Nationalism and its discontents

I’ve just come across this article about the University of the Philippines Open University’s course, Filipiniana Online, which from what I gather is a sort of quick immersion in Philippine “culture”. There are several things I find interesting about this course.

First, the course seems to define culture as art: the student studies, among other things, “Filipino paintings and other forms of visual arts . . . Philippine rituals, dances, musical forms, plays and films.” Well and good, but the implicit message is that culture is superficial. How much of daily life do you spend dancing or watching films? Not a lot, so this culture as art idea seems to be saying that Philippine culture is just something Filipinos indulge in every now and then, but it otherwise doesn’t impact their everyday lives.

The course also seems to define culture as being prestigious. Notice that tv shows aren’t mentioned, and I suspect the films being reviewed are serious stuff like Lino Brocka’s work and not trashy like, say, Darna. Wouldn’t the stuff with popular appeal impact on more people, and therefore reflect the concerns of more Filipinos than high-minded artistic fare? If the purpose of the course is to understand the Philippines, you would think understanding the vast majority of Filipinos would be a very high goal.

The course also focuses on the spectacular instead of the everyday. Dances and plays are certainly nice to watch and participate in, but as I said, they don’t really influence that many Filipinos and aren’t a concern for most. Filipinos in the Philippines, ask yourselves this, when was the last time you danced the tinikling? Probably when you were still kids in school, right? Now, when was the last time you sent a text message? The Philippines has been claimed by some to be the most texting-crazy country in the world. I would argue that studying the use of texting in the Philippines would give someone a greater understanding of Filipinos than studying any number of dances would. The same for studying the demographic composition of the Philippines or the way social class works in the country (for example, how most middle class Filipinos have maids, and how that is not the same among the middle class in, say, Australia). However, if you define culture as being spectacular, then this kind of stuff would not apply, since it is just the boring everyday stuff which also happens to be the stuff that most Filipinos deal with everyday.

Having said all that, I wouldn’t mind enrolling in the course if I had the time. I certainly have the money, which is no small thing when you consider that quite a lot of Filipinos in the Philippines don’t. I’m curious to see exactly what this course would say about the Philippines. Would the course mention that Emilio Aguinaldo, the official first president of the Philippines, had his rival Andres Bonifacio shot because of Bonifacio’s popular appeal despite the fact that they were both supposed to be on the same side? Would it also mention that Aguinaldo collaborated with the Japanese during the occupation of the Philippines in the Second World War?

I’m not trying to be overly critical of the Philippines, I’m just pointing out that all countries have things they shouldn’t be proud of, and I wonder whether the course would take this harsh realist approach instead of the nationalist rhapsodizing that I expect.

Still, this kind of whitewashing should be placed in its context. The Philippines is a country of multiple languages, ethnicities, and religions. It doesn’t fit too well into the ideal of “one country, one people” that nation-states aspire to. It’s a lot harder to sustain the fiction of a Philippine nation when there are so many obvious divisions within the population, and the constant efforts by the Philippine nation-state and its intellectuals to promote the Philippines should be understandable from this perspective. To put it simply, Filipinos have to be constantly reminded that the Philippines exists because they get so many reminders everyday that it doesn’t.

The focus of the course on traditional dances and such reminds me of how the Germans invented Germany. What we know as Germany today was divided into several different principalities, kingdoms, bishoprics, and city-states until the middle of the 19th century. Sure, the people all spoke the same language (in the same way that Scottish people and Texans speak the same language, i.e., with varying degrees of intelligibility), but they had different rulers, somewhat different customs, and even different religions. “Germany” was a mishmash of different peoples. However, once German unification started, the commonalities between these different peoples also started to be highlighted. One of these projects of cultural unification involved the collection of folk tales. “See, Germans, this is something we all have in common — Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin, the Pied Piper of Hamlin.” That was part of what the project was saying. The collection of folk tales was one of the ways in which the German Volk was constructed, the German people. And we see the same process taking place in the Philippines with the Filipiniana Online course today.

Anyway, I have more critical analyses of this Filipiniana Online course, but they’ll have to wait for another day.

I see you seeing me

Well, after speaking to my supervisor I managed to convince her that interviews would be nice to have. She was right that I already had a lot of data and doing too many interviews would get in the way of the December deadline I’m shooting for, so I’ve taken out the face to face interviews and am planning on just doing them over the phone. I’m also planning on doing probably less than ten.

Now, I’ve just found out that I’ve gained a couple more readers. Yay me. However, I feel compelled to state a few things up front.

First, this research blog is not meant to be a long-term project. It’s a part of my research, and when the research ends, so will this blog. In my proposal, I state that I plan on keeping the blog alive for at least a year after my research is done, so expect Sarapen to still be up by December 2007. However, just because the blog will be up doesn’t mean I’ll still be posting. Maybe, maybe not, it depends on when I lose interest and when I start not having enough time to update.

Second, the audience for Sarapen was originally supposed to be the Filipino bloggers that I was reading. Since I’m going to start contacting those bloggers now, it seems that they will once again be my target audience. My new readers are anthropology people, I’m guessing, since they were led her either by the antropologi post on me or by the anthropology posts I’ve left at various LiveJournal communities. So if it seems that I’m going light on theory, it’s because I am. I’m trying to write in a way that will make my project accessible to the non-anthros that I want to speak to. That’s also why I keep linking theory to personal anecdotes.

Third, another reason that I set up Sarapen was to gain some insights into the minds of my participants. I’m keeping a reflexive diary so that I can keep track of my reactions. For example, discovering that I have readers has prompted me to start posting more often. I’ve never posted more than twice in one week, but now here I am doing exactly that. I also keep the reflexive diary so I won’t have trouble finding out exactly what actions I, the researcher, have done that have affected the subject that I’m researching. I think I’ll come back to that in a later post.

Hoy pare, pakinggan niyo ko (also, my hands are deadly weapons)

I know that I don’t post too, too often. I haven’t been reading the blogs that I used to read obsessively, either, and I’m not too great at checking some of my email accounts. I find that one of the side effects of doing Internet-based research is that I’ve started trying to find excuses not to use my computer. Sunny outside? The wireless doesn’t work so great with that weather, guess it’s time to read in the park. Work out tomorrow morning, you say? Sure, I’ve been getting lazy lately. I have to catalogue and code all these blogs, but I have to go to the Farmer’s Market first since I need fresh ginger for the Ma Po tofu I’m making for dinner.

Actually, I’m getting kind of hungry right now. I got up at 11 AM, had brunch, went to the library, and have been catching up on my email and the various LiveJournal communities I’m part of (I got a headsup on some more theory). And I’ve been writing these posts. That’s enough work for one day, right? I can’t seriously be expected to work with an empty stomach, and after my merienda it’ll be time for karate. When I get back, I may make some chili or just heat up some leftovers. Toss some salad, wash the dishes, do my laundry, and whoops, no time left to work at my computer if I want to get up early tomorrow to go to the gym. And I hate working at home anyway.

So there you go, a day in the life of an Internet researcher. Just to remind you that the person behind the blog you’re reading also eats, sleeps, and occassionally works when he feels like it.

And if you know what I was getting at with the title of this post, I will congratulate you on your taste in music.

I’ve been discovered

There I was, blogging away in quiet obscurity, confident that my blog was only being read by me and whichever of my friends ever bothered to look. We’ve all got our own research to do and I see them all the time anyway, so I’m not suprised that my comments = 0. Happily engaged in online intellectual wankery, I suddenly find out that I’ve been outed by Lorenz, an anthroblogger I read occassionally on antropologi.info. You can find the other blogs I read in the My Bookmarks link on the right, though lately I haven’t been reading those blogs very regularly. I only found the post about me because I Googled “sarapen” on a lark. Surprisingly, this blog was the first result, my Sarapen blog on Blogger was number three, and the antropologi post was number five.

It’s also funny to relate how Sarapen was discovered, I actually posted something about an anthropologist working with Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan over in LiveJournal’s Anthropologist Community. That turned out to also be something Lorenz blogged about, then he (or she? they?) mentioned that the issue had also been discussed in LJ. Then I suppose they followed the link to my LiveJournal page, and from there followed the link to here, the real blog.

Anyway, I’m kind of embarrassed to be discovered since I don’t like how long and rambling my previous posts have been. My first couple of posts were edited, but I decided that practice didn’t fit entirely into blogging’s spirit of spontaneity. Lately I’ve just sat down with a definite subject in mind but let my mind and fingers roam as they will. I haven’t been liking the excessive verbiage that’s been resulting. I think that any essays that I write from now on will have to go through some rethinking before being posted online. I was already thinking of doing that in the first place.

I set up Sarapen partly hoping to use it to communicate with the bloggers I’ve been reading. I’ve only contacted a few so far, but I planned for things to intensify once I started interviews, so I thought it would be nice if there was already something for the bloggers to look at. I’ve been blogging with this future audience in mind. However, I’ve just met with my supervisor and she was pleased at how much data I’d gathered while she was in New Zealand. She told me that I might not even need to do interviews, since I’ve already got so much and I’m supposed to be finished writing by December anyway. So now I’m wondering who my target audience will be.

Welcome to the Nation

On July 1, I participated in Canada Day. It’s exactly what the name implies: a holiday celebrating the existence of Canada. There were all kinds of events going on that were organized by the various levels of Canadian government. I went to a 21 gun salute by the Canadian Armed Forces, got free cake at an old British colonial fort (I missed the opening ceremony and free pancake breakfast because I’d decided to sleep in), got free tours of Canadian military vessels, got to hold and inspect various guns and weaponry, then later on watched a fireworks ceremony surrounded by the largest crowd I’ve ever seen in Halifax. Oh, and I wore a red shirt for most of the day (it actually said Atlantic City, but it was still in Canadian colours).

When you get an education in critical thinking, what often happens is that you start analyzing almost everything you come across. I remember shopping for clothes immediately after seeing a documentary film about the material conditions of sweatshop workers and suddenly thinking that the workers I’d just seen describing their exploitation at the hands of multinational corporations were very likely the same ones who’d made the shirts I was pawing through. Suddenly, the abstract concepts of gendered exploitation and flexible labour became a concrete piece of fabric in my hands. I hadn’t planned on buying anything anyway, I was just enjoying the act of shopping itself, but that realization lessened my enjoyment of consumerism.

A similar thing happened to me during Canada Day. While I was being shown a C7 assault rifle and being quoted arcane military jargon, I was also thinking about how I was actively being indoctrinated into the ideology of Canadian nationalism. Go Canada! Canada Kicks Ass! Proud to be Canadian! Those were the slogans on various t-shirts I’d seen, and they were the essential messages I was supposed to be receiving from the whole Canada Day celebration. Still, I couldn’t help thinking about how identity was being manipulated for the purposes of the Canadian government.

Nation-states always manipulate identity, and it is in the interests of the Canadian government to make Canadians feel patriotic (governments and nation-states aren’t exactly the same thing, but they fit together well enough for the purposes of this post). Think of Canada as a hockey team, Canadians as the fans, and the Canadian government as the team’s owner, and you’ll see why marketing Canada is such a big deal. The profit that the Canadian government gets from successfully marketing Canada doesn’t come just from having Canadians pay their taxes and follow the law. No, the Canadian government profits from having Canadians believe that Canada exists.

If you think about it, a country is in many ways a state of mind. If Canadians stopped believing Canada existed, then it would pretty much stop existing. Canadians would stop paying their taxes, following Canadian law, listening to Canadian political leaders, and so on. Not just that, but other countries would also stop respecting those things and might start grabbing pieces of Canada to add to their own territories. This is serious business, which is why governments take national identity so very seriously. So you see, countries are like Tinkerbell: they can only survive if you clap your hands and believe in them (clapping is optional). Except that Tinkerbell doesn’t have cops and soldiers to remind you that she exists and that it would be a very bad idea to forget her.

Work that Network

One of the things about being an Internet researcher is how easy it is to find other Internet researchers — they’re all on the Internet. It would, of course, be rather odd for an Internet researcher not to be easily contacted online. After all, if someone is doing Internet research, then they must be very interested in it and are probably sophisticated users. You know, reading blogs, chatting on IRC, wasting time on Youtube, that kind of thing. Plenty of people still don’t know what a blog is, after all (my supervisor didn’t). Therefore, Internet researchers are probably heavy users of the Internet, and being heavy users, they’ve seen firsthand the incredible convenience being online and connected can bring. As well, they’ve probably bought into the prevailing online ideology that connectedness is a virtue in itself.

In my case, I’ve gotten a lot of information just from googling the names of prominent researchers, even ones that don’t do Internet stuff. They’re all connected to universities, so they usually have a faculty or departmental page where you can get copies of some of their articles (or even books if you’re lucky). Many even have their own websites and blogs. It’s in the interests of academics to have their work read by others, so this kind of open sharing is unsurprising. What’s particularly interesting, though, is when I move from reading other people’s work to communicating with the authors themselves. I’ve had fruitful discussions with Internet researchers, not just with professors but also with other grad students doing research on similar topics. The different ways I’ve found other Internet researchers is interesting: through email, through blogs, and through mailing lists. I’ve only met one of them in person, and I didn’t actually meet her per se, since I attended a presentation she was giving without knowing that I already “knew” her, and only found out afterwards who she was, when it was already too late to do anything. Two ships passing in the night.

What happened was that I attended a conference and went to a certain presentation that was supposed to be about community online. I went, found out that there had been a mixup in the program, but I stayed anyway. Later on, I discovered who the presenter had been. Life went on, I found that person’s blog and said we’d been two feet away from each other without realizing it. Then she said, “Aren’t you So-and-so’s student? When I told him that I was doing Internet research, he said that he had a student working on Filipino bloggers and said he’d put me in touch with you. But now it’s redundant, since you’ve found me anyway”.

It’s fascinating to discover firsthand how small the world is. Still, it wasn’t such a big coincidence, since academia is structured in a way that facilitates linkages across continents. Think of how many people an average professor is connected to, how many students they’ve taught, how many professors they’ve studied under, and how many classmates they’ve had. Quite a lot, so if two randomly selected academics should discover that they’re connected in some way, it’s not really a surprise. Besides, my story took place at a conference, which are designed to create connections between the people who attend.

Why do I care about networks? Because nowadays, people’s social networks extend online, in ways similar to what I’ve discussed about myself. And this is one of the things I’m studying in my research: networks, not just social networks, but networks of blogs and networks of bloggers. While I was contacting other Internet researchers I was also building a network of Internet researchers for myself. That, or I was linking into an already existing network. When you study networks, you’re never entirely sure that you’re not constructing what you’re studying.

It’s also in the nature of networks to constantly be expanding. People make connections, and those people go on to make other connections, and so on. So it’s kind of hard to study something that’s always changing. But more on that in a later post.

Networks, people. Not just computer networks, but networks in general. That’s what I’m studying. And I hope now you understand why.