Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Sideways Strategies: Civil Society-State Reformist Crossover Activities in the Philippines 1986-2010

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Sideways Strategies: Civil Society-State Reformist Crossover Activities in the Philippines 1986-2010

Article excerpt

Anthropological approaches to the analysis of policy seek to challenge a still-considerable tendency among researchers and policy analysts to rely on linear rational models of the policy process. (1) Although "patently far removed from real life", as Rosemary McGee has pointed out, such models are "surprisingly alive and well in policy, development and political circles and even in policy actors own accounts of what kinds of process they themselves are involved in". (2) This article aims to unpack more of the "the complexity, ambiguity, and messiness of policy processes". (3) It deploys an ethnographic approach to gaining a more nuanced understanding of policy processes, focusing on the difficulties encountered by individuals from civil society seeking to advance policy reform agendas from within government. There is also a long tradition of work on policy from outside anthropology that seeks to challenge the dominant fiction of linearity. For example, Charles Lindblom's view of "muddling through" as an important element of what he termed "incremental" policy-making processes was an important early foundation to such thinking. (4) Michael Lipsky's concept of "street level bureaucrats", who were seen as possessing a largely unrecognized level of power in determining the nature and outcome of policies, has also made a useful contribution to understanding the informal dimensions of policy. (5) In the field of development studies, Merilee S. Grindle and John W. Thomas' "interactive model" of the policy process rejected linear models of policy change and instead placed emphasis on understanding the ways policy actors analyse policy environments in search of opportunities for action and change, and linked such boundary crossers to this activity within an actor-oriented approach. (6) Such approaches to understanding the complexities of policy processes also resonate with the work of Norman Long in development sociology, whose actor-oriented perspective draws attention to the need to engage with the level of individual action, albeit viewed within a wider structural perspective, if we are to succeed in building fine grained accounts of social worlds. (7)

Using such work as a starting point, the aim of this article is to explore one such area of complexity and ambiguity in the context of the Philippines: reformist activity on the boundary between civil society and state. As David Gellner suggests, "it is the job of anthropologists to study how these boundaries work in practice". (8) It analyses new empirical data drawn from a set of "life-work histories" collected from activists who have temporarily crossed over the boundary from civil society to government in order to work from the inside in pursuit of reformist goals. (9) The use of a life history data collection methodology is of course not a pure type of ethnography, but it allows a fine texture or "being there" quality at the level of the individual and their relationship with context that goes beyond most other methods. This cross-over activity goes beyond more familiar and relatively well-documented terrain of non-governmental organization (NGO) advocacy and campaigning work to challenge and change policy, or social movements that serve to mobilize citizen-based political action. Social movement and NGO activity has long been documented in the Philippines context, (10) which has been seen as possessing a relatively rich and vibrant civil society sector (11) albeit one that has more recently been characterized as captured by elite interests. (12) Indeed, the sideways strategy that is embodied within this cross-over activity can be seen as an experimental result of rethinking the boundary between government and civil society (or the "third sector" as it is sometimes termed (13)) in the imaginary of some sections of civil society.

The study of this cross-over phenomenon also connects with Charles Tilly and Sidney Tarrow's concept of "contentious politics" that are understood as taking place outside of the more familiar realms of formal politics and social movements. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.