In contemporary Manila, slums and squatter settlements are peppered throughout the city, often pushing right up against the walled enclaves of the privileged, creating the complex geopolitical pattern of what sociologist Marco Garrido
calls the “patchwork city.” Synthesizing literature in political sociology and urban studies, Garrido shows how experiences along the housing divide in Manila constitute political subjectivities and shape the very experience of democracy in contemporary Philippines.
The Patchwork City: Class, Space and Politics in Metro Manila
(University of Chicago Press, 2019) is a beautifully written ethnography is divided into two parts. In the first part, Garrido documents the fragmentation of Manila into a mélange of spaces defined by class, particularly slums and upper- and middle-class enclaves. He calls the pattern of urban fragmentation “interspersion” and persuasively argues that it is a spatial form distinct to cities in the Global South. This distinction is marked not by increasing segregation (as is the case with cities in the Global North) but by increasing proximity and dependence. For enclave residents, the proximity of slums is a source of insecurity, compelling them to impose spatial boundaries on slum residents. For slum residents, the regular imposition of these boundaries creates a pervasive sense of discrimination. Within this everyday, and almost normalized, sense of discrimination, the urban poor and middle class emerge not as labor and capital but as “squatters” and “villagers,” Manila’s name for subdivision residents. In other words, economic identities are unflinchingly spatialized.
In the second part, Garrido looks beyond urban fragmentation to delineate its effects on class relations and politics, arguing that the proliferation of these slums and enclaves and their subsequent proximity have intensified class relations. Going beyond the realm of “the urban”, Garrido examines the politicization of this socio-spatial divide with the specific case of the populist president Joseph Estrada. The book ultimately argues that the two sides – middle-class and urban poor – are drawn into contention over not just the right to the city, but the nature of democracy itself.
In all, The Patchwork City
illuminates how segregation, class relations, and democracy are all intensely connected. It makes clear, ultimately, that class as a social structure is as indispensable to the study of Manila—and of many other cities of the Global South—as race is to the study of American cities.
Sneha Annavarapu is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago.