The Americas 61.2 (2004) 300-301
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The pioneering works of William Roseberry, Lowell Gudmonson and Mario Samper Kutschbach (Coffee, Society, and Power in Latin America ) and Sidney Mintz (Sweetness and Power ) have provided models for the transnational analysis of export commodities and their impact on political and social relations. Striffler and Moberg's collection of twelve original essays on the banana industry is inspired by and equal to the work of their mentors and predecessors. The editors have assembled an excellent collection covering a variety of topics across a broad expanse of time and space. Where the popular imagination once fixated on the massive plantations of the imperious United Fruit Company, these scholars have now applied a finely tuned methodology designed to identify and understand the substantial differences between and within countries. The editors caution: "Despite their common experience with a particular commodity, then, banana-producing regions developed dissimilar patterns of social relations, labor mobilization, multinational involvement, and political conflict" (p. 2).
This anthology is a significant multi-disciplinary contribution to a growing body of scholarship. With essays by anthropologists, geographers, historians, and sociologists, this work bridges the divide between two dominant historiographical trends: the case study approach focused on a single locale or country, and the transnational study of macroeconomic and sociological phenomenon. The editors provide an integrative analytical framework to facilitate understanding and analysis. They offer the broad contours of three regional variants within the industry. In Central America, multinational corporations developed large-scale plantations and created enclave [End Page 300] economies that made the greatest impact on the host country. At the other extreme, the Caribbean islands developed a different political economy, with small-scale contract farmers producing bananas for export. South American exporters, primarily Ecuador and Colombia, fall somewhere in between these two extremes, with production in the hands of domestic capitalists who sell to the major exporters.
The first section examines the banana industry as a whole, with solid contributions from Laura Raynolds, John Soluri, and Marcelo Bucheli. In the second section, Philippe Bourgois, Mark Moberg, Steve Striffler, Cindy Forster, and Darío Euraque examine specific locales and a particular topic within that place, including labor relations, ethnicity, economic history, and popular struggles in Panama, British Honduras, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Honduras. In the final section Karla Slocum and Lawrence Grossman examine the contemporary struggles between small producers and the giant multinationals in the Eastern Caribbean. Allen Wells offers some final thoughts in a provocative conclusion.
As with any collection of essays, the quality and significance of the contributions varies. However, the range of perspectives and methodologies provides something for every taste, ranging from a standard business history to a study of discourse and counter-discourse on globalization. The result is entirely satisfactory, a great addition to the scholarship on the banana industry that is much more than a study of the United Fruit Company. "El Pulpo" looms large over this book, but it is not simply a study of the company that symbolized imperialist exploitation of the "Banana Republics." This work delivers a fatal blow to the popular perception of United Fruit as the omnipotent foreign master and the peoples of the Caribbean as passive victims. Few will dare to generalize about enclave economies or rapacious foreign companies after a careful reading of these essays. In the hands of these scholars, the history of the banana industry is much more complex, engaging, and dynamic than the popular myths. As Allan Wells concludes, these scholars "demonstrate the uncanny ability of companies, states, and workers to change and adapt dialectically to the sweeping changes the industry has undergone over the course of the last century" (p. 334).