We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Social Stratification in Central Mexico, 1500-2000

By Hugo G. Nutini and Barry L. Isaac

Publication Year: 2009

In Aztec and colonial Central Mexico, every individual was destined for lifelong placement in a legally defined social stratum or estate. Social mobility became possible after independence from Spain in 1821 and increased after the 1910–1920 Revolution. By 2000, the landed aristocracy that was for long Mexico’s ruling class had been replaced by a plutocracy whose wealth derives from manufacturing, commerce, and finance—but rapid growth of the urban lower classes reveals the failure of the Mexican Revolution and subsequent agrarian reform to produce a middle-class majority. These evolutionary changes in Mexico’s class system form the subject of Social Stratification in Central Mexico, 1500–2000, the first long-term, comprehensive overview of social stratification from the eve of the Spanish Conquest to the end of the twentieth century. The book is divided into two parts. Part One concerns the period from the Spanish Conquest of 1521 to the Revolution of 1910. The authors depict the main features of the estate system that existed both before and after the Spanish Conquest, the nature of stratification on the haciendas that dominated the countryside for roughly four centuries, and the importance of race and ethnicity in both the estate system and the class structures that accompanied and followed it. Part Two portrays the class structure of the post-revolutionary period (1920 onward), emphasizing the demise of the landed aristocracy, the formation of new upper and middle classes, the explosive growth of the urban lower classes, and the final phase of the Indian-mestizo transition in the countryside.

Published by: University of Texas Press

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (401.4 KB)
pp. vii-viii

This book is based on ethnographic fieldwork in Central Mexico, totaling some 180 months from 1958 to 2008, in addition to archival and library research. Thus, we are indebted to an unusually large number of individuals and institutions. For funding, we thank the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (359.0 KB)
pp. 3-14

This book presents the first longitudinal and comprehensive overview of social stratification in Central Mexico, embracing the time span from just before the Spanish Conquest up to the present (1500– 2000). Central Mexico was the heartland of the Aztec Empire when the Spaniards arrived in 1519, and it is still the country’s economic and political motor. It comprises the present states of Guerrero, México, ...

PART ONE. Historical Overview

pdf iconDownload PDF (122.1 KB)

read more

One. Estates and Classes

pdf iconDownload PDF (177.8 KB)
pp. 17-32

Only during the past two hundred years or so have social classes been the major social building blocks of national societies. Earlier societies such as the Aztec Empire and those of western Europe, were divided mainly into hereditary estates. In such societies, classes were ...

read more

Two. Race and Ethnicity

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.7 MB)
pp. 33-67

The Spanish Conquest brought together three distinct populations: indigenous “Indians,” Europeans, and African slaves. The region’s indigenous population numbered at least three million in 1521 (Smith 1998: 62). But by 1620 introduced diseases (especially smallpox, measles, and typhus) had reduced this figure by perhaps 90 percent. In ...

read more

Three. Haciendas and Their Workers

pdf iconDownload PDF (683.4 KB)
pp. 68-93

For nearly four hundred years—from about 1570 to 1940—two socioeconomic institutions dominated the Central Mexican countryside: the hacienda and the agrarian village. At first, only Spaniards owned haciendas. But by the beginning of the twentieth century hacendados had become a heterogeneous group that included a few non-Spanish Europeans and U.S. citizens, in addition to the heirs of the original owners ...

PART TWO. The Postrevolutionary Period (1920–2000)

pdf iconDownload PDF (122.1 KB)

read more

Four. The Upper Classes: Aristocracy, Plutocracy, Political Class, and Prestige Upper-Middle Class

pdf iconDownload PDF (205.7 KB)
pp. 97-122

he main classes of Central Mexico’s upper stratum are the traditional aristocracy and the plutocracy that displaced it as Mexico’s ruling class during the late twentieth century (see Nutini 1995, 2004). Although many aristocratic families had urban as well as rural investments, the “main source of wealth for aristocrats everywhere has always been the land” (Nutini 2004: 153). In fact, the Mexican aristocracy was so ...

read more

Five. The Middle Classes

pdf iconDownload PDF (189.7 KB)
pp. 123-142

Central Mexico’s middle classes span a wide social spectrum, the top and the bottom of which overlap with the upper and lower social strata. At the same time, they constitute a much smaller proportion of the total social system than is the case in more industrialized societies such as the United States or Western Europe. In this chapter, we ...

read more

Six. The Urban Lower Classes

pdf iconDownload PDF (647.9 KB)
pp. 143-170

In 1900 Mexico’s population was about 90 percent rural, that is, living in communities of fewer than 2,500 inhabitants. The urban and rural populations became roughly equal sometime during the 1950s, and the urban component became a majority during the 1960s (Stern 1994: 423). By 1970 the urban population (i.e., settlements of 2,500 or more) constituted ...

read more

Seven. The Indian-Mestizo Transition: From Ethnic Estates to Social Classes

pdf iconDownload PDF (9.1 MB)
pp. 171-208

This chapter returns us to Central Mexico’s small towns and villages, where a transition from Indian to mestizo cultural status has occurred widely during the past two hundred years and especially since about 1950. Structurally, this profound transition involves the final breakdown of vestigial estate stratification rooted in colonial-era ethnic relations and its replacement by class stratification along national lines. ...

read more

Eight. Expression and Social Class

pdf iconDownload PDF (183.6 KB)
pp. 209-226

This chapter deals with an aspect of social stratification that has received relatively little attention with regard to Mexico. We refer to expressive culture and behavior or, more succinctly, expression (see Nutini 1995, 2004, 2005; Roberts 1976; Roberts, Chiao, and Pandey 1975; Roberts and Chick 1979; Roberts and Golder 1970; Roberts and Nattrass 1980; Roberts and Sutton-Smith 1962). The hallmark of expression ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (176.2 KB)
pp. 227-239

In the course of this book, we have portrayed the evolution of Central Mexico’s social stratification system from the moment of the Spanish Conquest through the end of the twentieth century. The major turning points were the de jure abolition of estate stratification on independence from Spain in 1821 and its de facto replacement with social ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (196.0 KB)
pp. 241-261


pdf iconDownload PDF (161.0 KB)
pp. 263-272

E-ISBN-13: 9780292795228
E-ISBN-10: 029279522X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292719446
Print-ISBN-10: 0292719442

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 20 photos, 3 maps, 8 tables
Publication Year: 2009