Features: MLA Special Session on Philippine Studies

May 07, 2013

Philippine Studies: Transnationalism and Interdisciplinarity
A Special Session on Philippine Studies

MLA Convention 2011, Los Angeles, CA
Thursday, 06 January 2011

Philippine Studies: Transnationalism and Interdisciplinarianity
12:00 NN–1:15 PM, Diamond Salon 7, J. W. Marriott Hotel, Downtown LA

Presiding: Maria Luisa Torres Reyes, Ateneo de Manila University

Speakers: Vicente Rafael, University of Washington, Seattle; Cynthia H. Tolentino, University of Oregon; Ruanni Tupas, National University of Singapore; Jeffrey Cabusao, Bryant University; Charlie Samuya Veric, Yale University

This special session addresses the complex legacy of the Philippine experience of multiple colonialisms, to wit, by Spain, the United States, and Japan, each similar in strategic expansionist trajectories but unique in tactical colonial technologies. What is empire about from the perspective of Philippine studies, at once a product of colonial discourse and critique? What gives, what takes, between center and periphery within the empire and in the course of empire building? What strategies of “containment” confront the borders? What counterstrategies destabilize center and periphery beyond or despite the constraints borders?


Combining the format of the roundtable and panel discussion, Rafael, Tolentino and Tupas will be the main discussants while Cabusao and Veric will be the respondents. The papers of the five speakers are slated to come out in KRITIKA KULTURA, an online journal on literary, language and cultural studies published by the Ateneo de Manila University. KRITIKA KULTURA is internationally refereed and is indexed in Thomson Reuters (formerly ISI), SCOPUS, International Bibliography of the Modern Language Association, EBSCO, among others, making it the only Arts and Humanities journal in the Philippines to be so widely covered by the world’s leading databases and information companies

For information, write to mreyes@ateneo.edu.



Philippine Studies: Transnationalism and Interdisciplinarity

“Philippine Studies: Transnationalism and Interdisciplinarity” addresses the complex legacy of the Philippine experience of multiple colonialisms, to wit, by Spain, the US and Japan, each while similar in strategic expansionist trajectories, are unique in tactical colonial technologies. While “postcolonial studies” tend to lump all former colonies into one general category of “postcolonial countries,” this panel takes a closer look at the specificities of colonial experiences foregrounding the Philippines as it has distinctly experienced colonialism for centuries. 

Globalization, while referred to as a fairly recent phenomenon in scholarship under the rubric of “Globalization Studies,” is centuries-old if viewed from the lens of Philippine Studies, through which might be understood that globalization is inextricable from the strategies and tactics of the history of imperialist conquest, referred to more innocuously nowadays as empire. The colonials strategies have been unified if multiple, and the tactics have been diverse if divisive, calling for a process of translating disciplines and cultures from the borders of the empire. 

What is this empire about from the perspective of Philippine Studies, at once a product of colonial discourse and critique? What gives, what takes, between center and periphery within the empire and in the course of empire-building? What strategies of “containment” confront the borders? What counter-strategies destabilize center and periphery beyond/despite the constraints borders? 

About two decades after the closing down of US military bases in the Philippines, the Philippine relationship with empire remains complex and contradictory. This roundtable discussion is much overdue among scholars of Philippine Studies: Philippinists and Phil-Am scholars, Filipino and American students and “cultural workers” who have been similarly “translated” by the center and in turn “translated” the center at the very heart of the empire in their work as academics and non-academics.


Vicente L. Rafael

Notes on the Study of the Philippines in the United States

This short paper traces three of the more important developments in the study of the Philippines in the United States in the wake of critiques regarding American Orientalism in the late 1990s. The first is a rediscovery of the American empire at the heart of US national history, and by implication, of the buried significance of overseas colonies to metropolitan developments. The second is the renewed interest in comparative work between and among empires, colonies and nation-states which provide counter-points to continuing assertions of American exceptionalism on the one hand and the militant provincialism of Filipino nationalism on the other. The third is the emergence of “diaspora” as an analytical frame for conveying the complexities of both Filipino overseas migrations and Filipino North American cultural politics. The essay ends with a very brief reflection on the relationship between academic and popular enactments of postcolonial conditions in the Philippines.

Vicente L. Rafael is Professor of History at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the author of Contracting Colonialism, White Love and Other Events in Filipino History, The Promise of the Foreign, and has edited Discrepant Histories and Figures of Criminality in Indonesia, the Philippines and Colonial Vietnam. He has also written a number of essays on such topics as the politics of photography, and digital technologies in the contemporary Philippines, Filipino overseas workers, sovereignty and revolution the Spanish Philippines, and most recently on the link between translation and empire in the current US “war on terror.” Prior to the University of Washington, Rafael has taught at the University of California, San Diego, Stanford, the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, and at the Ateneo de Manila University.

Cynthia Tolentino

Philippine Studies and the End of the American Century

The current struggles over US military bases and territorial sovereignty in the Pacific, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the phenomenon of globalization, alongside what is being called the “end of the American Century,” have pushed interdisciplinary scholars to develop new frameworks for engaging US Empire. My presentation will attempt to draw out the various figurations of “Philippine Studies” and “US empire” in the papers, which may include analyses of comparative colonialisms, class and participation in social justice movements, as well as the intersections between globalization and imperial conquest. By considering the papers’ insights on disciplinary formation and knowledge practices, my analysis will also attend to their entanglements with contemporary articulations of exceptionalism and containment. My presentation is especially interested in how recent incarnations and positionings of Philippine Studies generate insight on notions of the unique, particular, special, and relational that have intellectually and institutionally structured colonial discourse and critique.

Cynthia Tolentino is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Oregon. At Oregon, she teaches courses on cultures of US empire and Asian Pacific American literature and film. She received her PhD from the Department of American Civilization at Brown University. Her book, America’s Experts: Race and the Fictions of Sociology, was published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2009. As a study of US ethnic literature in the mid-twentieth century, the book argues that writers such as Richard Wright, Carlos Bulosan, and Jade Snow Wong were the subjects of the US state’s sociological interest in narrating problems of racial identity and assimilation as well as the narrators of such problems themselves. Tolentino’s articles appear in journals that include American Literature and Novel: A Forum on Fiction and also in edited collections. She is now at work on a book-length study of US legal categories for the Philippines and Puerto Rico. This project examines representations of the unincorporated territory, the commonwealth, and the special economic zone in twentieth and twenty first century Filipino and Puerto Rican fiction, film, and visual art. It has received support from the Oregon Humanities Center and the Center for the Humanities and Social Sciences at National Sun-Yat Sen University in Taiwan. She lives in Eugene, Oregon in the United States and also in Paris, France.

Topsie Ruanni Tupas

The New Challenge of the Mother Tongues: The Future of Philippine Postcolonial Language Politics

For much of postcolonial language politics around the world, the fight has largely been between a foreign (read: colonial) language and (a) dominant local language(s). This is true in the Philippines where the debates have focused on English and Filipino, the Tagalog-based national language. In recent years, however, the mother tongues have posed a challenge to the ideological structure of the debates. Although local languages have long been acknowledged as positively contributing to the enhancement of learning in school, they have been co-opted mostly as a nationalist argument against English, American (neo)colonialism and imperialist globalization. The current initiatives to establish mother tongue-based education reconfigure the terms of engagement in Philippine postcolonial language politics: it must account for the fact that the mother tongues could be the rightful media of instruction. In the process, it  must tease out issues concerning the decoupling of Filipino as the national language and Filipino as a/the medium of instruction, and deal with the politics of inclusion and exclusion in ‘bilingual’ and ‘multilingual’ education. Nevertheless, this paper ends with a general critique of language debates in the country, arguing that ‘content’ has been sidelined in much of the discussion. The future of postcolonial language politics in the Philippines should not be about language per se, but about how the entanglements of language with the larger (neo)colonial infrastructures of education where medium, substance and structures are needed to advance the nationalist imagining of the multilingual nation.

F. Ruanni F. Tupas is an applied linguist educated at the University of the Philippines and the National University of Singapore where he is currently Senior Lecturer at the Centre for English Language Communication. He was the 2009 Andrew Gonzalez Distinguished Professorial Chair Holder in Linguistics and Language Education awarded by the Linguistic Society of the Philippines (LSP) which in 2010 also accorded him honorary membership for his contributions to linguistic studies in the country. He sits on the national boards of LSP and the Singapore Association for Applied Linguistics, and regularly travels to several Southeast Asian countries as a Project Director of a S$485,000 curriculum development project funded by Temasek Foundation Singapore.

Charlie Samuya Veric

The Planet from the Margins: Frantz Fanon, Paulo Freire, Jose Maria Sison

How wide is the span of Philippines studies? How far can it go? What forms of social, political, and cultural kinship can it establish that can extend beyond its usual domain? In other words, what is the planet like if viewed from a relatively marginal field like Philippine studies? I answer these questions by situating Jose Maria Sison’s Struggle for National Democracy (1967) alongside two other works that had also been published in the decade following the historic Bandung conference in 1955: Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth(1961) and Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968). In particular, I look into the common themes in these works and discuss how their authors have heralded a new conception of culture and humanity that proved to be influential to cultural politics beyond the Third World itself. I explore, for instance, both the historical milieu that informs their works and the conversation that takes place among them. Ultimately, I argue that the works of these figures reveal the lineaments of the Third World project as a planetary imagination that comes from below.

Charlie Samuya Veric is a PhD candidate, member of the Working Group on Globalization and Culture, and poet. He is the editor of Anticipating Filipinas and co-editor of Suri at Sipat, and has published in American Quarterly, Rethinking History, Common Knowledge, and Kritika Kultura, among others. His current projects include a dissertation on the techniques of the face, which looks at the everyday uses of the face from a postcolonial perspective; a study of planetary forms of imagination from below; and an English translation of the selected poems of E. San Juan, Jr. He had been educated at the University of the Philippines and Ateneo de Manila University prior to coming to Yale University for his doctorate in American studies.

Jeffrey Arellano Cabusao

“Another World is Possible”: Cultural Studies and Critical Filipino Resistance

The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have compelled interdisciplinary scholars to seek new methods of engaging US Empire. This essay will attempt to outline alternative approaches, specifically an emerging critique-al strand of Filipino Cultural Studies that challenges the limitations of the “cultural turn” through its connection to the larger goal of creating movements for social justice. Over the past few years, new forms of Filipino American scholarship have advanced a unique tradition of class analysis developed by earlier generations of Filipino cultural workers and activists. In addition to this new development, Filipino American cultural workers have created politically conscious art through their participation in social justice movements. I argue that this new form of Filipino Cultural Studies — one that is not strictly ensconced in the academy — might provide useful and timely suggestions for alternative and transformative ways of knowing and being.

Jeff A. Cabusao is an assistant professor in the Department of English and Cultural Studies at Bryant University. He received his BA in English and Cross-Cultural Ethnic Studies from Oberlin College, an MA in Asian American Studies from UCLA, and a PhD in English from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. During the 2006-2007 academic year, he was a Mellon Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in the Department of English at Kalamazoo College.  His teaching and research focus on US Ethnic Studies (specifically comparative approaches to Asian American and African American Studies), Cultural Studies (literary and cultural theory, critical pedagogies), and Women’s Studies (feminist movement and social change). He’s particularly interested in the relationship between interdisciplinary formations, cultural production, and social justice movements in the United States.  Current research projects explore how the work of Filipino American author and activist Carlos Bulosan and the emerging field of Filipino American Studies might offer new ways of developing racial literacy in a “post-racial” United States.

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