Monday, June 09, 2008


It is one thing to read about an acadamic piece as the excerpt below, it is another knowing that we are living it. Because I spent sixteen months without ads hounding me every time I leave the sanctuary of my home, I now feel oppressed by billboards and signs that cover every imaginable space in the city.

Manila is tarpaulin heaven.

Ha. Anyway, here it is, a (quasi) public good provided by moi, for your private consumption.

Globalisation, Class, Consumption and Civil Society in South-east Asian Cities by John Clammer Urban Studies, 40(2), pp 403-419, 2003

In Manila and other large Philippine cities, some analysts suggest that the middle class has diluted the old exclusive elites, but in doing so has moved from its orginal demands for political and economic democratisation to demands for public goods,
especially education...

This 'new urban enivronment' is their natural milieu. They wear ready-made clothing, eat in fastfood outlets, read fasion magazines and organise their lives around consumption. The public domain to such people increasingly seems a boring rrelevance, filled either with problems (the urban poor, crime) or with political venality and quite beyond their control. An enclave mentality is the result, with not only the elites but also the new middle classes effectively opting out of the public shpere which, as a result, degenerates even further...

To understand the nature of public space and the role of the new middle classes within it, attention then needs to be directed to three factors.

The first is clearly the economic - the productive forces that have given rise to this class, its position within the total economic constellation of each society (the co-existence of an affluent urban middle class with extensive and rising urban poverty) and its economic links to and dependency on the state, the corporate world and indeed on international capitalism.

The second is the political, and in particular the tendency of the mass of the new middle classes to support authoritarian regimes in the interests of their own stability and reception of public goods.

The third is cultural and involves both the ethnograpy of the emerging cultures of the middle classes...and a critical perspective on that culture, especially insofar as it is largely a culture of consumption and of highly selective participation in any wider public or collective culture.

...Much of civil society is indeed of middle-class creation in south-east Asia as elsewhere. However it is precisely this middle-class sector that is most susceptible to political co-option and manipulation by the state, given its own demands for expanding public goods rather than public culture or public spaces.

Ascribing the lack of vitality of civil society simply to some reified 'middle class' and its lack of political aspirations in any wide sense is clearly inadequate, since it only provides a weak account of why such politicisation is diminished amongst the middle classes when it is often high amongst the underclasses.

Anthony Giddens has argued that the basis of depoliticisation is not economic or social threat, but changes in the conception of the self in 'late modern' society, eventuating in the abandonment of public politics...and the corresponding rise of 'life politics.' For Giddens, this situation is a situation particular to the (over)developed world in which a form of socially sanctioned narcissism (concerned with self-identity and fuelled by consumption) drives out wider issues.

The moral of the story? Resistance is futile. Do not fight the power. It is ultimately useless. Know your place. Do your duty - work and consume. There is only one true path to happiness - our gigantic malls.


Jego said...


Rage against the dying of the light.

'ika nga ni Chikoy Pura or Dylan Thomas, whomever you prefer.

Jon Limjap said...

Heh, my philosophy of late has become "if you can't beat them, join them". I'll call you up when I do manage to put up a mall of my own.


ambivalent misanthrope said...

Sa tingin ko the reason why we have this tarpaulin culture ay dahil tayong mga Pilipino, hindi tayo mahilig bumili ng mga magazines (dahil hindi rin naman mahilig magbasa ang karamihan sa atin). So imbis na sa magazines mag-advertise ang mga nagkokomersyo sa atin, sa mga tarpaulins na lang, para siguradong makakarating ang advertisements nila sa mga tao.