This study is interestingly conceived. The author, an economist, wants to confront the question about traditional societies: are they hopeless backwaters populated by indolent peasants who do not respond to economic incentives, i.e., are they doomed to fall ever further behind the modern sectors of developing countries? For data that speak to his questions, he restudied four widely separated Mexican villages that had been studied by anthropologists more than twenty years before. Thus, directly relevant data on actual change or lack of change in four traditional societies were gathered.
The first chapter sets the problem. In the second, Avila uses the earlier studies to build a picture of the villages in his base period. The studies used (and the time of field research) are: Robert Redfield on Tepoztlán (1926-1927), Elsie C. Parsons on Mitla (1929-1933), Red-field and Alfonso Villa on Chan Kom (1931) and George M. Foster on Soteapan (1941). Chapters 3, 4 and 5 are devoted to the changes that occurred between the original studies and Avila’s visits in 1964. Chapter 3, “Three Decades of Rural Progress,” reviews population trends, communications, education, health, municipal services, occupational diversity and the role of local government in the communities. A short Chapter 4 concentrates on agriculture and a long Chapter 5 describes the results of a survey of households in the four villages (36 households in all).
The final chapter, “The Traditional Sector and National Growth,” begins: “The three decades of village history just reviewed attest to a record of genuine growth,” thus answering the question about backwardness in the negative. Given this, Avila raises more general questions about the optimal contribution of growth in traditional and modem sectors to overall national growth.
The major weaknesses in the study stem largely from the attempts to use limited quantitative data to make arguments normally reserved for simple assertion or systematically drawn extensive samples. Though Avila explicitly recognizes the limits of his data, at one point he can be found comparing data he and Foster gathered on a single family in Soteapan with Mexican national aggregate figures and claiming partial proof for the proposition that “the relative growth of the per capita income of the villages is converging toward the national average.” In another place he presents data from his own household surveys in great detail and then correctly explains away their incorrect implications by pointing out the “nonrandom character of the sample.”
In sum, while Avila’s effort to go directly to traditional societies to answer questions about their potential for economic transformation is to be admired, the results are disappointing.