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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Cell Phone and the Crowd: Messianic Politics in the Contemporary Philippines


This essay explores the role of the cell phones and the practice of texting within the context of the civilian backed coup that overthrew President Joseph Estrada in January of 2001 popularly known as “People Power II.” It focuses in particular on a set of political fantasies among the Filipino middle class, including their belief in in the power of communication technologies to transmit messages at a distance and in their ability to possess that power. In the same vein, they had faith in their ability to master their relationship to the masses of people with whom they regularly shared Manila’s crowded streets, utilizing the power of crowds to speak to the state. Communication from this perspective held the messianic promise of refashioning the heterogenous crowd into a people addressing and addressed by the promise of justice. But as we shall see, such telecommunicative notions were predicated on the putative “voicelessness” of the masses. For once heard, the masses called attention to the fragility of bourgeois claims to shape the sending and reception of messages about the proper practice of politics in the nation-state.

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