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My dissertation connects the urban fragmentation of megacities in the developing world with the rise of a distinctive kind of populism sharply dividing the urban poor from the urban elite. Specifically, I ask why the urban poor in Metro Manila, Philippines, responded so strongly to the populist appeals of Joseph Estrada, a former movie star elected president in 1998 and deposed in 2001 amid corruption charges. I argue that the urban poor responded to Estrada’s populist appeals on the basis of knowledge shaped by the spatial organization of Metro Manila. First, I use historical sources and mapping software (ArcGIS) to establish the consolidation of a distinct pattern of segregation in the 1990s. Rather than spatial polarization, a kind of “interspersion” prevailed, with slums and enclaves drawn increasingly closer together in space such that social inequality took the form of spatial exclusion. Enclaves were developed, fortified, and interconnected, while slum areas accumulated along their margins. Second, I marshal substantial qualitative evidence to show how this configuration resulted in the proliferation of class boundaries, both physicial and symbolic, thus making more salient the stigma attached to the urban poor’s status as squatters and slum dwellers. Consequently, I found that the urban poor supported Estrada not, as others have proposed, because of his patronage, his screen persona as defender of the oppressed, or his anti-elite posturing, but because of his apparent sincerity, or the correspondence between his actions and actual beliefs, as deduced from the absence of stigma in his conduct towards them. To the urban poor, Estrada’s concrete acts of sincerity—e.g., touching them without hesitation, responding to their requests for help immediately and unstintingly, and visiting slums without the least apprehension—verified his pro-poor political persona. By identifying the urban poor’s heightened consciousness of stigma as well as the peculiar source of Estrada’s appeal, we can better explain their populist engagement.
My previous work has been published in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research (an article awarded the Becker Prize for Outstanding Research on Southeast Asia), Qualitative Sociology, and other academic journals (please see my CV for the full list).
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