Neoliberalism, industrial reconstruction and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) increasingly dictate the character and the agenda of Mexico's economic policy in the 1990s. Recognizing the importance and potential of the small firm sector within this framework, the Salinas and Zedillo Administrations have strongly supported economic activities once labelled as 'informal' or belonging to the 'black market'. Despite strong support, however, there is a great dearth in studies that address the phenomenon of accelerated expansion of the small-scale enterprise sector.
The present article examines this problematic from a flexible specialization perspective. Against an historical background, the author offers an account of the expansion of mezcal production by small-scale enterprises clustered in a micro region of the State of Jalisco. The central argument is that the relative success of the mezcal sector can be understood through the concepts of 'clustering' and 'collective efficiency'. Through these concepts, the author throws some light on a form of production organization in which a gradual increase in the division of labour has brought about a flexible type of manufacture. This flexible and otherwise viable production form is characterized by a fragmentation of the labour process into a multiplicity of individual producers, input suppliers, etc. This has enabled rapid changes along the web of vertical and horizontal relationships of mezcal producers and, in turn, allowed for quick changes in production levels. The article concludes by stating that the emergence of flexible forms of artisanal production - like in the case of mezcal - is relevant at a macro-economic level for three reasons. First, because of its relative independence from complex, sophisticated and expensive technology. Second, because of the creation of new forward and backward linkages. Finally, because networks of small, flexible firms are less prone to be affected by the disruptive economic conditions that characterize this era of globalization