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.