Flexibility for whom? Small-scale garment manufacturing in rural Mexico

Frances Abrahamer Rothstein

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

10 Scopus citations


This chapter, based on twenty-five years of anthropological fieldwork in San Cosme Mazatecochco, a rural community in central Mexico, describes the recent emergence of "flexible production" in San Cosme and analyzes how and for whom flexible production is flexible. After a discussion of the broader national and international context of garment production, the first part of the chapter focuses on the nature of flexible production in San Cosme. The second part of the chapter describes who in the community has been able to set up garment workshops; who works in the workshops; who controls workshop production; and why some workshops, owners, and/or merchants have been more successful. The concluding section relates local success and flexibility to regional, national, and international policies and suggests that flexible production has varied consequences at different levels of production. What is flexibility at the global level for large companies may be constraint at the local level for communities, workshops, or individuals. Furthermore, flexibility is by definition unstable; consequently what is flexible in one phase may be restriction at another stage. Finally, the analysis of San Cosme suggests that flexibility is just one aspect of a new relationship between the residents of this community and global capitalism. In this new relationship, flexibility and control at the local level are largely illusions that hide a reality of greater control by fewer people at the global level.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPetty Capitalists and Globalization
Subtitle of host publicationFlexibility, Entrepreneurship, and Economic Development
PublisherState University of New York Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)9780791463994
StatePublished - 2005


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