In her exploration of recent transitions in transport-equipment maquilas in Nogales, Sonora, Kathryn Kopinak integrates a social and economic examination of the shifting working and living conditions of the labor force with an astute analysis of structural changes in the Mexican maquilization process.

Kopinak’s aim is to trace both the recent economic reorganization of North America and the potential effect of NAFTA on Mexican workers and on regional economic development in the western industrial corridor. In achieving this goal, she cogently establishes that no second wave of maquilization has appeared in the transport-equipment maquilas, as predicted by dual-technology theorists. Instead, Kopinak demonstrates the heterogeneous growth of these maquilas, which, while expanding rapidly, have reproduced many of the social characteristics of their predecessors.

Although these enterprises have utilized some new technology, and have developed managerial and labor processes by blending elements of “old” and “new” production paradigms, workers have not enjoyed anticipated advances. Most jobs have remained unskilled, with a decrease in real wages, little automation, and limited worker empowerment. Women especially have failed to benefit, because of the feminization and gender segmentation of the workforce. Kopinak concludes that Mexico has maintained its specialized role as a supplier of low-wage labor through the return of technical jobs northward, the increase in multiskilled workers, and the redefinition of previously technical jobs as unskilled.

One of Kopinak’s most insightful arguments evolves out of her comparative analysis of Nogales and Imuris, Sonora. Evaluating NAFTA’s potential differential impact on distinct regions of Mexico, she predicts that because of the lower wages paid at inland plants, maquilas with a strategy based largely on low wages and “old” production paradigms may move to interior locales; consequently, maquilas divided along technological and wage lines may also become geographically segmented.

In addition, by mapping trends in households tied to maquila labor, Kopinak presents a unique theoretical challenge for understanding the results of maquilization. She maintains that because of the lack of union organization in the maquilas, households have become the base for mediating the harsh conditions of maquila employment. By illustrating how the daily lives of workers are increasingly determined by maquila labor, Kopinak shows the need to examine household and community structures both as strategies for survival and as conditions of the maquila labor process.

In the book’s most provocative argument, Kopinak disputes modernization theory and the concept that there is one path to development. Unfortunately, she does not offer a comprehensive alternative to dual-technology theories, although that is partly because of the heterogeneous nature of the maquilas. Ultimately, though, her examination of Mexican maquilization implicitly sets new parameters for analyzing development and development factors throughout Latin America.