Anthropological Quarterly 77.2 (2004) 365-370
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With Driving the State: Families and Public Policy in Central Mexico, Dolores Byrnes offers a welcome contribution to our discipline: a local level and personal analysis of everyday practices of state employees in the implementation of public policy. The book focuses on Mi Comunidad, a state program Vicente Fox, now president of Mexico, founded in 1996 when he was governor of Guanajuato. Through volunteering at this job-creation program intended to empower and assist small businesses in rural Mexico, and reduce migration by offering local employment, Byrnes aimed to comprehend the program. Funded both by public and private investment—the latter consisting largely of earnings sent by migrants in the United States—, Mi Comunidad, or my community, serves to create jobs in textile-producing maquilas. As she herself states, "my methodological focus was on the everyday practices of the two state employees charged with its implementation in several maquilas across the state" (2). Byrnes productively analyses the program as "a microcase of state paternalism within global capitalism" (2).
Byrnes's examination must be applauded in that it moves beyond current scholarship on several important points. Most studies on maquila industry center on international border maquilas, especially along the Mexico-United States [End Page 365] border. By honing in on Mi Comunidad in Guanajuato in Central Mexico, Driving the State alerts the readers that maquilas exist outside of the border context, and, more importantly, offers new, broader, and different insights for scholarship analyzing maquilas and, indeed, also for border and migration studies. Simultaneously, this study of a state within the Republic of Mexico foregrounds Mexico's federalism, focusing on the relative power of one state rather than a limited centralist perspective that still characterizes much of the analysis on Mexican politics and citizens.
In addition, Byrnes chose to study state employees and everyday practice of public policy at the level of implementation. In other words, her analysis moves between the state and its citizens while deconstructing the program and those who work for the state. She aptly portrays the difficulty of managing state projections, expectations, demands, and wishes with personal and everyday realities, problems, and surprises. The reader watches over the employees's shoulders into the office, the maquila, and the car driving to and from the office and different maquilas and witnesses how the state is driven physically in distance and metaphorically in policy. An examination of how the state both drives and is driven by Mi Comunidad, by everyday practices, by migration, and by local, regional, national, and international events, expectations, and power relationships moves away from a typical anthropological focus on the underprivileged, the powerless, the subaltern. "This case reveals the differentiating touch of power upon citizens," reads the introduction (2). As Byrnes accurately explains, the concept of "strategizing" so often employed to understand relationships between the subaltern and the state does not suffice. More studies on the middle and upper class, the people who have and wield the power, the urban and/or educated practitioners of hegemonic practices are a debt anthropology still owes and where it can make some felt contributions to everyday life and the public.
Driving the State is organized into 10 chapters—an introduction, eight chapters, and a conclusion—and three parts: "Inside of motion," "Bridging the program contexts," and "Deferrals and asides." After situating her research by describing its theoretical contributions and significance, the first section "Inside of motion" consists of chapters 1 through 3. Chapter 1, entitled Personal Practices, describes the "daily production of personal intimacy at the managerial levels of the program" (13) and outlines Byrnes's participation in the program. Byrnes describes examples suggesting that the jefes, or bosses, of the maquilas grew more autonomous in Chapter 2 "Business Deals." In the following chapter, "Social Work," she discusses the managers "emotional, social work" in assisting the maquilas to "come of age" and "'walk' on their own" (13). [End...