Regional Studies in Mexico: Understanding Authors and their Works, Javier Delgadillo and Felipe Torres, 1stst ed., iiec-unam, Mexico, 2011.

All countries that aspire to achieve balanced development must consider the knowledge, mastery and use of their territories as a key factor for economic, political and social progress. Regional knowledge is an important aspect for development.

With this idea as a starting point, Javier Delgadillo and Felipe Torres reveal the current state of regional studies and key actors in the evolution of geographical and regional thinking in Mexico in seven chapters. The first sketches out a panorama highlighting the importance of Geography and regional analysis, emphasizing that this science contributes specific territorial and population knowledge, an understanding of available resources and economic activities, among other factors, as well as the aspects that are missing for a country’s social and economic development. Regional studies promote better use of resources and, through planning, lead to medium and long-term organizational improvements.

Chapters two and three discuss the general panorama of the history of Regional Geography in Mexico. Starting with the pre-Hispanic era, the knowledge of our territory has evolved and become more and more precise. However, there are some time periods that stand out; for example, in the colonial period, Carlos Sigüenza y Góngora must be recognized as the first cartographer, as he put together the General Map of the Kingdom of New Spain, and José Antonio Villaseñor, author of the work American Theater . Other influential actors include Alexander von Humboldt with his Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain, where he lays out the strong social and economic contrasts between regions.

Since independence, other key agents include Francisco Díaz Covarrubias and his Map of the Valley of Mexico, or Antonio García Cubas for his Geographical, Statistical and Historical Atlas of the Mexican Republic . The production of regional and cartographic knowledge was subordinated to political factors in the twentieth century. However, it must be recognized that a majority of the information generated was based on an imminent desire to explore the Mexican territory and each of its regions, with the idea not only of promoting knowledge of its natural resources, climate, etc., but also to increase exploitation of these resources and drive social and economic development in harmony. As such, authors such as Manuel Orozco and Berra warn of the process of regional differentiation and how it undermines economic development. They also warn of the situation where strategic territories, such as the coasts and borders, have few inhabitants, while the majority of the population is concentrated in the center of the nation. For this reason they proposed the idea that the national territory should strive for economic balance in each of its jurisdictions. This process was accentuated when the company opened up to foreign interests during the Porfirian age, which made key sectors of the economy more dynamic: mining, petroleum exploitation and railways. With the revolution, these sectors were still important, but agriculture became the main engine of development through which large numbers of dispossessed citizens were incorporated into national economic growth.

Following the revolution, Mexican geography emphasized not only the study of the fiscal and social inventory of the territory, but also the idea of fostering links and colonization and promoting development and balanced growth within the population. Agrarian reform was the materialization of these revolutionary ideals and territory studies played an important role. In this case, significant work was done by Manuel Mesa Andraca, René Villarreal, Emilio Alanís Patiño, and others.

The transition from an agricultural country to an urban nation began in the 1940s, and generated new studies that sought to understand the problems resulting from urban growth, industrial development, high birth rates and migration from rural regions to the main cities and metropolises we know today. New actors arrived: Fernando Zamora Millán, Ricardo Torres Gaitán, Fernando Carmona de la Peña, Jorge A. Vivó, Jorge L. Tamayo, Ángel Bassols Batalla and Claude Bataillon, and they diversified regional studies in Mexico, from an academic standpoint, as the pillars of new research in the field. Their findings not only supported the academic sector, but also government actions to implement policies to promote regional economies.

In light of these new territorial processes, which arose following the 1960s and were intensified over the next decades, chapter five describes new research regarding the most pressing urban-regional problems of the time: the economic features of cities, the real-estate market in Mexico City, State actions regarding housing issues, the industrialization process, urban and regional planning exams and the factors that affect the location of new economic enclaves, either for tourism or industry, among other topics.

The economic processes that the Mexican economy has undergone are also expressed within the diverse regions of our country, and new themes have new experts. This knowledge is being produced in a variety of institutions, such as the Geography Institute, the Economic Research Institute and the Center for Regional Research and Multidisciplinary Studies, all from the unam (National Autonomous University of Mexico). Experts from the uam (Autonomous University of Mexico), the uamex (Autonomous University of the State of Mexico), the Colegio Mexiquense, the University of Guadalajara, the Colegio de Tlaxcala and other prestigious institutions have also made contributions. The Economic Research Institute has one of the most prolific research groups in urban-regional studies. Originally formed by Dr. Ángel Bassols Batalla, the group has completed a considerable amount of research that reveals new urban-regional themes, related to supply, cities and actors and local development, among other topics, as talked about in chapter six.

The final chapter discusses the challenges that Mexican regional geography faces given the need to study reality from new approaches and make these studies more applicable. Thus, the book allows us to understand the works of authors dedicated to the study of, knowledge and current potential of Mexican regions, in order to build a better country. This is a necessary read to understand the long path that these actors have travelled in building this knowledge, with the goal of achieving a more just country for all of its inhabitants.

Rafael Olmos
Economic Research Institute – unam