organization, and foreign investment and to Mexico City to interview national and regional politicians on state policy and power. I also spoke with garment manufacturers in the United States about their outsourcing strategies. While I do not think a community study approach alone is adequate, it is important to note that multi-sited ethnography is often stretched too thin to provide the detail and nuanced insider views which are a great part of anthropology's strength. Furthermore, multi-sited research may illuminate only certain strands of global connectivity and overlook that which is not so connected.


Fieldwork over Time


This book is based on very intensive immersion into a single community in rural Mexico, San Cosme Mazatecochco. But it is also guided by broader theoretical concerns. For me personally and intellectually, San Cosme and the people there have been a major part of my life and the life of my family for more than thirty years. In all I have spent more than two and a half years living in the community during eight field visits. Over the years, understanding San Cosme has also required a "multi-sited research imaginary" (Marcus 1998, 3); that is, leaving the community—physically and emotionally. Sometimes it required visiting people from San Cosme at their factories in Mexico City or Puebla, visiting their politicians in Tlaxcala or Mexico City, and, more recently, visiting with San Cosmeros/as living in New York City and New Jersey. Sometimes it meant migrating weekly, as many of the residents in San Cosme do, to Mexico City. It has also meant reading the New York Times (especially the business sections), the Wall Street Journal, La Jornada, El Financero, Sol de Tlaxcala, and Mexican government documents—all and always with San Cosme in mind.


But wherever people from San Cosme are and wherever they are directly or indirectly discussed, understanding what they are doing and why required a broad view, a theoretical conceptualization of the local, national, and global processes and struggles that pushed and pulled people in various directions. Whether they involved peasants producing for subsistence in their own community, homemakers taking care of their houses and families, children studying in a nearby city, factory workers in textile factories in Mexico City, merchants selling garments in regional markets, or a San Cosmera coming to New York to buy South African ostrich feathers for Carnival headdresses, the processes and struggles of capitalist accumulation were at work and, if one looked, discernible. These processes and struggles neither began nor ended in San Cosme or even in Mexico. But they always took me back to San Cosme where I could see how they played out. Thus, while I sometimes separate theory and method for discussion purposes, I see the processes and struggles of capitalist accumulation enacted by people. Ethnographic fieldwork is a way to see, hear, and experience those enactments. Although anthropologists, like everyone else, experience those processes every day everywhere—at work, at home, and at play—fieldwork, especially long-term fieldwork, heightens and deepens one's awareness of those processes.


I am not suggesting that ethnographic research in one's own community on other kinds of research is not useful. Harvey (2000), for example, has been particularly sensitive to the everyday enactments of capital accumulation in his descriptions and analyses of Baltimore. Likewise, native anthropologists have often been more insightful to local interpretations and views than outsiders have been. However, native anthropologists may overlook what they are accustomed to, and people may not tell them about some practices or beliefs, assuming they are familiar with the culture (Jones 1970).


This book is based on such long-term fieldwork in a community in a setting different from where I live. I first went to San Cosme from Pittsburgh as a graduate student in 1971 because I was interested in political factionalism (not capital accumulation, which was rarely discussed in the anthropological literature of my graduate school days). San Cosme is in a region characterized by the kind of change that seemed to surround factions wherever they had been reported. Leaders with whom I spoke when I arrived in Tlaxcala, the state capitol, described San Cosme as a divisive community, a description that suggested the kind of factionalism in which I was interested. Although I did study factionalism, the changes that had contributed to the political divisiveness came to appear even more important than the factionalism itself. These changes were tied to increased dependence on wage work, as men from families with too little land went off to work in the national textile industry in Mexico City or Puebla. Factory work enabled a handful of men, usually union leaders, to get some political power in the local arena. Since none of the leaders had enough power to control more than a fraction of the workers and since the Mexican political structure limited the kinds of gains that could be sought and offered, leaders recruited their followers using diverse standards, including coworkers in the same factory or others with kinship and neighborhood ties, rather than according to issues or party lines.


Although factory work was related to factionalism and divisions within the community, it also led to community improvements. Through their factory work and with the help of their families, neighbors, and regional political leaders, men from San Cosme brought roads, buses, electricity, potable water, schools, and health and other services to the community, as well as factionalism.


Perhaps the most important consequence of factory work was the hope that emerged in the 1960s and early 1970s that the future for children would be better than the past had been for their parents. Parents especially hoped that through more education their children would experience mobility. Even then, however, during what has come to be referred to as the Mexican economic miracle and when some standard indicators of economic progress grew at a dizzying rate (Anderson 1968, 178-179), some San Cosmeros/as (and critics of the Mexican development pattern) saw limits in capitalist growth. Although sons and daughters of peasants who had became proletarians usually experienced some gains, many of the second generation of proletarians saw a future for themselves as proletarians like their parents, with little hope for anything better. Signs of such discontent were evident in the formation of several new local branches of left political parties, including the Mexican Communist Party (PCM) and the Mexican Workers Party (PMT).


When I was trying to describe and understand the weekly and daily movement of wage workers to Mexico City or Puebla for factory jobs, my analysis relied heavily on dependency theory. I argued that change in San Cosme needed to be viewed in terms of the larger capitalist system and especially Mexico's dependent capitalism. I saw the greater poverty and concentration of wealth that characterized dependent capitalism—because much of the profits were transferred elsewhere—as even more limiting of upward mobility than advanced capitalism (Rothstein 1982, 129). Although I saw much of what was happening in San Cosme in terms of capitalism and described San Cosmeros/as as proletarians, I had not yet made the connection between proletarians in San Cosme and those elsewhere in Mexico and other parts of the world.


In the early 1980s I returned to San Cosme to study the discontent with the Mexican development model that had surfaced in the community in the late 1970s. In addition to the appearance of left political parties toward the end of the 1970s, San Cosmeros/as had resisted the state's efforts to buy their lands for the construction of private firms. When I arrived in 1984, however, I found that although many of the new parties were still there (the PRI, the dominant party in Mexico until recently, has never gone uncontested in San Cosme since), what was of greatest concern to the residents of San Cosme was the economic crisis that had come to a head in Mexico in 1982. Everybody in San Cosme talked about el crisís. They talked about lost jobs as factories closed, declining wages for those who kept their jobs, and the rising cost of living. They were not talking much about politics or mobility. They were talking about how to make ends meet. Consequently, as anthropologists do (and as I had done earlier when I broadened my interest in factionalism to proletarianization), I shifted my research agenda to what concerned San Cosmeros/as—feeding, clothing, and sheltering their families daily.


At the same time that San Cosmeros/as were focusing on how to survive the economic crisis, theoretical discussion by critical economists, sociologists, and anthropologists were increasingly linking capitalism in the North and the South with sharper new (or revived older) concepts and analyses. Studies of the growth of manufacturing for export, the new international division of labor, and structural adjustment policies made clearer than ever the nature of the connections around the world. These studies pointed to the growth of offshore production as multinational corporations from the United States, Japan, and Western Europe relocated to developing countries, including Mexico, where wages were lower and regulations, such as environmental protections or health and safety rules, were less stringent or less well-enforced. This new international division of labor, encouraged especially by the structural adjustment policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Foundation, allowed multinational corporations to reap greater profits. While many of these studies saw what happened in the developing world largely as a result of the requirements of capital accumulation, some began to give more attention to local forces, structures, and agency. Increasingly, anthropologists especially have looked at class and diverse forms of struggle and resistance, ranging from spirit possession (Ong 1987) and environmental organization (Susser 1992) to labor uprisings (Kim 1992).


While some San Cosmeros/as did participate in strikes and other overt forms of collective protest, during the 1980s San Cosmeros/as dealt with the crisis primarily through household patterns of multiple livelihoods, including increased reliance on the products they themselves could produce, such as corn. They also practiced huddling (living in larger households), and more household members got involved in income generation (Rothstein 1995). During a brief visit to San Cosme in the summer of 1993, I heard about a new income-generating activity. A number of people had bought sewing machines and were making garments. I saw a garment workshop for the first time during that two-day visit while on my way to a conference. By the mid-1990s, when I returned, hundreds of families in San Cosme had settled on a new way to make a living: small-scale garment manufacturing. Since then, that industry has taken over the community, and in the last ten years I, too, have begun to focus on garment production. Understanding the extent and significance of the change was made easier for me because over many years I had observed San Cosmeros/as in kinship, religious, political, and economic activities and listened to them talk about their hopes, plans, expectations, and worries. The new theoretical approaches that linked people throughout the world in a new global system without seeing them as mere pawns in a capitalist game has facilitated seeing the complexities of San Cosmeros/as responses. Although they must act within a global capitalist world, that is not the only world they know about or the only one that provides visions of the future.


This book tells the story of my involvement in San Cosme's enactments and visions during the last three decades. Our connections, especially when I am not there, have changed, thus paralleling the changes that have taken place elsewhere and which are the subject of much of the globalization discussion. My involvement with San Cosmeros/as now is more constant. I speak to people from San Cosme by telephone regularly and I know that I can pick up the phone and call San Cosme at any time. I occasionally see someone from San Cosme in New York and I communicate with a San Cosme woman via the Internet. Most of all I am always aware of the interconnectedness of our lives and the extent to which people in San Cosme and people in the United States and elsewhere are connected. Whether it is the Mexicans I see often on the streets of New York, the products made in Mexico that I see constantly, or articles in a New York newspaper on Wal-Mart's share of the Mexican market or on the opening of a Tiffany store in Puebla, I am constantly reminded of these interconnections.


In the past when I went to San Cosme, like its residents I was relatively isolated from the larger world. In the early 1970s we rarely got mail from the United States and to do so we needed to go to a post office about a half an hour away. To speak to anyone in the United States we needed to go to Puebla. Getting a long-distance phone call through was always a difficult and often an unsuccessful process. During my recent stay in 2001, I spoke to family in New York all the time from the house where I was living or from a phone on the main plaza. I heard about the attack on the World Trade Center within minutes from someone who heard about it on his radio, and we saw television coverage at the same time as viewers in New York. During the weeks and months that followed, images and discussions of the attack and then the U.S. war on Afghanistan were constant and everywhere in San Cosme. Everyone I met in San Cosme or elsewhere in Mexico who recognized me as from the United States and who knew about the attack and the war always raised the subject. They always offered their sympathy for what they all saw as a terrible tragedy. Sometimes also they criticized the U.S. war in Afghanistan; sometimes they expressed concern for the safety of my family and friends. As time went on, people began expressing fears about their own security and the economic effects of 9/11 on Mexico and Mexicans.


In the chapters that follow, I try to convey a sense of the connections between San Cosmeros/as and others, their awareness of these connections, and how both the connections and their awareness of them have changed over the last few decades. As the connections of San Cosmeros/as to each other and with people elsewhere (including me) have changed, theories about connections have also changed. Geopolitical changes and the neglect by many older approaches of the ways in which people such as those in San Cosme innovate and influence the world around them have led me to find the theoretical formulation that Harvey bases on Marx to be most useful. I build on Harvey's suggestion (2000, 79) that we need to think across scales and not lock ourselves into a single one, whether it be local or global. Thus, while I focus on the residents of San Cosme, I look also at other, larger processes.


In the next chapter I describe some of the broad patterns of connections involving San Cosme, Mexico, U.S. capitalism, and the world during the last half of the twentieth century. Chapter 3 examines how these broader patterns interact with local configurations. It begins with a discussion of the family economy in the early 1970s and goes on to describe how development contributed to a process of de-peasantization (but not to the disappearance of the family economy) and to the emergence of a community of industrial factory workers and their families. The chapter ends with the decline of factory work and the appearance of small-scale garment production. Chapter 4 describes that garment industry. In Chapter 5 I look at the intersection of kinship, gender, age, and flexible production and how workers and owners are responding to a system of production that has no commitment to places, things, or people. Chapter 6 examines consumerism, one of these responses. Many recent studies have seen in contemporary workers' consumerist practices a new global pattern that shifts the engine of the global economy from production to consumption. I question this view. Consumers, as a recent New York Times article on NAFTA pointed out, are also workers (Weiner 2003). I argue that the new consumerism hides the importance of production relations and that capitalist relations of production are, if anything, more important today than ever.


In the concluding chapter I return to broader notions of connections and closeness. I argue that globalization is not really very different from development or colonialism, two earlier forms of capitalist domination. But I argue also that the same modern technology—electronic communication and cheaper transportation—that capitalists use to reap their profits in more flexible ways can and is being used also by labor, sometimes in reaction to capital but also to pursue alternative agendas that derive from other imaginaries. To appreciate the new potential of labor and alternative visions of what the future might be like, we need to broaden our concept of labor and recognize the multiple sites where it can struggle. We need also to focus—in theory and practice—on what connects workers within workplaces, in different workplaces, and in different work situations to each other.




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