Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Because practices are homologous and tend to be reproduced, contemporary society places a high premium on originality. Watch popular singing contests like American Idol, for example, and you will hear judges criticize singers for singing like they were in a karaoke bar, or for not making the song their own, or for not letting their personality shine through, or in other words, for not being original.

I guess contemporary society has to wrestle with the boredom of reproduced practices and has become very much unlike other societies where reproduction of tradition maters, a time for example when guilds existed to make sure nobody deviated from trade or production processes.

The premium on originality, however, is not absolute. Originality has its limits and the art of practice is to innovate without offending society's unspoken standards. Not all practices that are different are considered original. Some are considered distasteful or inappropriate because they are different.

In other words, what we deem original is different but it is not too different and the trick is to have a sense of the difference between the two.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The (F)utility of military drills

Regular posts will be on Thursdays.

Military drills have lost the utility they once had in warfare. In many battles before the advent of automatic weapons, the success of an army depended largely on the ability to move as a unit. This was true during the Roman times when soldiers moved as a phalanx and up to the American Civil War when soldiers had to keep to their lines. In modern times, marching in lines is probably the worst military formation on the battlefield.

And yet modern military training still requires such drills even if they will never be used in the battlefield.

Several generations of Filipino men were required to do military drills 3 hours a week for three school years of their lives and the sentiment of these men was that these drills were absolutely useless.

Despite the seeming futility of these drills, they do serve certain social functions. First, the cadet learns to obey authority even to the point of absurdity. I turn left because my officer says so even if I had just turned left a few heartbeats ago and we really are not going anywhere. Logic does not matter here. only the fact that the cadet learns who is in charge and whose logic, or lack of it, is to be followed. In other words, cadets quickly learn their place.

Secondly, the drills are an exercise in appropriate deportment. Women, they say, love a man in uniform and the drills represent a test of whether or not a man can properly carry the uniform he desires to wear. The officer often inspects the deportment of a cadet, checking to see if his shoes are spotless (if a drop of water will fall like a tear over his shoe), if all the brass items are shiny and even if his hanky is properly folded. The officer also checks to see if the cadets movements are snappy and if he carries his body and his gun well. After a while the deportment becomes second nature to the cadet to the point that outside the military, the cadet will easily be recognized as someone who has undergone military training.

Thirdly, the cadet learns the importance of camaraderie, that he must learn to work with his unit. A mistake of one cadet is taken out on the whole unit so the cadet must learn to work with his team.

The practice of drills, like many other social practices, serves no practical purpose in themselves but are conducted nonetheless for reasons other than learning how to march.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Politics of Place

Author's Note: The rate of posting will be reduced to once a week. Posts will come out on Mondays

Appropriate/ inappropriate practice varies according to the field onelives in and one's position in the field. This is evident in language:

- knowing your place
- "it is not my place to say..."
- "I put him in his place"
- nasa lugar/ wala sa lugar (which is probably less vertically orientedthan the first two)
- "i'm not yet in a position to do anything about it.
- positioning oneself for something
- "you've arrived"

Two examples.

I served as secretary for a conference in Cebu and arrived at a beach-sidedinner late so all the (round) tables were filled. I occupied the one empty chair I found and in a moment realized that it was not my place to sit there because it was filled with the people who occupied the top ofthe totem pole. Too late to get out.

Two months ago, I was in Makati for the signing of a MOA that I had worked for and involved my department. Before the start of the signing, two of my bosses and I were milling around with a few officers of the corporation chitchatting in a circle but my phone rang and I stepped out of the circle which closed quickly behind me. After I left, I noticed that the conversation started to flow more smoothly and I myself was more comfortable talking to the junior officers.

After the signing, the President of the corporation dropped by and there was a picture taking and my bosses were there but I was not invited even if the MOA involved my office. Don't get me wrong, hindi masama loob ko, it's just that I knew it wasn't my place to be there.

We all occupy a particular place which corresponds to a particular social space. Each particular social space in turn has a set of appropriate and inappropriate behaviors attendant to it. The trick then is "to know your place".

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Indeterminate Identities

Author's Note: This essay was inspired by Bourdieu's Homo Academicus.

A person who faithfully observes the practices of a particular field or collective assumes the identities associated with that field. There are some fields or collectives however whose place in the bigger scheme of things (the social space, as it were) is yet to be established which makes the identity of the occupants of that field indeterminate.

This is apparent from my location in the academe in terms of the choice of courses of our students. Our students choose courses for which the identities which they will assume after graduation are well-defined within the context of a larger social space. They avoid courses which are loaded with indeterminacy.

The ability to assume a generally acknowledged label is of utmost important. Students must be able to say, "When I graduate I will be a computer scientist or a businessman or a lawyer or a doctor, etc".

At the very least, the field must have a clear place in the larger social space and this is why some disciplines fail to attract students. What is the place of a philosopher or a sociologist, for example, in the larger scheme of things?

Some fields, like mine (Development Studies) suffer from the most indeterminacy. The label is not generally recognized and the place of the field in the larger social space is not established. Our students don't even have a convenient handle to work with unlike students of Economics who can be economists or students of physics who can be physicists. What would you call a development studies graduate? (One student even suggested changing the name of the course to development science so that they could be called development scientists)

In choosing a course, students choose an identity and in doing so, they choose their place in society. Courses for which both identity and place in society are clear are more likely to attract students while those for which either element is missing will be hard-pressed to bring students in.

Monday, November 06, 2006


Author's Note: I've tried my best to create a flow between posts but I've run out of things to add to the current thread. So all the entries that follow will be independent essays. This essay on Identity probably should have come after Practice.

Every collective, and more particularly, every field has a sense of the appropriate and inappropriate practices including the appropriate and inappropriate behavior and deportment. Immersion in the field and constant (conscious and unconscious) repetition leads to the internalization of this sense of appropriate and inappropriate behavior and deportment and the manifestation of this in the immersee's practice.

This is evident in all fields whether the field be defined as the field of poetry, dancing, singing, being an Atenean or being a Filipino. Immersion in the arts, for example, leads to a certain poetic or musical or artistic sensibility (and temperement, artist kasi). For dancers, in particular, immersion in their art leads to a particular deportment. You can tell, for example, if someone is a ballet dancer even when the dancer is not dancing.

Immersion in a field also leads to the creation of identities, especially for established fields. A person who is immersed in the field of poetry is not merely a writer of poems, that person is a poet. The same is true for a dancer, a singer or an artist.

(The mystery is this: when does someone assume an identity, ex. when does someone become a poet and not merely a writer of poetry? A lot of it will probably have to do with when the legislators deem that person worthy to be called a poet. Otherwise the person will just be a feeling or trying hard poet)

Beyond the arts, people can tell by their practices who the Ateneans or Filipinos are. I was told recently by a mother of an Ateneo High School teenager that my deportment betrayed my being an Atenean (and someone who came from the Ateneo High School at that). And as for being Filipino, there are so many books on how one can tell that somebody is a Filipino.

Immersion in a field is reflected in the occupants' practices and the definition of the occupants' identity in terms of the occupied field.

Next Post: Thursday, November 9

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Things Need Not Be The Way They Are

Every collective has a sense of appropriate and inappropriate practices but this definition of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate practices can be a tremendous source of unfreedom.

Just ask the lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders. In almost all societies, they are regarded as engaging in inappropriate practices because they do not fall into the socially acceptable categories of male or female. Just ask the gays who were beaten up by their fathers and brothers and were told "magpakalalaki ka". Just ask the lesbians (like the contestant on Philippine Idol) or gays who are told by society that looking like a man or a woman is inappropriate (some collectives, for example, still insist that women should not wear pants).

Even "straight" men and women have to live with an unspoken code of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Men, in general, have to live by a standard of what it is "to be a man" which includes a certain deportment (avoidance of effeminate gestures, for example), corporealization (low voice, for example) and certian practices (not crying, for example).

Societies cannot live without a sense of appropriate and inappropriate practices but forgetting that things need not be the way they are can lead to grave injustices. Hitler and his Nazi party, for example, promoted the ideology that the Aryan race was a pure race and this was used to justify the extermination of many other races to prevent contamination. What Hitler did was extreme, yes, but the point is that we need to re-examine our sense of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behavior once in a while to prevent ourselves from perpetuating less visible injustices.

To a large extent, the women's movement best exemplifies this attempt to question practices and to expose the marginalization and subjugation of women through practices that have no logic beyond that the fact that practices that reinforce the subordinate position of women are a part of our collective culture and history. For sure there are other areas where practices (and representations) are a source of injustice and unfreedom.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Good Manners and Right Conduct

Teenagers have a tendency to rebel against accepted practice because they realize that the social sense of what is appropriate and inappropriate practice is socially constructed and that nothing is taboo in and of themselves but is only taboo because society says so. Furthermore, they feel that this definition of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate practice is an exercise of social domination, social power or social control and this realization leads to their active resistance.

The problem is that these teenagers are correct on all counts. The sense of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate practice is socially constructed and they do constitute exercises in social domination (at the very least, the domination of the society over an individual, not necessarily the domination of a particular group or individual over other individuals).

The problem is compounded by the fact that the reason why we engage in certain practices and not others does not usually flow from any logic and society would not perish if the practices were changed but we engage in these practices anyway because we "know" that this is how things are done.

Good manners, for example, are simply based on social convention or are derived from some ancient historical practice that has no contemporary relevance. The handshake (which used to be a medieval symbol that knights were unarmed; that's why we shake with our right hands) or the tipping of one's hat (or a salute for that matter which replicates a knight's raising of his visor to show his face to an approaching knight) has no contemporary logic aside from the fact that these are how things are done.

Everytime we have formal academic gatherings at the University, the faculty are hard pressed to remember if the tassle on the cap should be on the left or on the right until a colleague said that in medieval times, left was the side of royalty.

It is good when there are such explanations (which often lead teenagers to ask if practices should change now that circumstances are different) but most people do not know these explanations and most practices do not have explanations. That is why when teenagers ask why certain practices are considered inappropriate and they unmask the fact that these standards have no logical basis, an exasperated adult might just end up saying "because that's the way things are" or in Tagalog, "ah basta".

What teenagers need to know is that the practice of good manners and right conduct is not done in and for itself but is an affirmation of one's membership in a particular society by following that society's social conventions.

Next Post: Thursday, November 2.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Practice can take on a double meaning. The first meaning of the word pertains to the way things are done. One enters into a new situation or setting, for example, and wonder, "What is the practice here?" The second sense in which we use practice is that of training before an actual performance or event (ex. basketball practice vs. actual basketball game). In Tagalog we say, "Practice lang ito" to make it clear that the act is not yet the real thing.

When we enter into a new situation, we learn the practices through observation and eventually learn to embody them through constant repitition. Unlike theater or sports performances, however, most of the practices in life are indistinguishable from actual performance and the repitition is done unconsciously.

Almost all of the time (except during those times when we do role-playing during organizational development trainings), we do not train to live nor train before actual situations. We just act once the situation or the stimuli is presented to us and because of our sense of the appropriate practice given particular stimuli or situations, we "know" (we just know) what we need to do and we do it oftentimes without conscious deliberation.

A lot of our training happened when we were children but our parents were not fulltime coaches (nor were most of them aware that they were coaches. Sometimes we learn from them from their reactions to our action but more often than not, we learn from them by merely observing them and their practices. In that sense, they are unconscious teachers and we are unconscious learners.

And when we behave as they do, we do not practice behavior in the sense of training. We just behave. We may not engage in competent practice but we engage in practice in real time, as it were), nonetheless (as opposed to time for practice). Most of the time, there is no distinction between the backstage and the actual performance. If we are beginners, we may make mistakes but with constant repitition in real time, we become adept at the correct practice. Sometimes our behavior effects a favorable or an unfavorable response from others but most of the time, people do not react to what we are doing (because for them, what we are doing is the most natural thing in the world; it is part of their taken-for-granted).

And so we engage in particular sets of practices because our behavior is not noticed and therefore acceptable or because we have been told to engage in such practices and avoid their opposites. Over time, we repeat these practices and pretty soon, they become part of our taken-for-granteds and we pass these on to the next generation.

Next Post: Monday, October 30.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Confidence, Part II

Aside from confidence as mastery of skill, there is also confidence in relating with other people. When we say a person is growing in confidence, we usually mean that person is better able to relate with others. Sometimes we say that person is coming out of his shell.

The opposite of this type of confidence is shyness not skillessness.

I think that increasing social confidence is a by-product of (unconsciously) coming in tune with the social sense of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate practices and a corporealized acceptance of that sense of appropriate and inappropriate practices (i.e. an acceptance that is manifested in deportment, practices and choice of strategies).

Again, Andy in the Devil Wears Prada is a perfect example of a person growing in confidence (in the fashion industry) after her decision to internalize (and externalize the internalization of) the practices and strategies of tha industry. In doing so, she became less confident of being able to relate with her old friends as she began to lose touch with their sense of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate practices, strategies and values.

The internalization of a collective's sense of appropriate and inappropriate practices, strategies and values can be tough especially for an outsider coming in (i.e. entering a new culture). An extreme form is the physical hazing of fraternity or sorority plebes to demonstrate their loyalty and the intellectual hazing of a law student.

But the demands can be much more than endurance of physical pain during moments of initiation. In some collectives (fashion, entertainment), correct strategies dictate appropriate body types and complexions forcing those who want to be in to go through all sorts of regimens to help keep in shape and to look young and beautiful. (Papaya soaps, whitening lotions,) Diet and exercise help but the cosmetic surgery industry is also booming because of the need to manifest an appropriate body type and external manifestation. Some clients of cosmetic surgeons say that cosmetic surgery makes them feel better about themselves and though they may deny it, feeling good is a by-product of an appropriate bodily manifestation.

It requires a buying in to particular beliefs of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate practices, strategies and values in order to gain confidence as a member of a particular collective.

Next post: Friday, October 27

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Confidence, Part I

There are at least two types of confidence. One is confidence based on mastery of skills (discussed here in Part I) and the second, which is more important (the subject of Part II) is the confidence in relating with other people.

Confidence based on mastery of skills can only be attained through constant practice. Ask any musician, sports person, or any other occupant of any other field and the good ones will tell you that their skill was developed through intense immersion in their activity and constant practice.

I learned early on for example, that the secret to being good in math was constant practice. In studying for long tests, I would answer questions from textbooks which provide answers (to every other question) at the back so I could check whether or not I got the right answer even if answering those questions was not required.(I once got lucky and did drills on a higher level textbook and lo and behold, my teacher got all his questions from the textbook. Thus, two long tests with perfect scores).

Drills in math give a student a feel for the mathematical game, training that student in types of questions that are asked and the type of thinking required for a particular type of question. I hear that the trick to doing well in the GRE is the same. Practice.

The same is true for any other field. Pianists or other musicians for that matter become good or great by constantly playing the piano until such time that their fingers know what to do (they can play with their eyes closed). I am especially respectful of violinists because unlike pianists or guitarists, there are no real guides regarding where their fingers should go. They either know it or they don't.

An athlete must constantly train and practice before an actual game or event until participation in the event itself becomes second nature to him. When he is out on the field, he will know what to do. He is one wth the field or as basketball and golf coaches would say, "Be the Ball".

But an even more valuable form of practice is not the practice before the event but the practice inherent in the event itself. The experience of competition, most especially the experience when the stakes of the competition are high (ex. a championship) is also important because an athlete must also get used to the crowd as well as the pressure of the moment, factors which will be absent from the practice venue.

I remember a scene in Glory where white officers were training a newly formed company of black soldiers during the American Civil War. A particularly good black solider was showing off his marksmanship but the officer challenged him to display his talent while the officer fired rounds around the marksman to simulate battle conditions. While this is better training, nothing beats the training derived from constant exposure to actual warfare.

There is no better way to gain confidence except through constant practice and immersion in actual activity.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Reproduction of Social Practice: Why Members of a Collective Tend to Do the Same Things, Part II

The example of beauty contests discussed in Part I may have given the impression that homology of practice can be accounted for by conscious training. The point of that essay is not so much that homology is a practice of conscious training but that it is a product of a common sense of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate practices and strategies and a common sense of the stakes worth competing for. Conscious training, however, is for the most part, not the usual case and this was demonstrated in the earlier essay on deportment.

We learn what is considered appropriate and inappropriate behavior through a largely unconscious process that begins from our infancy. Now that I have a three year old daughter, I see this very clearly in the way she reflects my habits back to me. Everytime I pick her up from play school, I ask her, "How was your day?" and lately, everytime I come home from work, she has taken to askign me the same question. Friends also tell me that my child's deportment around strangers is similar to my deportment towards most people. The was we look at people is the same and our bearing is very similar. My child learns by mimicking and I think for the most part, that is how we learn.

Sometimes we learn when others tell us what to do or what not to do but this is nowhere near the scrutinizing gaze of the professional coach of a beauty contestant. The remarks made to teach us are mostly casual, non-premeditated remarks in response to a situation. We "catch" our child sneezing without covering her mouth, for example, and casually tell her to cover her mouth the next time she sneezes. We probably weren't paying attention to the child at the moment she sneezed just as a professional coach would probably be observing his charge at every moment in time.

Practices are homologous in a society largely because the persons through whom we are socialized already engage in homologous practices and share a sense of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate practices which we tend to reproduce.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

World Peace: Or Why Members of a Collective Tend to Do the Same Things, Part I

People in a given collective and most especially those who are members of the same field have an amazing tendency to behave the same way. This can be accounted for by the fact that people within these collectives and most especially those within the same field generally have a shared sense of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate practice, what constitutes good and bad or right and wrong strategy in pursuit of stakes that are generally accepted to be worth striving for. Those who behave differently most probably do not have a sense of appropriate or inappropriate practice, do not have a sense of what constitutes right ot wrong strategy or do not believe that the stakes involved are worth fighting for. Given their behavior, they will, of course, not be expected to get very far within that field.


International beauty pageants are a prime example of this homology of practice. The contestants have very similar deportments. They stand the same way, they walk the same way, they have broad smiles (unlike models in photo shoots who sometimes are not encouraged to smile), their tone of voice is the same. Their responses to questions are similar (partly because the questions tend to be similar) and the running joke is that if a contestant does not know what to say, the correct default answer (with a corresponding exclamatory tone of voice) is “World Peace!” Of course now that these beauty contests are being accused of being sexist and that they constitute abuse of women's bodies, most contestants now talk about the value and strength of women while wearing their two-piece swim suits in front of an audience of millions of people and in a fully airconditioned hall.


This homology of practice of beauty contestants is a product of a shared sense of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate practices and good and bad strategy in pursuit of the title. This sense is drilled into them by watching the practices of previous contestants (especially winning contestants) and it is also drilled into them by professional beauty contestant coaches who provide rigorous training for these contestants in the proper deportment and the proper practices. The goal of the training is for the contestant to engage in the correct practices and to carry herself in the right way as if it were second nature to her. The contestant must have such a keen sense of the right practice, especially in answering questions (because for everything else, there is really very little room for creativity), to the point that she can come up with an answer that is appropriate and yet original. Maybe this is why beauty contests always end with a question and answer portion. The winning candidate is not necessarily the most beautiful contestant but the contestant for whom the proper practices come naturally and who has such a keen sense of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate practice that she can come up with something intelligent within the bounds of acceptable practice.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Petty Fights

The stakes involved in particular fields are almost always unique to that field or at the very least are valued differently in that field compared to others. Money, for example, is important in the academe as it is in the corporate world (after all, professors do have to eat) but the value of money tends to be downplayed in the academe compared, for example, to the importance of prestige for a professor, even if that prestige does not translate into monetary gain. One can think especially of esteemed professors in theology and philosophy who would most likely not end up as consultants to anybody in business or even in the development world (and therefore not earn as much money).

This difference in stakes and the difference in valuation of stakes makes certain games within certain fields seem strange and sometimes downright petty. I've heard esteemed professors debate about the definition of sustainable development and others have debated about whether or not social exclusion is a better concept to describe poverty compared to deprivation. For an outsider, especially somebody who lives in the "real world", all these are debates about trivial things and there is a feeling that energies could be used for something more "productive". Listening to the debates, one might think that the academics are all talking about the same thing but are just using different languages.

But for academics, these debates are real and represent struggles worth engaging in and concepts worth fighting for. The debate about social exclusion and deprivation can be framed for example as a debate between sociology (which is more inclined to accept social exclusion as the new form of poverty) and economics (which is more inclined to accept deprivation as the best description of poverty). In other words, for academics, the debate is really about which discourse is superior or privileged and in turn, which academic, who is an expert in this or that discourse, is the real expert.

On the other hand, an academic looking at businessmen may think that what they are doing is petty. In the 1970s there was a slogan, "Why sell soap? Build people". We academics are amazed at the countless hours people put into figuring out how to sell more soap or even "non-essential" commodities like skin whitening lotions.

Every field has its own stakes and to a large extent, it is the players in the field who truly appreciate the stakes that are being played for. Outsiders looking in may think that the stakes being played for are petty but fail to realize that when others look at the stakes they themselves are playing for, their stakes look as petty as the stakes that they criticize.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Social Trajectories

People within particular fields have a sense of the social trajectories of those who occupy the field. These trajectories indicate the directionality of a person within a given track and the expected distance that a person is expected to reach along that track.

This sense of trajectories is very much alive in language. It would probably include phrases like dead-end job, he's going nowhere (walang patutunguhan, hanggang diyan ka lang), most likely to succeed, moving up in the world, promising individual, he's going to go places, malayo ang mararating niya etc.

Following socially sanctioned tracks and directionalities certainly helps a person to be satisfactorily assessed in terms of trajectories. Refusing to follow particular tracks or directionalities results in unfavorable assessments and even sanctions.

In the Philippine academic setting, for example, the minimum requirement for permanency is a masteral degree. After obtaining a masteral degree (and assuming three years of full-time service), it becomes very difficult to fire a person. Technically speaking, that person can rest on his laurels, be an instructor for life and exude indifference toward the reindeer games of the academe. That person, however, unless he has some other source of cultural capital, would not be expected to go very far (and would probably be assessed as going nowhere) and would be under intense pressure to proceed to a PhD.

Aside from the minimum requirements for being allowed to stay on the track, there are also (fast-track) strategies for increasing the possibility of moving higher up in the ladder. Within the Philippine academic setting, for example, it matters where you get your graduate degrees. Obtaining a graduate degree from a (socially-acceptable) local university is good but obtaining a graduate degree from a foreign university is much, much better. This foreign credentialing also helps in terms of where an academic is able to publish. Foreign (ISSI) publications are literally and figuratively worlds apart from local publications.

And then are numerous other strategies that could be employed to improve one's trajectory. Developing social capital with the Department Chair or other administrators or well-connected faculty members is certainly one strategy for obtaining favorable recommendations to prestigious universities. Demonstrating an ability to do research (especially published research) is also a good strategy.

Every field, whether it be the academe or business or art, is a game with stakes worth playing for and tracks to follow to attain those stakes worth playing for. Those who obtain the stakes at play are those who have a good "feel for the game", who have a keen sense of what is a good strategy and what is a bad strategy and who play the game accordingly.

Monday, October 02, 2006

You're on the Right Track

I was watching a documentary about the Hong Kong Port Authority and was amazed at how an open expanse of water, traversed by numerous ships, was configured into nautical highways (which are only defined in the control towers' radar screen) with sea traffic controllers guiding the ships, much like air traffic controllers guiding airplanes. There were no buoys to mark where you should make a turn, much less visible lanes to direct the path of the ship.

I think that life is a lot like that, maybe minus the full-time traffic controllers. The paths or lanes are pre-defined by society, not by conscious acts of defining the right track but simply by an act of social habit which reproduces existing tracks. There are no manuals in life for getting from here to there but those within particular fields have a sense of what those tracks are. To some extent, these tracks are reflected in the sequential series of rewards associated with following the right track.

In the academe, for example, the track is well-defined. Bachelor's degree, master's degree, Everything But Dissertation, Ph.D. Progress along each step is rewarded with both increasing economic remuneration and increasing cultural capital. In the middle of it all there are the rituals of attending academic conferences, conducting research, publication, presentations at academic conferences, being appointed to administrative positions or elected to positions in professional organizations.

The tracks we follow, much like the track that is followed by those in the academe, are all socially constructed and are socially reinforced. They are socially reinforced by those who follow the track (whether obediently or grudgingly) and they are socially reinforced when we encourage or bully others to follow the track (ex. by making them start their M.A. or PhD, or by making them finish their thesis or dissertation). Sometimes people are fired because they do not follow the track or take too long to finish the track. This is a not too subtle reminder to others to stay on track and keep the pace.

In all this activity, the tracks themselves become part of our taken-for-granted. It is assumed that an academic, no matter how brilliant, needs to secure at least an M.A. and at the very least make an effort to securing at least a Ph.D. One can make a conscious decision about where to take graduate studies but the fact that graduate studies needs to be taken is taken-for-granted.

The conferment of a graduate degree may have very little to do with a person's actual competence, especially in teaching. There are some teachers without M.As who are simply brilliant teachers and there are some teachers with PhDs and post-docs who do not know how to teach. (Thankfully there are those who have PhDs and are brilliant teachers) One particularly (and universally acknowledged) brilliant teacher I know who has not yet finished his PhD comprehensives lamented to me once, "Can't I just teach?" But within the field, actual competence matters less than getting past the various pre-designated posts along the socially sanctioned track.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada III: How Are People Who Are Different Regarded?

People who are different are regarded differently depending on their stature in society.

People who are different but (already) have high stature are regarded as being "different" or "original" and the difference is considered "distinction". They are often considered trendsetters. If a highly respected artist were to draw a black dot on an otherwise empty canvas, it would still probably be worth millions.

People who are different but are neither of high or low stature but find themselves somewhere in the middle would be considered "eccentric".

People who are different but are of low stature would be considered "weird" or their work or bodies would be considered "ugly".

To a large extent, the valuation of difference is not a function of the objective quality of behavior, work or deportment but a function of the collective's valuation of the social location of the agent whose behavior, work or deportment is being evaluated. The cue for this social valuation usually comes from those who would be considered society's legislators (ex. critics, media in general).

And there is no clearer case for this than in the world of fashion. In the movie, The Devil Wears Prada, Miranda is clearly the legislator of what constitutes acceptable or unacceptable fashion. It is not what is worn that matters but who made it and who wears it and wear it is shown (If Miranda allows it to be shown on Runway). Recently, there was a fashion show in Paris where the designer chose to use the Philippine banig as the primary material. The Philippine banig is a mat, it is what some of us use to sleep on and is hardly ever considered fashion material. But since the banig was used by a respected fashion designer, that designer was able to draw appreciative oohs and ahs from the crowd.

I've always wondered how fashion designers can claim to know the trends (the next hottest clothing item and the next hottest color is...; white is the new pink, etc. In Tagalog, kung ano ang magiging uso at kung ano ang hindi). I think in reality they are just inventing trends within the bounds of acceptable and unacceptable clothing. They push the envelope without going too far. They can get away with it because they have a sense of how far people will go.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada II

Warning: spoiler. Read only if you've watched the movie.

When Andy decided to undergo a make-over, she quickly realized that changing her clothes was only the start of her initiation into the world of fashion. The fashion industry demanded more and more time from her and gave her less and less time for her friends and her boyfriend. She even missed his birthday party. At one point, she was also made to choose between her friendship with her officemate and her job and she chose her job. In the end, she was made to realize that all those choices that she was making, which were in no way inconsequential, was changing her trajectory and making her more and more like Miranda and less and less the Andy her friends used to know.

From the time after her make-over, Andy made a series of affirmations of a particular sense of appropriate and inappropriate behavior, of a particular understanding of what constitutes right or wrong strategies, of particular stakes of the game or values.

Her no at the very end could be accounted for by the fact that her embodied sense of what was appropriate and inappropriate (i.e. her sense of what was appropriate and inappropriate before her make-over), her sense of the rightness or wrongness of strategies and most importantly, her sense of what stakes were worth playing for were too different from the sense that the fashion industry made her swallow.

It is important to note, however, that it could have gone either way. She could have, at the very end said no to everything that she was before. She could have gone on and said no repeatedly to her boyfriend and her friends and her sense of style and deportment before her make-over. She could have fully embraced her lover and her job and her new lifestyle.

To say yes to something different is difficult, yes, but not completely impossible. Our sense of what is appropriate and inappropriate, what is the right or wrong strategy, and most importantly, what stakes are worth playing for are "durable but not eternal".

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada I

The Devil Wears Prada, a movie about a campus journalist who ends up working for the editor-in-chief of Runway which is considered the fashion magazine, is a perfect demonstration of the adage that clothes make the person and that one can be excluded from a certain field in many ways.

Andy, Anne Hathaway's character was clearly not dressed appropriately. The clothes she wore to her job interview and the clothes she wore to work caused her co-workers to raise their eyebrows and make critical remarks. She had no working knowledge of the industry and thiswas apparent in her failure to recognize the first names of icons of the fashion industry.

Andy becomes frustrated because no matter how hard she worked, her efforts were not appreciated. Then she decided to ask the fashion director of the magazine to give her a clothing make-over and from then on she moved from success to success in her work.

What this transition shows is that practice can not only be distinguished as being appropriate or inappropriate but within particular fields, in the pursuit of particular stakes, practice can be right or wrong. Strategies, in particular, are right or wrong.

Dressing appropriately was a good strategy, or the right strategy for Andy to get ahead. In order for her to get ahead, she had to wear the right clothes, and the right brand and had to have the right look.

Dressing appropriately is not just good strategy in the fashion industry, it is also the right strategy in any field. The corporate world has spawned an entire culture of power dressing. There is an entire industry composed of stylists.

Sometimes, dressing appropriately means dressing down rather than dressing up. Among students, for example, attire that is too formal or too garish would be considered "different". Slippers are in now among students and faculty are shocked by this particular instance of dressing down.

Some people refuse to dress appropriately, choosing to assert their own unique identity and swim against the tide. This is fine (we all have the freedom to do what we want to do, after all) but these people have greater difficulty getting ahead precisely because they are too different.
There is a contestant of Philippine idol, for example, who is a lesbian or a transgender (I'm not sure how she identifies herself). Her clothes are nowhere near being girlish. She has a good voice but the judges pick on her by asking if she will ever wear a skirt in the contest. Choosing to wear clothes not usually associated with girls is her prerogative. But dressing in a way that the judges and some sectors in Philippine society may consider inappropriate may cost her the contest. Some people may not accept her rebelliousness and assertion of difference.

Practices need not be viewed from the perspective of morality (i.e. good or evil). That is another discussion altogether. But practices are inevitably implicated in the discussion of whether or not your strategies are right or wrong for getting ahead in a particular field.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Clothes Make the Person

The sense of appropriate and inappropriate deportment carries over to the clothes a person wears and how the person "carries" what he wears. The ideal, just like in active corporeal activities like dancing, is for the act of wearing a particular set of clothes to come naturally. A lot of this has to do with deportment, or how a person carries his body because a person who has the appropriate deportment can by extension wear clothes naturally. In Tagalog, we say wala yan sa damit, nasa nagdadala. I've even heard it said of people that they can wear sack cloth and they would make it look beautiful (kahit nakasako siya, maganda pa rin). This illustrates the primacy of deportment.

For most people, however, the trick is knowing how to dress appropriately. Here we ask the age-old fashion questions: is it better to over dress or underdress (to which I have heard stylists say it is best to dress appropriately)? What does smart casual mean? What is a good tie and what is a bad tie? Here, the legislators of style come to the fore: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and all the magazines sold by the Gokongweis and all those books on How To Dress.

Clothing also betrays the inequality of the ability to engage in or the inequality of awareness of appropriate practice. A person may have a sense of what is appropriate or inappropriate practice in terms of clothing but may not be able to afford the appropriate clothes. The lack of appropriate clothes may lead to self-restraint on the part of a person who chooses not to go to an occassion or to a particular place on account of not having the right clothes to wear. Clothing then becomes a principle of exclusion.

Those who are not aware of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate attire are looked down upon or are identified as not being one-of-us. This is often quite tricky especially when the sense of what constitutes appropriate attire is not obvious. Among the rich especially, displays of wealth are often understated except in the most formal of occasions and when it comes to cars and cellular phones. I had a friend who said he could tell if a person was wearing tailored slacks or RTW based on the fit. Rich adolescents seem to dress simply and some adults are shocked that they wear slippers to school without knowing that these adolescents can tell if the simple dress or slipper is branded (after all, one can speak of P600 slippers). There was once a suggestion to prohibit students from wearing garish jewelry which exhibits an ignorance of practice because adornment of the body with garish jewelry is already considered by students to be inappropriate behavior. Wealth and status must be displayed more subtly.

Good taste is acquired from a lifetime of socialization and is very difficult to teach. One can have good friends who will give you a one-time make-over but maintenance will be difficult if you do not have a sense of what makes the make-over good in the first place and if you cannot carry that new look. That is why the Queer Eyes give out awards to the straight guys who are able to maintain their looks.

Good taste, like virtue, is acquired; it cannot be easily taught. It is difficult to explain to a person, for example, what makes a good tie. Either one knows, or one doesn't. Good clothing, like deportment, is most effective when it becomes second nature to a person.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Bodily Gymnastics

Bourdieu says we learn bodily which can mean two things. First, that our body learns and adapts to the social enviornment. This was discussed in the essay on deportment. Second, that our body learns seemingly independent from the mind.

Deportment becomes second nature, something we do mindlessly, without mental effort. We do not normally think about how to hold a spoon or fork or knife nor do we think about whether or not we walk properly. We do not normally think about the volume of our voice in conversation. Our body learns.

The same is true for more purposive corporeal activities (beyond deportment) like driving or dancing or sports or sex. A person who is good in all of these things does them mindlessly, as if the body had a mind of its own. A person engaged in these activities is considered to be good when the body knows what to do even without mental consideration. That person has good bodily instincts.

As someone gets adept at driving, for example, that person increasingly thinks about driving less and is able to think about other things more and yet still avoid accidents. A new driver on the other hand, will think about nothing but the road before him and his deportment will probably easily identify him as a new driver (not seated back but leaning close to the wheel, not looking at passengers, jumpy, etc.)

Bodily agility in purposive corporeal activities can be gained through constant practice or drills. At first, a dancer may find himself counting as he dances say to the waltz (one two three, one two three) but a really good dancer does not count anymore. The body already knows what to do. But to get from counting to bodily agility requires constant practice, a training of the body until it knows what to do. That is why we often say, "That looks easy" but when we are actually engaged in the corporeal actvity, we say "It wasn't as easy as it looks".

Monday, September 11, 2006


The sense of what is appropriate and inappropriate does not only apply to behaviors but also applies most effectively to our bodies. Each collective has a sense of what is appropriate and what is inappropriate for a body to be or do.

From the moment we are born, society looks at our bodies and tries to bring it in line with the sense of what is appropriate and inappropriate. We worry about a child who might grow up to be bow-legged or cross-eyed or left-handed. We teach our children to hold writing implements properly and the same goes for dining utensils. We worry about children who habitually touch their genitalia or thumbsuck.

We admonish these same children as they grow up not to pick their nose or fart or burp in public, or to cover their mouths when they sneeze (and to say "bless you" when others do).
This sense of appropriate and inappropriate bodies and bodily dispositions is the central problem faced by any teenager and those like me who never really appreciated this sense of bodily norms. We often say that teenagers go through an awkward stage or an ugly duckling stage. Thus, the teenagers' torment when he has to deal with pimples sprouting all over his face or when his voice croaks at inopportune moments.

At least twice or thrice in my lifetime, one huge red pimple has appeared at the very tip of my nose (one was beginning to sprout on my wedding day but thankfully, it was not yet in full bloom), making me appear like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The older I get, the more embarassing it has become and the harder it is for me to hold my head high and behave as if it is not there. I know that it is embarassing because few people bring it up. When someone (uncouth) brings it up, nobody follows it up and people quickly change the topic.

Another problem I face is posture. One day, as I was walking along the street, a woman behind me was telling her companion, "Sayang ang tangkad niya, hindi diretso tumayo" and I knew she was referring to me, a person for whom standing straight does not come naturally.

As we grow old, we are judged based on our ability to have a sense of the appropriate bodily gynmastics. It is high praise when someone says we are comfortable with our bodies (kumportable siya sa katawan niya) or that we know we have a good sense of deportment/ we know how to carry ourselves (kaya niya dalhin katawan niya).

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Appropriate/ Inappropriate

Every collective has a sense of which practices are considered appropriate and which practices are considered inappropriate. Practices may include behavior but also include decisions on what to wear or even posture.

I think that there are various levels of inappropriateness.
  1. The first level is the mildest of all and may easily be converted into a joke. Let us say you fart (an embarassingly inappropriate topic for a blog, I know) but you are among friends. That will most likely elicit laughter or feigned derision which ends up in laughter. Mildly inappropriate behavior is noticed and talked about quite openly.
  2. The second level of inappropriateness includes embarassing practices, in Tagalog, nakakahiya. Those kinds of practices are rarely brought into the public sphere. When I graduated from my M.A., my cap fell off when I bowed and elicited laughter but after that, no one joked about it. Or sometimes I have a great big pimple right on the tip of my nose and very few people mention it. Embarassment is public but the public holds back on making it public. Sometimes good friends whisper to you that your practice is inappropriate but even that is made privately. Some time ago my polo was hanging out from its tuck-in and a friend embarassingly whispered to me to fix it.
  3. The third level of inappropriateness elicits shock and often leads to tsimis. Someone takes on a mistress o di kaya, may nagwala in public. People talk about it but not in front of the offending party.
  4. The fourth level of inappropriateness elicits an instant reaction which others cannot help but display to the offending party but there is no follow through. The act of the offender is considered madness.
  5. The fifth and highest level of inappropriateness is associated with scandal. It leads to revulsion and often elicits a very negative reaction. Angry words are thrown at the offending person verbally or through a scathing letter. That person is often ostracized.

Next post: Monday, September 11; Deportment

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Are you stiff?

The sense of what is appropriate and inappropriate practice is only a sense and does not come in the form of rules. Given particular stimuli which we are trained to recognize, we do not respond by following a rule which dictates exactly what it is we can do but only a guideline which sets the parameters of what is appropriate and what is inappropriate practice.

People who have a good feel for what is appropriate and inappropriate practice are capable of coming up with inventive responses to stimuli because they have a good sense of how far practice can be stretched without going too far. People who do not have a good feel for what is appropriate and inappropriate tend to give the standard responses as if they were following a rule. In colloquial terms, they are stiff and are often advised to relax.

The other possibility is that people who are considered by some to be stiff simply have a different sense of what is appropriate and what is inappropriate behavior. They simply appear to be complying with a rule but in reality they are doing something which comes naturally to them. In other words, they are only stiff from the perspective of those who call them stiff but from their own point of view, they are not stiff at all.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Are you misunderstood?

People, through their collectives, have the ability to recognize stimuli and have a sense of what practice is appropriate as a response. Weird people are those who do not have a sense of the appropriate response to particular stimuli or who do not recognize the stimuli in the first place and therefore do not respond to that stimuli appropriately. Weird people are also those who end up giving all the wrong signals and therefore end up generating reactions they do not expect (and thus they feel misunderstood).

Weird people are those of us who are not included in the private (collective) joke or who do not find funny what others think of as hilarious. Or they try to be funny but are hopeless at making people laugh. They do not know the correct punchline or do not know how to deliver it.

No one is inherently weird. We are only weird in relation to a collective. To be weird is to be inadequately familiar with the codes and corresponding sets of responses.

It is not easy, however, to learn the codes and the appropriate responses because these can only be learned through life-long practice and mostly through subconscious learning. A transplant (someone unfamiliar with a collective's sense of appropriate and inappropriate behavior) will always end up engaging in practice in a different way simply because it is difficult to leave behind your upbringing or social formation. A Filipino may look Thai but will speak Thai with a Filipino accent (especially if the Filipino is old and in tagalog we say, matigas na ang dila)