Nicole Curato's Democracy in a Time of Misery: From Spectacular Tragedies to Deliberative Action (Oxford UP, 2019) investigates how democratic politics can unfold in creative and unexpected of ways even at the most trying of times. Drawing on three years of fieldwork in disaster-affected communities in Tacloban City, Philippines, this book presents ethnographic portraits of how typhoon survivors actively perform their suffering to secure political gains.
Each chapter traces how victims are transformed to 'publics' that gain voice and visibility in the global public sphere through disruptive protests, collaborative projects, and political campaigns that elected the strongman Rodrigo Duterte to presidency. It also examines the micropolitics of silencing that lead communities to withdraw and lose interest in politics.
These ethnographic descriptions come together in a theoretical project that makes a case for a multimodal view of deliberative action. It underscores the embodied, visual, performative and subtle ways in which affective political claims are constructed and received. It concludes by arguing that while emotions play a role in amplifying marginalized political claims, it also creates hierarchies of misery that renders some forms of suffering more deserving of compassion than others.
The book invites readers to reflect on challenging ethical issues when examining political contexts defined by widespread depravity and dispossession, and the democratic ethos demanded of global publics in responding to others' suffering.
Professor Michele Ford is the Director of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, a university-wide multidisciplinary center at the University of Sydney, Australia.