March 4, 2004 • Volume 12 Number 12
Extra CreditGood old-fashioned hard work is the surest path to writing an award-winning book, but as Asst. Prof. Sarah Babb (Sociology) can attest, location and good timing can have something to do with it, too.
Babb was recently selected as winner of the 2004 Mirra Komarovsky Book Award for her 2001 book Managing Mexico: Economists from Nationalism to Neoliberalism. The award, presented by the Eastern Sociological Society, honors outstanding scholarly works in sociology published within the past three years.
Managing Mexico chronicles how Mexican economists, many of them American-educated and trained, came to dominate that country's power elite during the latter part of the 20th century. Where their predecessors had been a largely powerless group of leftist nationalists, according to Babb, these neoclassicists emerged to set the agenda for the Mexican economics profession and dominate Mexican economic policymaking - for better and for worse.
The seeds for Managing Mexico were planted a decade ago, when Babb embarked on a social science research fellowship at the El Colegio de Mexico Center for International Studies.
"The Colegio was a center for the training of government technocrats, who were just waiting to be the next economics minister," recalled Babb. "This was also a period of great mania for then-President Carlos Salinas. In many ways it was like 'the best and the brightest' all over again: Here was an impressive-looking group of people who just couldn't miss, who were going to transform Mexico through privatization, deregulation, budget-cutting, and opening to free trade."
Babb was skeptical about the prospects of success for Salinas and the technocrats, however, and her doubts were vindicated when Mexico soon underwent a severe financial and political crisis, one that saw Salinas disgraced and in self-imposed exile after his term ended in 1994.
Mexico's trials, Babb said, also point up how globalization can erode national systems of economic expertise in developing countries, creating a new class of "global experts."
"Mexico, it was said, had the most economically literate government in the world, a trend that has continued since Mexico's transition to multi-party democracy," said Babb, who returned to Mexico in 1995-96 under a Fulbright Fellowship. "But however impressive the economists appeared to be, we learned that appearances weren't so reliable. This was more about credentials than actual policies and methods."
If her visit to Mexico proved serendipitous, the Komarovsky Award also comes at an opportune time for Babb, who joined the Sociology faculty prior to the start of the academic year.
"It's a nice way to become known in the BC community," she said. "I'm hoping to find other faculty here who share similar research interests, so perhaps something like this will help. But in any case, I am truly honored to receive the award."
-Sean Smith •