American Anthropologist Vol. 70 no. 4, August 1968, p781-2
Tzinizuntzan: Mexican Peasants in a Changing World. GEORGE M. FOSTER. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967. xii, 372 pp., I chart, frontispiece, index, 2 plates, works cited. n.p.
Reviewed by ROBERT HUNT University of Illinois, Chicago Circle
George Foster has, in the past half-dozen years, published several articles that have signaled a theoretical bent in his work. Chief among these contributions have been his of the "Image of Limited Good" and the dyadic contract. The first states that peasant societies hold that their universe contains a fixed, scarce, and already distributed amount of Good, and that every exchange of these Goods will sum to zero. The latter is contained in his discussions of the typical arrangement of relationships in Tzintzuntzan, a Mestizo village in the Tarascan area of Mexico, which is held together by a criss-crossed network of dyadic pairs, rather than by corporate groups, whether interlocking or not.
In this restudy of Tzintzuntzan, based upon several revisits in the last decade, Foster has attempted a major synthesis of these two notions, with the purpose both of describing a Mexican village and of explaining the ways that the village has changed in the twenty years or so since his first study. Because it is one of the rare restudies and because it seriously attempts to deal with the economic development of a rural community from the point of view of that community, it is a welcome book.
The book is divided in two parts, the first a description of the traditional community ranging over the last hundred years. About half of this section is an attempt to fit a large amount of behavioral material from Tzintzuntzan into the conceptual scheme of the Image of Limited Good. This half ranges over government, health, ritual, envy, and especially economic condition and endeavors. The section is, in my opinion, highly successful, and the compatibility of this Image with a high degree of conservatism cannot be doubted.
In the second part of the book Foster describes some of the changes that have occurred, and some that have not, since the first study in 1945 (and before, where historical data are available). The village has been subjected to three extraordinary forces in the past 35 years. First, Tzintzuntzan has received electricity, a paved road, potable water, a full primary school, and extensive health services. Second, two development agencies have concentrated on it, one in the early 1930s and one starting in 1951. Third, the bracero program and the establishment of a tourist market for their pottery have been responsible for enormous increases in the supply of money. In addition, Mexico in this time has been extraordinarily dynamic economically and socially.
The changes in Tzintzuntzan can be summarized as extensive changes in consumption and standard of living (Western houses, clothing, medicine, radios, appliances, etc.) and very little change in production methods, despite the investment of considerable time, money, and effort in the two development programs.
Foster's major task is to explain the lack of change, and this he does in terms of world view. The Image of the Limited Good, he believes, with its emphasis on stability and equi- librium has actively inhibited change in the structure of the pueblo. One may ask, however, why new forms of income (bracero wages) can be disposed of in nontraditional consumption ways, but not in nontraditional productive ways.
Looking to the future, Foster identifies five significant factors in the economic development of the town: the population explosion, the infrastructure provided by the nation, the pattern of dyadic contract, the local resources, and the Image of Limited Good. The national infrastructure is seen as fomenting development, and the dyadic contract pattern, in preventing factions, will permit it. The rest are seen as inhibiting future development, especially the Limited Good orientation, which is maladaptive in a situation where traditional methods of production must be abandoned if a higher standard of living is to be achieved.
The results of Foster's analysis are interesting, and valuable, as far as they go. But I, for one, have found that rural Mexicans are far more systematic and perceptive in thinking through the advantages and disadvantages of a new procedure than are anthropologists. Resistances to new production methods, therefore, are often the (correct) result of rational calculation. Two problems of considerable importance are raised by Foster's study: what is the conceptual status of the Image of Limited Good (he calls it both cognitive orientation, and, in its individual manifestations, character and personality; the latter clearly ambiguous); and how correct is Foster's judgement of the relative importance of the Limited Good in explaining lack of fundamental change? On the latter point, as Campbell has shown, a single case study cannot, logically, demonstrate the answer: only a comparative study will serve.
Foster's study incidentally provides data bearing on the recent attempts to obtain measures of modernization or economic development in Latin American communities by count. ing (and scaling) culture traits, such as electricity, all-weather roads, etc. Tzintzuntzan has these traits in abundance, but, as Foster has so clearly shown, it has not as yet undergone any significant change in productive structure. After Foster's sound empirical results, a rethinking of research strategy in this realm is now surely in order.
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