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Anthropological Quarterly 76.2 (2003) 351-354

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Valentina Napolitano. Migration, Mujercitas, and Medicine Men: Living in Urban Mexico. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. 240 pp.

In Migration, Mujercitas, and Medicine Men, Valentina Napolitano addresses the impact social changes and the processes of modernization are having on a low-income urban neighborhood in Guadalajara, Mexico. The ethnography is an ambitious attempt to capture the complexities of urban life and the impact national and global forces are having on social dynamics. The approach Napolitano employs to address the challenge of urban anthropology is to show how the broad issues of belonging, gender, migration, religion, and medicine intersect in the urban landscape. She further tries to show how the broader forces of globalization and modernization work to sculpt these intersections. Napolitano's book is based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in a suburban center that was done over a period of eleven years. She carried out additional research in villages and towns from which many residents had migrated. Her data is based primarily on participant observation and interviews with the residents of the neighborhood, Jesuits, and Diocesans. Throughout the book, it is clear that she got to know the neighborhood and its residents well. It is not clear, however, who the audience for this book is; while it addresses broad theoretical issues, it seems to call for a certain familiarity with Mexico and anthropological research done there. [End Page 351]

Napolitano opens her book with a description and a history of the neighborhood of Lomas de Polanco in Guadalajara, which is where the bulk of her research took place. Beginning as a squatter settlement in a communal farmland in the periphery of the city, Polanco witnessed a transformation from marginal residential area for low-income people to a suburban center. Situating the micro-history of the neighborhood with national political and social developments, she places particular emphasis in the manner in which Polanco was transformed from a marginal area of the city into a dynamic center of urban life through the social and religious groups that organized there. It is these groups that shed light on the issues she explores in later chapters.

Since many of the residents of the neighborhood moved there from the countryside, Napolitano explores the issues of migration, space and belonging in the second chapter. She examines the various representations of the space of the home, the city, and the neighborhood by the media and the people living there. The chapter also presents how an individual's place of origin impacts the manner in which he or she experiences the urban landscape. Through an examination of life histories and strategies, she shows how various symbolic representations of belonging serve as cognitive maps and as an embodiment of experience. To do this she illustrates the connection between memory, cognition, and history. She places particular importance on how the residents of Polanco romanticize their places of origin, especially after they contrast them with the violent realities of the poor urban neighborhood. Consequently, she asserts that migration to the city leads to a redefinition of the boundaries of the self.

The third chapter is what Napolitano terms a micro-political examination of the conservative tendencies and residual formations within the religious communities of the urban neighborhood. The author explores the tensions that exist in the Polanco between the new and traditional segments of the Catholic Church and their respective agendas. Central to this discussion are opinions people hold with regard to liberation theology and the role the Church should play in advancing social causes and change. Given these different opinions, Napolitano examines how the inhabitants of the neighborhood experience and participate within the religious communities.

As with religion, the residents of Polanco hold different interpretation of the diverse approaches to health in healing. In the chapter on medical pluralism, Napolitano addresses the plurality of specific nontraditional medical practices. She claims that this plurality reveals how different medical practices coexist by forming a repertoire of complementary approaches to healing. Moreover, she attempts to illustrate how this vast array of medical approaches has...


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