This study of an ejido in the northwest part of the state of Mexico breaks new methodological and theoretical ground. It provides fresh understandings of innovative behavior at the micro-sociological level and demonstrates the utility of various kinds of quantitative formulations of ethnographic material.
Using data from his fieldwork and a good knowledge of the relevant Mesoamerican and general change literature, DeWalt leans heavily on a microcosmic approach by which variability within a community serves as a basis for differential response to opportunity. This perspective is juxtaposed with an emphasis on cultural homogeneity or typical actors. With individuals exhibiting variability, it is likely that differently situated persons will have varied responses (adaptive strategies in his more inflated usage) to internally or externally generated social change. This perspective is empirically demonstrated in chapters dealing with wealth differences, leadership in the community, the operation of the religious cargo system, and the use and abuse of alcohol.
Methodologically, DeWalt uses path analysis, Guttman scaling, and later on factor analysis to supplement, fortify, and pin down to coefficients his more discursive appraisal of correlations and causal chains. Eventually his methods lead to the construction of different models of modernization at the local level and to some better-than-common-sense advice to those who would help people to help themselves in economic development.
As innovative and promising as DeWalt’s monograph is, he does not quite face the problems inherent in the micro-macrostructural dialectic, nor does he show how his approach can be pushed back in time to yield a more social science-oriented history. How do individual responses to events come to eventuate in social structures and cultural patterns, and what is the role of the ensemble of social relations and cultural symbols in which individuals are enmeshed in their perceptions of opportunity and their abilities to exploit new ways? Nevertheless, this is a fine addition to Mesoamerican studies of social and cultural change and a challenge to others to increase the theoretical and methodological sophistication of future work in the region and beyond.