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  • Social Stratification in Central Mexico, 1500-2000 by Hugo G. Nutini and Barry L. Isaac
  • Ethelia Ruiz Medrano
Social Stratification in Central Mexico, 1500-2000. By Hugo G. Nutini and Barry L. Isaac. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009. Pp. 277. Maps. Photographs. References. Index. $60.00 cloth.

This fundamental volume reflects the growing interest among social scientists in undertaking long-term studies. The authors of this book are well-known specialists on Mexico who take on the difficult task of explaining the social stratification in that country, based on important archival research and their more than 50 years of ethnographic study. The book is an important achievement.

The two parts include eight chapters that focus on the history and ethnography of central Mexico. In the first part the authors study the historical antecedents of social stratification in both medieval Western Europe and the Aztec Empire. In central Mexico, it was the Spanish colonial administration that instituted estate stratification based primarily on race and ethnicity, save for their placement of the indigenous nobility above the indigenous commoners. In this line of argument, the authors pose ethnicity as "a historically grounded group identity" and in an incredibly interesting way discuss their conviction that "ethnic traditions are always subject to reinterpretation in an ongoing adaptation to changing circumstances" (p. 63). In the final chapter of this first part, the authors discuss in an extremely detailed analysis the hacienda system that was of great importance in central Mexico.

Part two is devoted to a deep study of Mexico´s social classes from the middle of the twentieth century to the year 2000. One of the many important facts that Nutini and Isaac bring out is that since the beginning of that period, "the plutocracy, and the political class, and the middle and upper middle class have regarded the aristocracy as a seamless unit" (p. 106). We learn that the upper middle class grew by more than 50 percent between 1975 and 2000 (p. 125) and that it is the most apolitical sector; we learn also that its members are "the most vocal critics of the political establishment" (p. 126). The authors attribute this to the racial component and rightly assert that as a rule "the more European an individual appears, the more likely he or she is to rise socially" (p. 127). With this, the authors rightly conclude that both the middle class, which is extremely small, and the urban lower classes, much more numerous, exhibit a contemporary history of very little class consciousness. In chapter 7, Nutini and Isaac explore the religion, worldview, and transition to modernity of Indian-mestizos living in small towns and villages.

This is not the first time in the history of Mexico that Mexican villages, and especially indigenous and peasant communities, face challenges that threaten their present and future lives. As I have observed in my own research, peasant communities that are organized and united are more capable of making a dynamic negotiation with the state, and many of them are now doing so as a political strategy. This process has had a noticeable effect on many of Mexico's Indian communities, heightening their political awareness and giving them a sharper sense of their rights and obligations. Additionally, these communities have a clear tendency to take pride in the group to which they belong and increasingly register the importance of their native language and culture. [End Page 416]

Indeed, various Indian communities have for some years now stressed recognition of the rights they hold as "native pueblos." This practice has helped energize a movement to preserve their languages, customs, and systems of communal organization.

This book offers very important conclusions based on a life's work that helps the reader to better understand Mexican society, past and present. Overall, this clearly written volume will be of importance to anthropologists and sociologists and most notably to historians.

Ethelia Ruiz Medrano
Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia
Mexico City, Mexico


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