Award Information

From Colonial Cargo to Global Containers: Contestations over waterfront labor, space and time in the port of Manila (1898-2020)

This project broadly proposes to analyze lives, labor, and historical and economic processes as they intersect in the port of Manila, Philippines. It uses archival and ethnographic research methods and draws on literature in geography, cultural anthropology, and Philippine studies to understand the port of Manila as a site of contested social relations. More specifically, it examines Manila’s waterfront, docks and cargo warehouses as contact zones where discrepantly situated subjects collide together across three historical eras: the early American colonial period (1898-1910), the first five years of Philippine independence (1946-1951), and the contemporary moment. I start from the highly specific site of the Manila waterfront to trace how the seemingly mundane practice of transferring goods from ocean vessel to Manila’s commercial storefronts offers perspectives into how lives are transformed by the uneven geographies of empire, contemporary globalization, and their divisions of labor. Methodologically, I read archival material available in the US and the Philippines, conduct interviews with port workers today, and draw on preliminary research already conducted. I first ask how the port functions as a space of state-led infrastructural and technological investment. Here I consider how state investment in the production of port space works to reproduce and smooth over the highly uneven relations of empire and capitalism. This project then asks how efforts to organize the port into a space of efficiency produce uneven social effects. Under these conditions, I interrogate how harbor workers manipulate time and space to create modes of existence that exceed the capture of capital. In highlighting historical labor struggles and daily workplace routines today, this dissertation pushes for sustained attention to those forms of laboring and cooperating that sustain waterfront life in ways different from the time and spaces of capital.