Re-imagined communities: the radical imagination from Philippine independence to the postcolonial present

Marco Cuevas-Hewitt

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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What becomes of the dream of freedom and equality for Third World peoples when, after independence, only an indigenisation of colonial structures takes place? The advent of newly-independent Third World nations after World War II additionally coincided with the rise of global capitalism, against which they found themselves powerless. This postcolonial quandary is the starting point of this thesis, with special attention given to the Philippine experience. Today, the idea of the nation-state as the locus proper of the political, and as the inevitable form that human community should take, is being increasingly questioned by the younger political generation in the Philippines and beyond – not solely because of its internal hierarchies, but also because a fixation on the national is inadequate in the face of global capitalism. My concerns in this work are with how the nation-state is being un-imagined or re-imagined in light of globalisation and postcoloniality; and more significantly, with the new forms of community coming into being. As such, the three motivating questions behind this inquiry are: 1) If the nation-state was the form of community upon which national liberation movements were predicated, what are the imagined communities that underlie today’s anational social movement practices?; 2) If national communities are underpinned by the value of ‘homophily’ – the preference for associating with one’s ‘own kind’ – what are the values that inhere in newer forms of community?; and 3) If the nation-state is characterised by its territorial insularity, what kind of spatial sensibilities are emerging in opposition to it?

To address these questions, I conducted a total of twelve months’ ethnographic fieldwork across two fieldsites. The first was San Francisco in the United States, where I participated in a range of Filipino American activist groups – the rationale being that the diaspora has been instrumental in re-imagining community beyond the nation-state. My second fieldsite was Manila, Philippines, where I worked with the feminist, environmentalist, and anarchist movements most especially, since these struck me as sites of considerable innovation. Working with members of both the older and younger political generations, I sought to understand their critiques of inherited forms of community on the one hand, and their proposals for new and more just forms of community on the other. Beyond the standard ethnographic toolkit, I also employed a methodology that I have named the futurology of the present. My concern was to attend not simply to what is, but more importantly to what is becoming; to the alternative futures embedded in the present.

My fieldwork data revealed two interrelated aspects of contemporary communities-in-the-making. The first is a novel political value that I dub xenophilia. By this I refer to a new openness towards difference, both within and between inherited social categories, which stands in contrast to the nationalist preference for sameness. The second is a novel spatial sensibility that I have chosen to call translocalism. Translocalists see the world, not as a patchwork of nation-states, nor as the kind of totality in which the local is superseded by the global and ceases to matter. Rather, they imagine the globe as a constellation of place-based communities, seeking to empower them against the overarching apparatuses of national and supranational sovereignty alike. I found that xenophilia and translocalism were common across the four main movements I worked with: the diasporans, the feminists, the environmentalists, and the anarchists. They are conceived as antidotes to past unfreedoms, as well as responses to the challenges posed by the global, postcolonial present.

In summary, what emerged from my research was a picture of large-scale collective learning through time, with changing circumstances prompting a new political generation to reinvent what ‘changing the world’ means. Where once it was synonymous in the Third World with nationalism, it is now becoming increasingly cosmopolitan. Where once it meant seizing power so as to bring about change from above, it is now increasingly signifying the empowerment of communities from below. I suggest that activists could perhaps take this collective learning process to be the very point of their work. The goal then becomes the continual cultivation of a more habitable present, rather than a utopic future that can never be realised. Social movements renew society, but their work is never done.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Western Australia
  • McDougall, Debra, Supervisor
  • Harney, Nicholas, Supervisor
Award date1 Jul 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016


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