Overcoming Peripherality

The meanings of conference participation.


June 3, 2014

One of the true joys I have being a Political Scientist in the Philippines is that our professional association conference rotates hosting locations in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. As the conference tends to be held over a summer weekend in interesting cities with tourism offerings, I am able to fold work and sightseeing seamlessly together (with my spouse in tow). Through this conference, I have met colleagues from otherwise obscure private and State Universities and Colleges (SUCs); learned about various international NGOs and the funding opportunities they present (The Asia Foundation, for instance, covered the registration fees of conference attendees from Mindanao schools or sponsor lunch/dinner banquets); and stumbled upon kindred spirits—academics from local research institutes that do great empirical work but live off the Manila-centric grid (e.g. Institute for Peace and Development in Mindanao State University; Peace Institute at University of St. La Salle Bacolod).


I am aware of the underlying political economy of conference participation.  Many equally remarkable academics from the periphery are left out of these intellectual exchanges because of budgetary crunches. Unless the venue is within the region, the travel cost is simply prohibitive. For instance, my cost to attend the 2013 conference at Mariano Marcos State University in Batac, Ilocos Norte was close to $400 (with a subsidy). Double marginalization happens among those who belong to lower-tier tertiary schools, whose teaching faculty has never been the target audience of professional associations. In my own circle, conferences have disproportionate representation from elite, research-and-publishing-focused schools. A former association President remarked that  he was once invited as keynote speaker to a rival Political Scientist conference and was shocked to see fourfold more attendees than our own association conference! Of the 204 or so institutions with registered BA Political Science programs, only a small fraction attend our conference. I have the impression that in other fields (agriculture or fishery), the conference replicates the kind of center-periphery relations where graduates of the core schools (now populating departments of regional schools) come to reconnect with their peers. Beyond this select pool, there never is any conscious attempt to actively expand membership to be inclusive. While our professional association has done a great job in bringing the conference to the periphery, it has not equally done so in terms of workshops or roundtables that feature scholars from outside Manila.


My marginal location (Iloilo) and countless encounters with academics in Mindanao in the course of my research projects have made me more sensitive and assertive over the claim of equal opportunity by those in the margins. As such, whenever we have visiting Political Science scholars at my home institution, great efforts are exerted to ensure that teachers from regional schools attend lectures; we often have back-to-back events in Iloilo City and in Miagao (making certain that our neighbouring polytechnic school will also be able to send representatives). I offer my lecture services for free to academic audiences in remote places, often tied into research field visits. As part of our hosting the 2014 Political Science conference, much legwork was spent following up on participation by schools in Western Visayas. I endeavor to be inclusive, even within my home institution, extending invitations for panel presentations to those from the Tacloban campus and from the other colleges. The opportunity is extended to undergraduate students; I organised, coached and assisted (in terms of obtaining institutional funding support) a panel of senior undergraduates who presented their thesis results. I put together a group of Political Science juniors as student volunteers who may well count as memorable the experience of working side-by-side with known Political Science luminaries. Moving forward, I hope to use my position as member of the Commission on Higher Education Technical Panel as outreach platform, extending training/workshop opportunities for curriculum improvement in my own region.


It’s hard to overcome the imperial gaze which I, being  a product of elite education, am heir to. But I will continue to try to break that national-local asymmetry in my own little ways. Wish me luck.



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