Much research on the city in developing societies has focused mainly on one of three areas—planning, demography, or economics—and has emphasized either power elites or the masses, but not both. The published literature on Latin America has reflected these interests and has so far failed to provide a comprehensive view of Latin American urbanization. Urban Latin America is an attempt to integrate research on Latin American social organization within a single theoretical framework: development as fundamentally a political problem. Alejandro Portes and John Walton have included material on both elites and marginal populations and on the three major areas of research in order to formulate and address some of the key questions about the structure of urban politics in Latin America.
Following an introduction that delineates the scope of Latin American urban studies, Portes discusses the Latin American city as a creation of European colonialism. He goes on to examine political behavior among the poor, with central reference to system support and countersystem potential. Walton provides material for a comparative study of four cities: Monterrey and Guadalajara in Mexico and Medellín and Cali in Colombia. He also summarizes a large number of urban elite studies and develops a theoretical interpretation of their collective results, based on class structure and vertical integration. Material in each chapter is cross-referenced to other chapters, and the authors have used a common methodological approach in synthesizing and interpreting the research literature. In the final chapter they generalize current findings, elaborating on the interface between elite and mass politics in the urban situation. They make some observations on approaching changes and pinpoint possible research strategies for the future.