A conflict theorist intends to write a reflection on Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines. Picture her negotiating her way through crowded streets of Manila to observe the general mood and make up of the pontiff’s audience during his five-day sortie. Picture her glued to the television screen meticulously dissecting the pontiff’s homilies for recurring themes and ideas. Imagine her reaction to the media’s portrayal of the whole event, and the preparations it took to generate a “successful” papal visit. Given her theoretical slant, she might focus on one of two viable points.
On the one hand, she might find the papal visit emblematic of how the ruling bloc mobilizes its resources to divert, albeit momentarily, the public’s gaze away from disparities and inconsistencies that plague Philippine society. She would argue that marginalized and impoverished groups are the obvious targets of tactics devised to provide greater incentive for acquiescence to the prevailing social order. She would focus on spectacle creation as an example of an elite-sponsored strategy aimed at masking inequality while affording the vulnerable constituency an illusion of harmony and bliss.She would perhaps claim that Philippine society needed someone who could awe, energize, and give hope at a time when cynicism and outrage over the excesses of the elite have been prevalent.
Pope Francis, a popular religious figure, fit the role to perfection. Liturgical ceremonies and assemblies he presided over were festive and well attended. His simplicity, wit and compassion were captured and immortalized in Facebook and Twitter. Television networks depicted him as an iconoclast, endearing him further to a nation-state burdened by political scandals and corporate greed.
By the same token, the conflict theorist would assert that the papal visit prevents a critical assessment of the role of Philippine Catholic hierarchy in perpetuating injustice and symbolic violence. She would lament, for instance, how women and the LGBTQ lobby have remained alienated owing to the Catholic hierarchy’s refusal to subject Catholic moral teachings to interrogation. She would insist that the hierarchy’s insistence on a Catholic dogma-informed approach to addressing contemporary social problems reeks of self-preservation and enfeebles attempts to deepen democracy. She would concur with Walden Bello’s observation that Pope Francis’ presence was not meant to advocate reform but to rescue a religious institution whose ideological and political sway has been severely weakened by “doctrinal stubbornness” and “clerical corruption.”
On the other hand, she could focus on the counter-hegemonic potential of the five-day event and maintain that the subalterns (subordinate classes in Gramscian parlance) are not mere cultural dupes or passive beneficiaries of “goodwill”. She could prove, for example, that the discourses and opinions of the elite about Pope Francis and the role of the Catholic Church in democratization are contested. She would focus then on the festivities surrounding the papal visit and contend that they are fertile grounds for resistance to substantially take root and blossom. She would contend that the enthusiasm that fuels collective effervescence (as mentioned in Maynard dela Vega’s article) can be channeled into a more productive and meaningful undertaking oriented toward demystifying structures of injustice. The Pope’s declarations regarding [scandalous] inequality and call to reject all forms of corruption could further engender a commitment to demand transparency, and hold institutions of power accountable for their actions. They could be viewed as mission statements that highlight the urgency of promoting a more active and transformative brand of citizenship from the peripheries.
The conflict theorist is aware of her colleagues’ propensity to portray everyday politics as one-sided and monolithic. She knows that they cursorily analyze the process of resistance as if to suggest that dissent is a remote possibility or an inconceivable component of everyday politics. Debunking such claims, she could cite Henry Giroux in stating that cultural practices are subjected to varying degrees of contestation. She could also refer to the works of Chantal Mouffe that take into account the counter-ideological and political role that subordinate groups play. On the whole, the conflict theorist could write a reflection on how marginalized sectors are capable of critical discernment and action despite limited economic and political capital. She could aver that the ability to detect disparities and inconsistencies in society and identify remedies to social maladies is a constitutive element of everyday processes of resistance.
Image taken from this site.