Cannell, Fenella. 1999. Power and Intimacy in the Christian Philippines.

Cannell, Fenella. 1999. Power and Intimacy in the Christian Philippines. 
New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

This is an ethnography of a town situated in the lowlands of Bicol region, the region which at the time of Cannell’s research in 1988-89 was the “poorest in the nation” (1). Cannell focuses her study on the poorest of the poor – those “who have nothing at all” (15). Bicolanos are interested in “power relationships” at the level of the barangay (village) as a tool to achieve “transformation from states of hierarchy… between persons to states of greater balance, intimacy, and harmony” (228). Cannell argues that Bicolanos “construct power relationally” (12), and the powerful and the less powerful are “liable to affect each other” (25). While people remark that they “have nothing,” Cannell finds that one’s estimation of poverty is “always relative” and that being poor or rich “carries more than material implications” (18). For example, some wealth could be shared as persons living in one village insist that they are all “siblings” (24). The Bicolano model of power distribution is “always dynamic and capable of change and negotiation” (25). For example,  a woman who enters a marriage arranged by her kin may construct “narratives of reluctance,” and these are to be understood as an echo of her opposition to a “seamless submission” (46). But still it is through a woman’s obedience that she is able to establish relationships of debt, anticipate a “return gift”, and shape the marriage according to her choosing (75). In Bicol, marriage is a “cooperative partnership,” and Cannell finds that women are even more capable of fulfilling ‘male’ roles (i.e. making a living for the family). One’s intimacy with the supernatural is another example of transformation of power, such that a person who has a contact with the supernatural “can…produce an increment of power through proximity” (230). Healing the sick through spirit-mediumship is also an example of negotiation of power: The sick being healed by the spirit medium can look to the spirits gratefully for the alleviation of their sickness, while the medium (often people of low stature) also expects signs of being “helped,” and of receiving protection from the spirits (95).


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