Things Fall Away: Philippine Historical Experience and the Makings of Globalization


In Things Fall Away, Neferti X. M. Tadiar offers a new paradigm for understanding politics and globalization. Her analysis illuminates both the power of Filipino subaltern experience to shape social and economic realities and the critical role of the nation’s writers and poets in that process. Through close readings of poems, short stories, and novels brought into conversation with scholarship in anthropology, sociology, politics, and economics, Tadiar demonstrates how the devalued experiences of the ...
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Things Fall Away: Philippine Historical Experience and the Makings of Globalization

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In Things Fall Away, Neferti X. M. Tadiar offers a new paradigm for understanding politics and globalization. Her analysis illuminates both the power of Filipino subaltern experience to shape social and economic realities and the critical role of the nation’s writers and poets in that process. Through close readings of poems, short stories, and novels brought into conversation with scholarship in anthropology, sociology, politics, and economics, Tadiar demonstrates how the devalued experiences of the Philippines’ vast subaltern populations—experiences that “fall away” from the attention of mainstream and progressive accounts of the global capitalist present—help to create the material conditions of social life that feminists, urban activists, and revolutionaries seek to transform. Reading these “fallout” experiences as vital yet overlooked forms of political agency, Tadiar offers a new and provocative analysis of the unrecognized productive forces at work in global trends such as the growth of migrant domestic labor, the emergence of postcolonial “civil society,” and the “democratization” of formerly authoritarian nations.

Tadiar treats the historical experiences articulated in feminist, urban protest, and revolutionary literatures of the 1960s–90s as “cultural software” for the transformation of dominant social relations. She considers feminist literature in relation to the feminization of labor in the 1970s, when between 300,000 and 500,000 prostitutes were working in the areas around U.S. military bases, and in the 1980s and 1990s, when more than five million Filipinas left the country to toil as maids, nannies, nurses, and sex workers. She reads urban protest literature in relation to authoritarian modernization and crony capitalism, and she reevaluates revolutionary literature’s constructions of the heroic revolutionary subject and the messianic masses, probing these social movements’ unexhausted cultural resources for radical change.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Things Fall Away is a major theoretical statement about contemporary forms of world making. In this brilliant and poetic book, Neferti Tadiar works through the dilemmas of our time—transnational labor flows, urban disorder, lost hopes for progressive change, new hopes for self-expression—to return feminist theory to center stage in our understanding of the global political economy.”—Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, author of Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection

Things Fall Away is a remarkable achievement. It is a work of considerable scope, full of penetrating insights and urgent critiques. It brings to the surface an entire literary history that very few know about in the West: a literary history that speaks volumes about the conditions of modernity in various parts of the world.”—Vicente L. Rafael, author of The Promise of the Foreign: Nationalism and the Technics of Translation in the Spanish Philippines

“The study of the Philippines, one of Europe’s earliest and the US’s first colonies, obliges the rethinking of colonial histories. In the growing body of crucial work on the Philippines, Neferti X. M. Tadiar’s Things Fall Away is indispensable reading, a compelling rethinking of both postcolonial theory and transnational feminism. A richly poetic lament for the things that fall away, it dares still to descry in cast-aside affect and in occluded practices resources for the difficult labor of living otherwise.”—David Lloyd, author of Irish Times: Temporalities of Modernity

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822344469
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2009
  • Series: Post-Contemporary Interventions
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 496
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Neferti X. M. Tadiar is Professor of Women’s Studies at Barnard College, Columbia University. She is the author of Fantasy-Production: Sexual Economies and Other Philippine Consequences for the New World Order, winner of the Philippine National Book Award.

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Read an Excerpt

Things Fall Away

Philippine Historical Experience and the Makings of Globalization


Copyright © 2009 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4446-9

Chapter One

Prostituted Filipinas and the Crisis of Philippine Culture

During the 1980s, a decade since the beginning of Ferdinand Marcos's authoritarian regime, a bad joke was making rounds in the Philippines: "Gas, rice, sugar-everything is going up! The only things coming down are panties!" What people were remarking upon in this bit of tendentious humor was the massive growth of prostitution that had taken place since the beginning of the military dictatorship in 1972 and that had consequently earned Manila the reputation of being the sex capital of the world. As disclosed by the word "panties," the sexual goods on the market were not ungendered; they were almost exclusively female. During this period, between three hundred thousand and five hundred thousand prostituted women were working in the areas surrounding the U.S. bases, impelling one U.S. soldier to remark, "Pussy, that's what the Philippines is all about."

In this misogynist, homophobic, racist worldview, pussy is not only what the Philippines has, it is what the Philippines is. The interpretation of this particular nation as "female" sex owes its deplorable truth to what I have elsewhere called a heterosexist fantasy of political-economic relations and practices at work among nations. In this libidinal new world order, in which gendered sexualities are signifiers of the organizing principles of national economies and their political status in the international community, the Philippines functions as a hostess nation, catering to the demands and desires of her clients-multinational capital and the U.S. government and military. That the national economic crisis should be depicted by Filipinos themselves as the clearance sale of female sexual goods thus comes as no surprise. In this period, prostitution became the central metaphor for the state-directed turning over of the national economy to export-oriented industrialization and tourism, which meant, for those who vigorously objected, turning the national body-its people, its resources-over to multi-national capital dominated by the United States. Prostituted women thus became the symptoms of the crisis of the nation. They were not only specific instances of the general debasing, corrupt, and corrupting enterprise overseen by the state, but also the symbolic embodiment of the inconsistencies threatening the ideal consistency of the nation, a consistency conceived in the moral, political, and economic terms of sovereignty and integrity. The figure of the prostitute becomes the paradigmatic figure of the crisis of Philippine culture to the extent that the national economy drives its people to the same kind of living. As it was once put to me, "We are a nation of prostitutes." Taking the synecdochic part of the nation in crisis, the prostituted woman is the figure for the sacrifice of one's moral integrity, conceived as feminine sexuality, and the trammeling of one's sovereignty, conceived as masculine authority, losses which the culture, as a result of its state-keepers' betrayal, now suffers.

The Crisis of Culture

The discourse of the crisis of Philippine culture is not new. It is as old as the concept of Philippine culture. That is because the anticolonial nation is itself born of crisis, defined by crisis, and, to the extent that it is successful in maintaining itself, perpetuating and perpetuated by crisis. Geraldine Heng and Janadas Devan explain the inclination of postcolonial governments to generate narratives of national crisis: "By repeatedly focusing anxiety on the fragility of the new nation, its ostensible vulnerability to every kind of exigency, the state's originating agency is periodically reinvoked and ratified, its access to wide-ranging instruments of power in the service of national protection continually consolidated." Certainly, this was demonstrated by Marcos's constant invocation of the communist threat with the intention of securing for himself a permanent presidency. The crises that beset the nation are, however, many, and not necessarily invoked by the state. Marcos's own narrative was a response precisely to the crisis posed by a competing narrative of crisis, deployed by the anti-imperialist nationalisms of bourgeois and socialist social movements alike. To the anti-imperialist nationalists, Philippine culture was suffocating under the weight of Western powers, duped by colonial mentality, weakened through brain drain, alienated and divided from itself, all to the economic and political detriment of the people. In Renato Constantino's version of this narrative, a version widely held in the wake of national political independence "granted" by the United States in 1946, true Philippine culture was itself oppressed, prevented from coming into authentic, unalienated, and empowered being: "Victims of cultural Westernization, we suffer a crisis of identity as well."

The narrative of cultural crisis deployed by radical nationalists in the 1960s and 1970s and directly addressed by the Marcos regime's own nationalist cultural mythology did not take on an explicitly female form. The gendered and sexual presumptions of this narrative are, however, already implicit in the representation of a culture rendered impotent by its multiple personality, its lack of identity and sovereignty, what the nationalist statesman Claro M. Recto described as its incomplete separation from and lingering dependence on the United States and its servile mentality and hysterical obsession with what Americans thought. Under the new international economic order of the 1970s and 1980s, years during which the Philippines mounted developmentalist economic projects that invited foreign capital investment, the crisis of culture comes to be expressed through the gendered and sexual imagery of prostitution. Feminized bodies and natural resources, which are rightfully the territory and domain of the nation, are immorally used by multinational capital. Under the new global order of the 1980s and 1990s, the crisis of culture comes to be expressed through the gendered and sexual imagery of overseas domestic work. The threat is now globalization and diasporic dispersion, and the threatened are conceived less in terms of body and territory than in terms of capacity and ethnicity. As crucial elements of the cultural order, mothers, sisters, and daughters who take their reproductive caring skills elsewhere are seen as causing the disintegration not only of their own families, but, by logical extension, of the values and indeed the moral fabric of Philippine society. In short, what is a crisis of cultural sovereignty within a world of nationalisms and internationalisms becomes, within a world of post-nationalisms and cosmopolitanisms, a crisis of cultural dislocation, diffusion, and dysfunction. Throughout, "culture" is the "loss" of the nation, a loss embodied and effected by Filipinas and shaped by the forces of globalizing capital.

Considerable work has been done on the signifying roles of genders and sexualities in the making of various nationalisms, whether of revolutions or of nation-states. Much of this work has been on the representations-tropes and images-of gender and sex deployed in discourses of the nation, discourses which are recognized to have material effects on actual men and women. As bearers, keepers, and guardians of cultural traditions and values and national identity, women and the meanings of women become foregrounded in discourses of crisis. In much of this work, however, meanings of gender and sexuality are understood to serve as "vehicles of social and political commentary" about changes which have come about from other causes, causes like modernization and globalization. Culturally circumscribing concepts such as "sex/gender system," "gender relations," and "gender and sexuality ideologies" take on an autonomy that forecloses analysis of constitutive relations between this thing called culture and this thing called capital (indeed, of the very gendered and sexualized thinking about and separation of these incommensurable realms). Such culturalist and economistic frameworks offer us an untenable dialectic between culture and capital: capital uses cultural meanings and practices of gender and sexuality to create new forms of production; cultural meanings and practices of gender and sexuality are in turn transformed by these new forms of production of capital. In effect, although they are shown to interact, culture and capital are neatly separated in their respective symbolic and material realms.

The "prostitution" of the Philippines consists, however, of a much more muddled involvement of symbolic and material practices. In the following, I analyze the concept of the feminization of Philippine labor as a crucial aspect of the prostitution of the nation. I then examine the role of gender and sexuality in the constitution of the general category of labor. Finally, I examine the ways in which Fanny Garcia, in a short story, theorizes the sociosubjective practices engaged in by Filipina women which contribute to their feminization and commodification-in a word, their prostitution-within and outside of their communities, practices which might also serve as the means of their transformative power.

Prostituting the Nation: Feminization

As a receptive, pliable, permeable body, investment in which yields value, the Filipina seems to be the private simulation of the Philippines, the very corporeal embodiment of the country's putatively legendary openness and hospitality, except that in the subcontracting of their bodies they both share the same military and corporate clients and produce the same surplus values: political power and capital, values that not only exceed the grasp of their producers but moreover return as even greater forces for their exploitation. In effecting the restructuring of the Philippines into an economic formation of export-processing zones, the conditionality attached to loans and other forms of financing extended to the Philippines by international multilateral agencies throughout the 1970s and 1980s directly applied to the individual bodies of female labor who worked in these zones as well as in other sectors converted to export-oriented production and services: increasingly, the bodies of Filipinas were employed to satisfy this conditionality, restructured to corporeally conform to the specific forms and operations of labor required in tourism, prostitution, manufacturing, and other export-led industries.

On this view, strategies of production which characterize the latest modes in global capitalism, such as privatization of national industries, decentralization of corporations, deregulation, informalization, and flexibilization of labor operations-all these processes are brought to bear on the Filipina body. For example, particular zones of Filipina bodies are marked and transformed for export-processing operations-hands, fingers, eyes as well as sexual orifices are detailed for increasingly specialized and fragmented tasks in the electronics, garments, textiles, and sex-work industries. The subcontracting of production processes hence entails the subcontracting of Filipina body parts and their respective skills. Such a correlation represents the national body and the individual body as sites for the reception and processing of capital-intensive flows and, therefore, as effects of the same gendered and gendering, sexualized and sexualizing global production processes. This is the perspective one arrives at when one proceeds from the presumption of the privileged, unified determining agency of capital.

The history of these transformations, which are widely recognized as developments concomitant with the establishment of the New International Division of Labor, cannot be rendered, however, merely as the dire consequences and necessary conditions of the actions and processes of capital. The restructuring of global production also depends, after all, on the restructuring of labor. And inasmuch as they engage in their own transformation as well as in their own production, Filipinas are not only products but also producers. Prostituted Filipinas contribute significantly not only to the maintenance of the U.S. military, the security system of transnational capital, but also to its almost exclusively male international managerial class, especially that of the dominant economic power in the region, Japan. The sexual as well as domestic services they provide to their international clientele are composed of complex skills they must acquire and refine; in the process of developing these skills and reshaping their bodies in order to ensure their marketability, they must also develop strategies of self-sustenance-psychical and social strategies that enable them to go on laboring under conditions they might otherwise find impossible to bear. Prostituted as well by transnational manufacturing industries, Filipinas compose a significant part of the female global labor force whose socially gendered skills and subsistence work give it the flexibility and cheap reproductive cost exploited and demanded by capital.

Prostitution thus pertains not only to the metaphorical construction of the Philippines as both female and feminine (signifying its lack of political and economic power and its status as possessed territory with permeable boundaries), but also to the actual conscription of female workers and their sexualized labor. Recognizing that post-Fordist strategies of accumulation have brought about a radical shift in the composition of the global labor force, including the feminization and informalization of labor in cheaper wage-zones across the world, Kenneth Surin points out the need to reconstitute the category of labor. He asserts furthermore that "it will be possible to reconfigure labor as a category only if there is first an analysis of the structure of productive social cooperation, since this structure is the ontological basis for the mode of production." The structure of productive cooperation consists of a complex of noneconomic systems of value (of gender, race, sexuality), each of which interacts with the others in the creation, maintenance, and modification of their respective terms of valence; each of these systems, including that of economic value, serves as a system of variables for the others.

Thus feminization is not merely the subsumption by capital of an entirely separate logic of social reproduction which en-genders labor power. Women are not products of a traditional sex-gender system, which has of late been incorporated into the mode of production. This perspective gives rise to attributions of the overreadiness or ready-madeness of more traditional, less-modernized, i.e., third world, women for the "age-old" domestic-related tasks required in the Taylorist production processes in the "free trade zones." Here, patriarchy and tradition both function as pre- or noncapitalist systems which capitalism has subcontracted for the cheap production of this custom-made labor. Produced by older systems on consignment to capital, third world women and children are treated, conceptually and materially, as component parts that are then easily inserted into the capitalist mode of production. Apart from ignoring the systematic violence deployed in the manufacturing industries to maintain this labor force and the militant protests, strikes, and other forms of resistance indefatigably put up by women workers and their communities (which completely disprove what is often posited either as the willingness, acquiescence, or predisposition of women to the kinds of tasks required in these industries), accounts of feminization that view it as the deployment or transposition of older structures of social cooperation into capitalist production maintain a rigid distinction between the economic and the noneconomic as well as a distinction between capitalist and traditional patriarchal practices, with which it tends to converge. As such, they cannot explicate the ways in which forms of gender and sexuality are constructed through (and not just tapped by) production, in other words, the ways in which gender and sexual logics of cooperation have been at once product and object of capitalist exploitation.


Excerpted from Things Fall Away by NEFERTI X. M. TADIAR Copyright © 2009 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Introduction Loosed Upon the World....................1
One Prostituted Filipinas and the Crisis of Philippine Culture....................25
Two Women Alone....................59
Three Poetics of Filipina Export....................103
Four Modern Refuse in the "City of Man"....................143
Five Petty Adventures in (the Nation's) Capital....................183
Six Metropolitan Debris....................217
Seven Revolutionary Imagination and the Masses....................265
Eight Guerilla Passion and the Unfinished Cultural Revolution....................299
Nine The Sorrows of People....................333
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