Technology and Culture 41.4 (2000) 806-807
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Taking the Wheel: Auto Parts Firms and the Political Economy of Industrialization in Brazil
Taking the Wheel: Auto Parts Firms and the Political Economy of Industrialization in Brazil. By Caren Addis. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999. Pp. xii+257; figures, tables, appendixes, notes/references, index. $47.50 (cloth); $18.95 (paper).
Caren Addis's Taking the Wheel is the result of a thorough investigation of the political history of contemporary industrialization in Brazil. Addis aligns herself with recent revisionist studies of the process of industrialization in Brazil over the last five decades, including such works on the development of the automobile industry as Glauco Arbix and Mauro Zilbovicius, A reinvenção dos carros (Sao Paulo, 1997). Addis describes the complex interrelations and movements that have shaped the Brazilian auto parts industry since the 1940s. Her thesis concerns the active role of industry leaders in the implementation of a "horizontal" automobile complex, with assemblers being supplied by a diversified parts sector. Focusing on these firms, she shows how Sindipeças (the National Syndicate of Auto Parts Industries) struggled to establish rules allowing for the growth of suppliers, and how it fought against the vertical integration promoted by assemblers and by the flow of imports. Addis makes a persuasive case, although her depiction of industry leaders as "opponents of the military regime" (p. 204) goes beyond the reality.
The book's major contribution lies in its description of the political influence exerted by the auto parts firms and of the structural links between suppliers and assemblers. Addis also ably explores the contradiction between "horizontal vision" and the vertical integration also promoted by parts suppliers. She clearly summarizes the limits of institutional negotiation, writing that "the governance arrangements . . . rarely led to institutionalized cooperation to promote product development and continual innovation" (p. 214). The book also points to potentially fruitful areas for new research, such as hybrid organizations and production practices.
Taking the Wheel does have some shortcomings. Addis does not criticize the theoretical dichotomy between mass production and flexible production, or the argument about hybrid systems that is based on a wide variety of platforms, small-scale production, and the diffusion of general purpose machinery. This is a very interesting point, but there is not enough data on the real state of technology and production to support that contention. Apart from her opening discussion, in which she criticizes simplistic accounts of midcentury Brazilian industrialization that emphasize "state-led development," and a final reflection on developments in the 1990s, Addis neglects the role played by labor in the development of this sector of Brazilian industry. The author could have taken more advantage of recent books and data on the Brazilian auto industry, and her argument becomes repetitious occasionally. But despite some flaws, with Taking the Wheel [End Page 806] Caren Addis has enlarged our understanding of the past trajectory of and current shake-up in the Brazilian auto parts industry.
Luis Paulo Bresciani
Mr. Bresciani worked for Dieese (an interunion research organization) and ABC Metalworkers Union from 1985 to 1998. He is finishing his Ph.D. dissertation, on innovation and labor in the Brazilian truck industry, in the science and technological policy department of the University of Campinas.
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