The Ugnayang Pang-Aghamtao (UGAT), Anthropological Association of the Philippines will be holding their 31st Annual Conference entitled “The (Re)Making of Cities and its Consequences” on 22-24 October 2009 at Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City.
Urban centers are expanding physically and virtually as new modes of transportation become available and new means of communicating via information technology and mass media reach into the farthest corners of the globe bringing with them new sensibilities, images, and meanings attached to city life. Philippine anthropology has largely focused on rural and indigenous peoples and has neglected to significantly contribute to the discourse on cities. This year’s conference aims to bring the study of cities to the forefront: Who makes the city, how, and with what consequences? Inherently this involves state energies as well as the deployment of social, economic, and cultural resources by different interest groups and agents with divergent ends.
The major questions of this year’s theme are:
1. When is anthropology?
Putting cities at the forefront of anthropological inquiry may have methodological implications and involve an urgency to reach across other disciplines. Cities had always been made up of diverse people coming from different backgrounds, the city reproduces a fast-paced lifestyle that is often characterized by anonymity, fleeting encounters, rapid exchange of ideas, constant mobility, and porous boundaries as city life spills into the suburban and vice versa. These pose challenges to anthropologists who have long been typecaste as studying rural and indigenous communities whose pace of life and sense of community markedly differ from those in the city. How do anthropologists approach the study of cities? And how can the social science disciplines involved in studying cities effectively converse with each other?
2. What makes a city?
The city as a built environment is also a lived environment. Within a city, enclaves based on such markers as gender, religion, ethnicity, and class put in stark relief the vast heterogeneity of people and, at the same time, these people’s need to create a community and assert identity. Thus the city is not only just an environment of built structures that affect human activity; it is also made up of people striving to make sense of the city environment and their place in it. One central question is how Filipinos differentiate the “public” from the “private” sphere. Answering this can unlock various domains. For instance: why streets and sidewalks are privatized, why so-called public transport is decentralized, why buses and trucks are increasingly accident-prone, why privately-owned malls are gaining over plazas and small businesses, why gated subdivisions are better maintained than public parts of the city, or why planning for the city is often ineffectual. The public vs. private dichotomy can be pushed back in time: When and how did the sense of public space emerge? It can be pushed forward: What effect does the narrow sense of public have on our cities’ competitiveness in the world today? It can be used to compare: How has the sense of public gained strength in particular Philippine cities?
3. What are the consequences of the (re)making of cities?
Cities have long been the “center” relative to the rural “periphery.” It is the center of commerce, of education, of mass media, of technology, and of politics as well as the consumer of the produce of the rural, and a center where people of divergent backgrounds converge. The city becomes a venue for the playing out of people’s differences and similarities and of possibilities of reinventing oneself that engender new forms of culture that may in turn be transmitted to the periphery via the mass media. This is not a one-way street, however, as developments in the rural also often affect and shape the city. What are the consequences of the human agenda and the processes of (re)making cities on both the center and the periphery? Is the rural the only periphery or are there peripheries within the center as well?