Vol. 12, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, Nishio Zenta


Contents>> Vol. 12, No. 2

The Patchwork City: Class, Space, and Politics in Metro Manila

Marco Z. Garrido
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019.

The work of Marco Z. Garrido has served as a foundation for understanding Metro Manila and has inspired many young scholars, myself included. Focusing on the spatialized symbolic boundaries of class identity, Garrido clearly explains through the lens of sociology why Metro Manila is so exclusionary (Garrido 2008). The Patchwork City might be one of the goals of his research trajectory. The first half of this review summarizes class identity, stigma, interspersion, dissensus, and the politics of difference, focusing on the sociological concept of “boundary” that characterizes this book.1) In the second half, the reviewer argues from an anthropological perspective that the book’s focus on Eurocentric sociological frameworks ignores the various spatial dynamics that produce Metro Manila and introduces complementary perspectives.

If you sit in the window seat as your plane flies over Metro Manila, you will experience the visual reality of the fragmentation of the city as described in this book. High-rise condominiums and green gated communities are surrounded by reddish-brown tin-roofed slums. Both cover large areas of the city in patches of different colors, as indicated by the book’s title. The close-knit patchwork-like interspersion has the effect of “altering class relations for the worse” (p. 54). The physical walls represent the vigilance of the middle class in a residential area where they are outnumbered by the surrounding slum population. The walls are a means for the middle class to protect themselves from theft, murder, and the influences of the poor and their evils. The boundaries represent the dynamic by which the middle class and the poor are spatially segregated, and they construct a collective identity for both. They form a protective barrier for the middle class (the presence and opening of the gates create and reinforce a sense of crisis in their collective identity), and the sense of exclusion acts to stigmatize the poor. The construction of boundaries in Manila began with the building of Intramuros by the Spaniards and continues to the present day, especially under the impact of urban redevelopment through globalization. These spatial boundaries have created a divide between class identities, between moralities, and between meanings of democracy. The author elaborates on boundaries using four neighborhoods in Metro Manila where gated communities and slums are in proximity. The data from the four cases show that the middle class and the urban poor have similar experiences and perceptions in each of the four neighborhoods.

The politics of class identity in the context of these spatial inequalities led to two large demonstrations in 2001 in Metro Manila: EDSA2 (People Power 2) in January, which called for the impeachment of President Joseph Estrada for corruption; and EDSA3 (People Power 3) in April–May, which defended Estrada and called for his return. Why did the middle class forgive the equally corrupt Gloria Macapagal Arroyo but not Estrada? Why do poor people consider other populists fake but support Estrada? The second part of this book explains the political dissensus regarding class division. The middle class see Estrada as the epitome of political corruption, a symbol of incivility and national shame. For them, Estrada is uncivilized, uneducated, and incompetent. As a result, the middle class accept Arroyo as the lesser evil who is corrupt but still has a modicum of civility. On the other hand, the poor support Estrada because they feel he treats them with dignity, unlike other politicians who are only after their votes. More precisely, the poor see Estrada as epitomizing a form of democracy in which the poor are not discriminated against but are treated as equals. Therefore, when Estrada was ousted from the presidency and criminalized, the hopes of the poor were dashed. The author places the different views of one person, Estrada, as a dissensus. Drawing on the political philosopher Jacques Rancière, Garrido argues that dissensus “is not a discussion between speaking people who would confront their interests and values. It is a conflict about who speaks and who does not speak” (p. 21). In other words, while the poor were given a space by Estrada where they were recognized as humans, their voices were heard, and they could speak, the middle class were discredited and their voices were suppressed. The author argues that the political dissensus surrounding EDSA2 and EDSA3 does not show the drawback of democracy but rather the possibility of establishing a democracy in the Philippines based on politics of difference.

This book will be discussed from a more critical and anthropological perspective in the second part of this review. The book incorporates Eurocentric sociological concepts such as Pierre Bourdieu’s social class, Charles Tilly’s categorically unequal groups, Loïc Wacquant’s spatial stigma, Georg Simmel’s social interaction, and Erving Goffman’s performance. Furthermore, the Filipino language is rarely used; rather, many words have been translated. This translation presents a serious problem considering the book’s aims. For example, hiya implies the stigma felt by the poor. However, hiya does not carry the same connotation as “stigma.” It is an adjective, such as mahiya, that expresses a positive characterization of shyness with the civility of a child toward a stranger or adult; and walang hiya is one of the most commonly used abuses in the Philippines. As such, hiya is a concept deeply connected to social recognition in the Philippines and is not the equivalent of “stigma.” The politics of difference means taking differences seriously. It means taking people’s language seriously. Michael Pinches’ (1984) argument, an essential inspiration for Garrido’s concept of class, is theoretically founded on the accumulation of anthropological knowledge about rural areas. If this book were to be placed in the category of Philippine studies, a discussion of the concept of class would require cultural-anthropological perspectives since explanations based solely on sociological concepts are not sufficient.

The differences and class collectivity discussed in this book are produced by the middle class solely via the spatial dynamic of boundaries. Do the poor have no way to create their collectivity? To begin with, the middle class imposed their boundaries and the poor were imposed upon. Therefore, boundaries were essentially a spatial dynamic exercised by the middle class. Throughout its history, Manila has been dominated by several colonial powers: Spain, the United States, and Japan; and the spatial dynamic of boundaries was implemented through all these regimes. This dynamic was inherited by the Philippine government after independence, and the latest actors are the villagers of gated communities and the middle class. However, the concept of boundary alone does not fully explain the realities of spatialized inequality in Metro Manila. If we focus solely on the dynamic of boundaries in this way, we cannot explain the activities and practices of contemporary squatters who are struggling to protect their land and their collectivity against gentrification. Based on the dynamic of boundaries, we would dismiss the agency of the squatters. The most overlooked aspect in the book is the process of “relational intensity,”2) which in the reviewer’s view has always been a crucial driver of spatial production in the city. The way the poor occupied space was not simply a mechanical activity but the construction of a relationship with the land. This relationship was developed by cultivating vegetables, creating housing and infrastructure, negotiating and engaging closely with the barangays, and establishing a level of connection beyond the legal-property perspective. Relational intensity is a generative social force that creates collectivity and community among the poor through their daily practices. Proximity, a key word in this book, implies not just spatial closeness but also the ability to extract through negotiation or to change fixed categorical relationships. The social anthropologist Fenella Cannell (1999) calls proximity the power of intimacy. The spatial dynamics of intensity are ubiquitous in Manila’s urban spaces, making it difficult to draw a clear boundary between public and private spaces. Space is fluid and changeable depending on who is present. Without picking up on these dynamics and sensibilities, it is impossible to seriously advance the politics of difference. If we emphasize only boundaries, we cannot engage with the struggles of the poor, who are excluded from the formal legal framework. This is because, like in San Roque—discussed in this book—squatters need to acquire their own legitimacy and rights in areas that are excluded through the dynamic of boundaries. The political movement in San Roque seeks to protect the community’s land and livelihood foundation under the pressures of gentrification and urban development. Otherwise, we lose the opportunity to go outside the colonial language characterized by boundaries and categories. The politics of difference, which the author discusses, is important for academia as well as Philippine society; but we also need to pay attention to wider spatial dynamics that produce difference.

Nishio Zenta 西尾善太
Postdoctoral Fellow (JSPS), Ritsumeikan University


Angeles, Leonora C. 2022. The Patch-work City: Class, Space, + Politics in Metro Manila. Pacific Affairs 95(2): 393–396.

Cannell, Fenella. 1999. Power and Intimacy in the Christian Philippines. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

David, Emmanuel. 2021. Review of The Patchwork City: Class, Space, and Politics in Metro Manila, by Marco Z. Garrido. Social Forces 99(3): e6. https://doi.org/10.1093/sf/soaa106.

Garrido, Marco Z. 2008. Civil and Uncivil Society: Symbolic Boundaries and Civic Exclusion in Metro Manila. Philippine Studies 56(4): 443–465.

Jensen, Steffen B. and Hapal, Karl. 2022. Communal Intimacy and the Violence of Politics: Understanding the War on Drugs in Bagong Silang, Philippines. Ithaca: Southeast Asia Program Publications, Cornell University Press.

Levenson, Zachary. 2020. Book Review: The Patchwork City: Class, Space, and Politics in Metro Manila. City & Community 19(2): 445–447. https://doi.org/10.1111/cico.12500.

Pinches, Michael. 1984. Anak-Pawis: Children of Sweat: Class and Community in a Manila Shanty Town. PhD dissertation, Monash University.

Shoemaker, Donald J. 2021. The Patchwork City: Class, Space, and Politics in Metro Manila by Marco Z. Garrido. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 52(1): 157–158. https://doi.org/10.1017/S002246342100028X.

Weinstein, Liza. 2020. Marco Z. Garrido 2019: The Patchwork City: Class, Space, and Politics in Metro Manila. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 44(4): 771–773. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2427.12941.

1) As far as I know, five reviews have already been written of this book (Levenson 2020; Weinstein 2020; David 2021; Shoemaker 2021; Angeles 2022). Therefore, in addition to introducing the book’s contents, this review takes the “politics of difference” more seriously, which the author also attempts to do.

2) The concept of intensity sometimes has an exclusive effect. For example, see Jensen and Hapal (2022) for exclusivity within slums during the drug war. In that instance, slum residents also attempted to manage intensity by constructing boundaries. Relational intensity is not a dynamic essentialized to a specific class, as the middle class also exercise it.


DOI: 10.20495/seas.12.2_390