Conference paper | Making the city: A critical review of Metro Manila urbanization and dispossession research

11th International Conference on Philippine Studies (ICOPHIL), Alicante, Spain

This paper is part of the first of two panels on Philippine critical urban studies co-organised with Dr. Noah Theriault (Carnegie Mellon University).

Urbanizing Metro Manila has involved cleaning up the city region through the erasure of poor informal settlements and the elimination of the people who dwell there, to facilitate the reconfiguration of urban space. Since the 1960s, following the trend of transforming postcolonial capitals into national symbols of progress (Singh, et al. 2019), large-scale infrastructural and architectural projects were undertaken by the Philippine state with the specific aim of ‘developing’ the metropolitan landscape into a showcase for modernity (Benedicto 2015) and later, remaking it according to imaginaries of a ‘world-class’ city (Ortega 2016). Throughout the years, this transformation has been accompanied by displacement, dispossession, and death. This paper reviews five decades of Metro Manila urban and housing research to track, identify, and critically assess the drivers of urbanization and dispossession in the city region. Centring attention on the period after the 1997 Asian financial crisis, I consider how contemporary scholarship has approached questions of urbanization and dispossession largely as a consequence of capital accumulation, and how this orientation of explaining the city in terms of neoliberalization consequently scripts understandings of urban expulsion primarily as outcomes of gentrification. I argue that the focus on capital accumulation tends to overlook other equally powerful processes and agendas that drive urban change and dispossession (i.e., disaster risk and resilience), and call for an attentiveness to both new and emerging empirics in the field. 

References:

Benedicto, Bobby. “The Queer Afterlife of the Postcolonial City: (Trans)gender Performance and the War of Beautification. Antipode 47, no. 3 (2015): 580-597.

Ortega, Arnisson Andre C. Neoliberalizing Spaces in the Philippines: Suburbanization, Transnational Migration, and Dispossession. Lanham: Lexington Books. 

Singh, Ganeshwari, Simrit Kahlon & Vishwa Bandhu Singh Chandel. “Political Discourse and the Planned City: Nehru’s Projection and Appropriation of Chandigarh, the Capital of Punjab.” Annals of the American Association of Geographers 109, no. 4: 1226-1239. 

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