Interview w/ Marco Garrido winner of 2021 CUSS Book Award

Kyle Galindez interviews Marco Z. Garrido author The Patchwork City: Class, Space, and Politics in Metro Manila (University of Chicago Press 2019).

What were the main findings of your research?

The book’s argument is that the spatial transformation of Manila is worsening class relations and widening the political divide. Specifically, I document the proliferation of poor and upper-class areas—slums and enclaves—across the city and their sharper segregation. I then describe the fraught relations between the residents of these places and argue that segregation—specifically, their proximity to one another—has made their relations worse. Slum residents more frequently experience discrimination, while enclave residents feel insecure about the presence of squatters nearby. I then consider the political views of each group, particularly with respect to the populist president Joseph Estrada. Not only do they tend to see Estrada in polar opposite ways, but their views are substantially informed by their feelings of discrimination and insecurity—that is, by their class positions. Broadly speaking, the books’ argument represents an effort to connect space, class, and politics, or rather, to show how these domains are more continuous than we like to think. Indeed, we should think about them together, as bound up in the same processes. And so while The Patchwork City is a work of urban sociology, it is also, equally, a work of political sociology. It adopts a view of social class as taking shape through spatial segregation (as well as shaping it, of course), and of political subjectivity as being shaped by class relations. Thus, as the city is transformed by global processes, so are social relations and contentious politics.

  • What motivated you to study this research topic?

I like to say that I started out as a political sociologist and ended up an urban one. I mean that I began with a question about political polarization—why slum and enclave residents evaluated Joseph Estrada in morally opposite terms despite being neighbors in space. In pursuing this question, it became clear to me that how people were predisposed in urban space made a difference. Slum and enclave residents comprised about half of Manila’s population, respectively. Moreover, slums and enclaves were generally located nearby one another. Their segregation was sharp but characterized by proximity not distance (as it is in many US cities). Spatial proximity increased opportunities for social interaction, but this interaction was largely conducted on unequal terms—characterized by experiences of discrimination, exploitation, and charity in a paternalistic key. Unequal interaction worsened class relations, and slum and enclave residents tended to evaluate Estrada from their different class positions. In short, I couldn’t have answered my “political” question without working out the “urban” story. The motivation to answer the political question in the first place came from where it always comes from: a puzzle in the real world. I lived in Manila at the end of the Estrada period and after and was struck by the power of social class divisions based on urban residence to all but determine political preferences with respect to this populist figure. And it wasn’t just a difference of opinion but a kind of class war, with one group indicting the other group as a social whole—the urban poor, for instance, were cursed as corrupt, dirty, and politically incompetent. Political contention over Estrada involved the underscoring of social boundaries. We might even say that it had a “racial” component to it. I witnessed this contention unfold and it left an impression on me.

  • What surprises did you find as you conducted your fieldwork?

Everything that I ultimately felt was worth conveying in the book came as a surprise. Sometimes the surprise was simply that the actual feelings behind an idea of something were more complex, messy, and vivid than I had been led to expect based on the idea alone. For example, the idea of class discrimination is not exactly novel, and yet after hearing story after story about people being belittled or denigrated or avoided because of where they lived, I developed an appreciation for the constitutive power of this experience—how it colored people’s expectations and interactions and political aspirations—as well as the power of a leader’s recognition of this experience. This was the key to Estrada’s appeal among the poor, I came to feel. He saw them—at least that’s how his urban poor supporters felt. They would often use the phrase marunong tumingin, that is, “he knows how to see us”—in contrast to the urban rich, who systematically misrecognized them. Political recognition unleashed a devotion I hadn’t seen before, and then a few years later I saw it happen with Trump supporters. In sum, just being present and attentive sets you up for these kinds of surprising insights.

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