I am a critical urban sociologist and geographer, and a political activist previously based in Manila and currently working on a PhD at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU), University College London (UCL).
I am the recipient of the 2018 DPU 60th Anniversary Doctoral Scholarship Award, as well as the 2018 Gilbert F. White Thesis Award given by the American Association of Geographers’ (AAG) Hazards, Risks, and Disasters Specialty Group.
My PhD research examines how a flood-resilient Metro Manila is being built in the aftermath of the 2009 Ondoy flood disaster which spurred the reconstitution of the Philippine disaster risk management framework. I aim to develop new conceptual tools for understanding the relationship between resilience on one hand and dispossession and urbanisation on the other.
This is part of a larger intellectual project that seeks to understand the new logics, drivers, and modes of expulsion in Manila beyond neoliberal urbanism.
I have published theoretical and empirical research articles on the politics of ‘danger zone’ evictions in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research (IJURR) and the launching issue of Radical Housing Journal.
My writings on cities have also appeared as essays in The Funambulist and Al Jazeera, and as a chapter in the book, Cities of Dignity: Urban Transformations Around the World.
In our chapter in “Cities of Dignity: Urban Transformations Around the World” published by Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, Mary Ann Manahan and I survey municipalist actions featured in Transnational Institute’s “Transformative Cities Atlas of Utopias”. We then identify de-privatisation, the rise of the urban commons, and social movement unionism as key alternative praxes underpinning radical urban transformations across the globe. Some of the lessons we draw from these transformative initiatives that resonate with my work on dispossession and housing justice pertain to the need to decentre urban expertise, to scrutinise ‘inclusive’ new urban governance regimes, and to shift from liberal notions of citizen participation to collective governance. Our aim is to show how the urban commons as praxis radically reconfigures the spaces we inhabit, reconstitutes social relations, and re-politicises urban citizenship towards the creation of “cities of dignity”.
The book is open access and available for download at the link above, but you can also download our chapter by clicking on the image below.
This think piece is less about “what ‘relief’ for the poor should really look like” than why our generosity fails to give relief. Here, Josh Makalintal (University of Innsbruck) and I use relief goods as an entry point for illuminating unreflexive, unempathetic, and exclusionary practices of care and provisioning in times of emergency and disaster. We ascribe this impoverished culture of giving and helping to legacies of classed understandings and attributions of human dignity, which regard the poor as people who matter less and therefore require and deserve less. We consider what it means to think in terms of life rather than survival, and invite a critical reorientation from thinking of the poor to thinking from the poor.
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.
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.
My talk reflected on the lack of engagement with the work of Southern urban scholars writing on and in the South. I began by situating my work as Southern scholarship that aims to theorise urbanisation, dispossession, and climate displacement in ‘vulnerable’ and ‘at-risk’ Southern cities. Reflecting on names and places encountered in literature reviews, manuscript revisions, conferences, and conversations, I enquired into the invisibility of other Souths in studies of the urban global South. To contextualise the questions I raise, I used my experience and my scholarship as reference points for illuminating absences and silences in a field that constantly challenges itself to diversify and provincialise both knowledge and knowledge creation. Finally, I explored three correctives in support of decentring knowledge production and expanding the intellectual geographies of critical urban scholarship.
The second journal article from the MA thesis is out. I am honoured to publish in the first-ever issue of Radical Housing Journal, an autonomous and fully open-access academic journal for “debat[ing] ideas and advanc[ing] knowledge, theory, and practices around a radical approach to housing”.
Out of the more than 70 submissions for Issue 1, 15 were selected, rigorously reviewed by three activists and scholar-activists, editorially evaluated, and accepted or rejected accordingly.
My article for the Long Read section (focus on critical analysis and theory-making) decenters ‘post-2008’ organising around housing struggles, the theme of this issue, using Manila as a frame. I make the case for a systematic state-led eviction crisis in the city region. Proceeding from this, I argue that Manila’s ‘post-2008’ is not the global financial crisis but rather the 2009 Ondoy flood disaster, and its ‘post-crisis housing situation’ is the mass eviction and relocation of informal settlers from ‘danger zones’ under the Metro Manila Flood Management Project and Informal Settler Families Housing Program. I introduce the concept of benevolent evictions to describe a new mode of dispossession whereby expulsions from the urban core to the periphery are facilitated through the systematic deployment of benevolence as a technology of eviction. Drawing on the experience of Alliance of People’s Organizations Along Manggahan Floodway (APOAMF), a community association in Pasig City, I examine how benevolent evictions, as materialised in The People’s Plan, reconfigured community participation and activist contestations, and end by considering the radical possibilities that emerge from the contradictions of cooperative housing models.
I’m presenting my PhD research on 16 May before the people who make this PhD possible. I will talk about resilient city making in Manila via ‘danger zone’ evictions, particularly how the systematic dispossession of informal settlers along waterways, in the name of climate change adaptation and flood/disaster resilience, is spatially reconfiguring Manila and its suburbs. Green spaces and flood barriers are sprouting in the city’s riparian corridors and reclaimed enclaves are being planned along its coast, as relocation hubs are emerging in the peri-urban fringe. Manila and its periphery are being transformed neither solely nor primarily by capital, but also by flood and disaster risk and the anticipatory logics of ‘resilient’ futures. My research attempts to read this transformation through a critical genealogy and ethnography of the Metro Manila Flood Management Project and the Informal Settler Families Housing Program, the main proponents and primary beneficiaries of ‘danger zone’ evictions.
This event marks the 65th year of the DPU and is part of the #Bartlett100 celebrations. It is free and open to all; non-UCL attendees are required to register as indicated in the details below.
In this theoretical and empirical paper, we forward the concept of resiliency revanchism to characterise Manila’s disaster risk management (DRM) strategy, which we argue is predicated on the mass eviction and relocation of informal settlers. We trace the first shift in Philippine DRM policy to the 2009 Ondoy floods, and cast critical attention on the ways the disaster was constructed, as well as the manner by which flooding projections and solutions attend to the further marginalisation of ‘vulnerable’ yet undesirable populations. We deploy the concepts of “risk society” (Ulrich Beck), “territorial stigmatisation” (Loic Wacquant, also Tom Slater), and “aesthetic governmentality” (Asher Ghertner) to examine how the deliberate production of ignorance by disaster and climate expertise (knowledges produced by state officials, DRM practitioners, environmental and climate advocates, and academics) constructed anti-slum discourses of urban flooding and disaster, which in turn produced uneven landscapes of risk and resilience (via the creation of a ‘danger zone’/high-risk zone binary) that justified slum evictions in ‘building back better’.
In this paper, I forward the concept of benevolent evictions to describe a new mode of dispossession, whereby expulsions from the urban core to the periphery are facilitated through the deployment of benevolence as a technology of evictions. Drawing on the experience of a community association in Pasig City in Metro Manila, Philippines, I examine how benevolent evictions, as materialized in The People’s Plan, reconfigured community participation and activist contestations. I distil the politics of participation by troubling practices of inclusion in housing affairs and exclusion in flood control matters; and critically assess the implications of non-transgressive co-production models on organizing for housing justice. While democratizing housing solutions did not necessarily result in the democratization of participation, I argue that the contradictions that emerge present radical possibilities for rewriting the politics of participation toward the transformation of slum-state and citizen-state relations.
This is part of the session, “Philippine Futures: Ambivalence in the Claws of Dispossession“, organised by Noah Theriault (History, Carnegie Mellon University).
This paper explains how the slum—as both a geographic space and population—was discursively produced as the cause and the epicenter of flood disasters, and therefore the object of intervention of Metro Manila disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) policy. Using the case of Pasig City, it traces and elaborates how a standardized explanation of floods and disasters emerged in the wake of the 2009 Ondoy floods; how blame and responsibility were attributed to specific processes, geographies, and populations; and how these narratives became the basis for a disaster risk management policy premised on slum evictions. It situates this phenomenon in the emergence of a new political moment of permanent climate emergency, which ushered in a re-problematization of the slum (Ghertner, 2015), whereby the problem of the slum as a “problem of ecology” (Rademacher, 2009) came to be viewed as a problem of disaster risk. The affirmation of extant slum transgressions, alongside the redescription of the slum as obstruction to waterways, flood control infrastructure, and DRRM and resilience explain the anti-slum politics of ‘building-back better’ and resilient city making in the post-Ondoy moment.
Ghertner, D. Asher. 2015. Rule by Aesthetics: World-Class City Making in Delhi. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Rademacher, Anne. 2009. “When Is Housing an Environmental Problem? Reforming Informality in Kathmandu.” Current Anthropology 50(4):513–33.