Enterprise & Society 4.3 (2003) 548-550
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Sara Schoonmaker. High-Tech Trade Wars: U.S.-Brazilian Conflicts in the Global Economy. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002. x + 220 pp. ISBN 0-8229-4179-1, $34.95.
In the 1970s and 1980s many politicians and policymakers struggled to develop an informatics industry in Brazil, primarily through the use of protectionism and, in particular, the creation of a so-called market reserve. They hoped to promote the development of local computer firms by restricting the entry of multinationals in the mini and personal computer industry. The United States, especially during the administrations of Ronald Reagan, fought Brazil's restrictive policies and (on occasion) brought both countries to the brink of full-scale trade wars. High-Tech Trade Wars analyzes this bilateral battle by combining political economy and poststructuralism. Sara Schoonmaker, a sociologist, tries to bring together these two approaches in a "case study of the politics of globalization and neoliberalism, in the context of technological change in information technologies such as those used in computer and telecommunications systems" (p. 18). She seeks to "explain why certain policy decisions were made and why those choices had particular outcomes for developments" (p. 18). For Schoonmaker, Brazil is a key case to explore the conditions and discourse behind efforts to open world markets to global capital.
Schoonmaker lays out her theoretical approach and methodology clearly and succinctly in chapter 1. In her second chapter, she describes telecommunications laws, what she calls "digital trade," and trade politics in the 1970s and 1980s. She argues that debates shifted from an early emphasis on the telecommunications network to a focus on "transborder data flows, the digital stream of commodities and information transmitted through that network" (p. 21). Consequently, the focus of political battles shifted from the national arena to international policy making. In chapter 3, she moves into the details [End Page 548] of the conflict between the United States and Brazil over informatics legislation. In the next chapter, she looks in depth at the response of the Brazilians, especially at key figures in the informatics industry and in government. Chapter 5 takes the story of informatics law to the demise of restrictive legislation in the early 1990s. Her story then moves closer to the present with a discussion in chapter 6 of state actions in 2000-2001. Clearly, by the beginning of the twenty-first century, Brazilian policies had largely abandoned the early protectionism and accepted "denationalization" and globalization. Chapter 7 comes back to the larger picture and to the "possibilities for developing alternatives to neoliberal development approaches in the context of globalization" (p. 25).
Others, in particular the eminent sociologist Peter Evans, have told a great deal of this story. Schoonmaker's book updates that story and deepens it through thirty-one in-depth interviews done in the early 1990s. She interviewed industrialists in Brazilian-owned computer firms, especially those with a role in policy making; executives working for International Business Machines (IBM) and Unisys in Brazil; several "government officials who had been in charge of implementing the informatics policy during the 1985-1987 trade conflict with the United States" (p. 27); and a top government official who played a key role in dismantling the restrictive laws. Government documents, newspapers, and reports by both scholars and planners provided her with additional source material.
Although Schoonmaker claims to provide an innovative approach through the combination of poststructuralism and political economy, this is more asserted than achieved. Much of the analysis of discourse does little more than describe how that discourse reflects the neoliberal agenda to promote more open markets and globalization. Much of the argument involves laying out the views of others (Saskia Sassen and Arturo Escobar, for example) and showing how Brazil provides material to support those views. Her approach is not particularly revealing. In her concluding chapter, for example, Schoonmaker states that "globalization is a discourse, a narrative of power and knowledge, constructed through a process of political struggle that defines particular actors as qualified to speak...