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Democracy as Disorder: Institutionalized Sources of Democratic Ambivalence Among the Upper and Middle Class in Manila


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Scholars contend that weak institutions as manifest in corruption and bad governance are driving people towards illiberal forms of democracy. This explanation is underspecified. It does not make clear why people are turning towards authoritarian rule instead of working to strengthen democratic institutions. It cannot explain why we are seeing, specifically, a turn to the politics of discipline in countries like the Philippines. We need a better grasp of how weak institutions are experienced and how this experience shapes people’s attitudes towards democracy. Drawing upon several years of ethnographic research, I depict the experience of democracy of the upper and middle class in Metro Manila. For informants, the problem of democracy is not that institutions are weak but that valued institutions are actively contradicted by disvalued ones. They describe an experience of disorder, identifying four major sources: corruption, rule-bending, clientelism, and informal settlement. A view of democracy as disorder prompts calls for “disciplining” it. These findings lead us to reframe the issue. Whereas a weak institutions’ framework emphasizes the gap between valued rules and regressive norms, I emphasize their contradiction as shaping perceptions of disorder. Contradiction is experienced as a moral dilemma, a conflict between how things are done and how they should be done. This experience is informed by a normative sensibility rooted in upper- and middle-class position. The framework provides a better account of democratic backsliding: socially embedded, broader in scope, and closer to experience.
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1036 Social Forces 99(3)
Democracy as Disorder
Democracy as Disorder: Institutionalized Sources of
Democratic Ambivalence Among the Upper and
Middle Class in Manila
Marco Garrido, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago
Scholars contend that weak institutions as manifest in corruption and bad gover-
nance are driving people towards illiberal forms of democracy. This explanation
is underspecified. It does not make clear why people are turning towards author-
itarian rule instead of working to strengthen democratic institutions. It cannot explain
why we are seeing, specifically, a turn to the politics of discipline in countries like the
Philippines. We need a better grasp of how weak institutions are experienced and how
this experience shapes people’s attitudes towards democracy. Drawing upon several
years of ethnographic research, I depict the experience of democracy of the upper
and middle class in Metro Manila. For informants, the problem of democracy is not
that institutions are weak but that valued institutions are actively contradicted by dis-
valued ones. They describe an experience of disorder, identifying four major sources:
corruption, rule-bending, clientelism, and informal settlement. A view of democracy as
disorder prompts calls for “disciplining” it. These findings lead us to reframe the issue.
Whereas a weak institutions’ framework emphasizes the gap between valued rules and
regressive norms, I emphasize their contradiction as shaping perceptions of disorder.
Contradiction is experienced as a moral dilemma, a conflict between how things
are done and how they should be done. This experience is informed by a normative
sensibility rooted in upper- and middle-class position. The framework provides a better
account of democratic backsliding: socially embedded, broader in scope, and closer
to experience.
Democracy is in recession. Since 2006, there has been an overall deterioration in
the quality of liberal democracies in the developing world particularly (Diamond
2008;Economist Intelligence Unit 2017;Freedom House 2018). In many of these
countries, the trappings of democracy are retained, while its practice is being
degraded. We see the curtailment of political rights and civil liberties as well
as restrictions on electoral competition, popular participation, and democratic
I am indebted to Laura Doering and the journal’s three anonymous reviewers for their critical
feedback on earlier drafts of the paper. Direct correspondence to Marco Garrido, Department
of Sociology, University of Chicago, 1126 East 59th St., Chicago, IL 60615, USA; e-mail:
© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail:
Social Forces 99(3) 10361059, March 2021
Advance Access publication on 1 June 2020
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Democracy as Disorder 1037
accountability (Waldner and Lust 2018;seealsoBermeo 2016;Diamond 2015;
Plattner 2017). Scholars blame democratic backsliding on bad governance and
weak political institutions (Zakaria 1997;Diamond 2008;Fukuyama 2014).
They point to governments being unable to control corruption, establish the
rule of law, and deliver public goods. The citizens of these countries, conse-
quently, have grown frustrated with liberal democracy and are adopting illiberal
A weak institutions’ framework was developed with the problem of political
development in mind (Huntington 1968). It speaks less persuasively, however,
to the problem of democratic backsliding. It is not enough to say that people
are frustrated with democracy because institutions are weak. We need a better
grasp of how weak institutions are experienced, and how this experience
shapes people’s attitudes towards democracy. A weak institutions’ framework
emphasizes elite, patrimonial, or otherwise deficient democracy. While this may
not be an inaccurate description of the state of politics in many developing
countries, it falls short in describing people’s actual experience of politics. And
this experience is crucial to understanding why people are turning away from
liberal democracy in the Philippines and elsewhere. What we need is an account
of politics “from the inside,” following Auyero (2001), a view of democracy from
the ground.
I will consider the limits of a weak institutions’ framework with respect to
the Philippines. Philippine scholars point to weak institutions in the form of
elite democracy and patronage politics. Hutchcroft and Rocamora (2003)cite
the country’s “democratic deficit”—the incapacity of its democratic institutions
to respond effectively to demands from below. Weak institutions as manifest
in corruption and bad governance have resulted in “a deepening frustration”
with democracy (p. 260). It is this frustration driving Filipinos towards illiberal
forms of democracy. Scholars generally explain the election of Rodrigo Duterte,
the country’s most antidemocratic president since Marcos, as a “populist revolt
against elite democracy” (Heydarian 2018;seealsoBello 2017;Curato 2017;
Thompson 2016;Teehankee 2016).
While I do not think this explanation is wrong, it is clearly underspecified as
a mechanism of democratic backsliding. It does not make clear why people are
turning towards authoritarian rule instead of working to strengthen democratic
institutions. Moreover, the focus on frustration would seem to be confounded
by data showing, rather, an ambivalence towards democracy. On the one hand,
a majority of people view democracy as “always preferable” (table 1). On the
other, a majority remain open to authoritarian forms of government (table 2).
How do we account for people’s susceptibility to authoritarian options? Why are
we seeing, specifically, a turn to the politics of discipline? To explain this turn,
we need to look beyond what is missing (strong institutions) at what is actually
there, that is, at how people are making sense of democracy.
I will depict the experience of democracy of the upper and middle class in
Metro Manila, drawing upon several years of ethnographic research, including
81 formal interviews and months of participant observation in middle-class
households and civic associations. There is reason to believe that democratic
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1038 Social Forces 99(3)
Table 1. Preference for Democracy
2002 2005 2010 2014 2018
Democracy is always
64 50 54 47 59
Authoritarianism is
sometimes preferable
18 18 22 27 20
It does not matter to a
person like me
18 24 22 25 19
Source: SWS 2018.
Table 2. Openness to Authoritarian Options
Authoritarian options 2002 2005 2010 2014
We should get rid of parliament
and elections and have a strong
leader decide things
31 37 34 33
Only one political party should
be allowed to stand for election
and hold office
30 32 31 29
The military should govern the
37 24 24 28
We should get rid of
parliament and elections and
have experts make decisions
23 — 17 18
Open to entertaining at least
one authoritarian option
60 60 55 52
Source: ABS 2016;Mangahas 2018.
ambivalence is particularly pronounced among this group. Chu and Huang
(2020) found support for democracy to be lowest among the most highly
educated Filipinos. The upper and middle class, moreover, would seem to
be Duterte’s leading supporters. They showed the strongest support for his
candidacy in the lead up to the election (figure 1). They were the class group
that voted for him in the highest numbers (SWS 2016a). Since the election, they
have continued to support him despite a series of moves on his part blatantly
inimical to democracy (SWS 2019a). My aim is not to explain support for
Duterte specifically (on this score, see Curato 2017;Webb 2017;Arguelles 2019).
My data were collected in 2010, after all, before he burst on the national scene.
Rather, my aim is to articulate a politics of discipline with the upper and middle
class’ experience of democracy.
I will argue that for the upper and middle class in Manila, the problem of
democracy is not that institutions are weak but that valued institutions are
actively contradicted by disvalued ones. An experience of institutional contra-
diction gives rise to perceptions of disorder. A view of democracy as disorderly
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Democracy as Disorder 1039
Figure 1. Support for Duterte in the lead-up to the presidential election in May 2016 (percent):
Metro Manila by social class. Source: SWS 2019b.
leads people to advocate for “disciplining” it. They imagine discipline primarily
in the form of a “strong leader” enforcing valued rules. This framework better
explains the upper and middle class’ susceptibility to authoritarian options.
It offers other advantages as well, as detailed in table 3. First, the framework
better captures the upper and middle class’ experience of democracy. It empha-
sizes moral agitation, which better describes their experience than frustration.
Second, the framework broadens the scope of our analysis. We are able to see
sources of disorder besides corruption, including rule-bending, clientelism, and
informal settlement. These sources of disorder implicate more than just political
elites but petty bureaucrats, the poor (as informal settlers), and powerful others
in the upper and middle class (as rule-benders). Thus, we are led to construct
the problem more broadly. It is not just that an elite or political class dominate
politics, but that people, including the poor and the middle class themselves,
do not follow the rules. Third, the analysis is socially embedded (whereas a
weak institutions’ framework is taken as applying to society generally). It roots
perceptions of disorder in the social position of the upper and middle class. In
doing so, it enables us to distinguish the experiences of differently situated social
Weak Institutions
In democratic societies, political order is distinguished by strong institutions.
Fukuyama (2014) differentiates between institutions establishing state capacity,
the rule of law, and democratic accountability. The strength of these different
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1040 Social Forces 99(3)
Table 3. Framing Democratic Backsliding
Weak institutions Institutional
1. What is the
The gap between
valued rules and
regressive norms
The contradiction
between rules and
Better captures the
upper- and
experience of
2. How is it
Frustration Moral agitation
3. How does it
Corruption and
bad governance
populism, informal
people not
following the rules
Broadens the scope
of analysis
4. Who is to
blame? (actors)
Political elites State agents, the
poor, and powerful
others in the upper
and middle class
5. From whose
Society in general The upper and
middle class in
Locates the analysis
in social space
kinds of institutions does not necessarily correlate. This means that institutions
can be strong in one category but weak in another. Moreover, strength in one
category may undermine strength in another: strong democratic accountability
may weaken state capacity and vice versa. Fukuyama attributes democratic
recession to the weakness or underdevelopment of state capacity relative to
democratic accountability. The problem is that institutions of state capacity, par-
ticularly in developing countries, are unable to keep pace with popular demands
and/or “captured” by elites. Their weakness manifests in bad governance—in
governments unable to control corruption, establish the rule of law, and deliver
public goods—and in a general lack of trust or civic feeling among the populace
(Diamond 2008). Consequently, people become frustrated with democracy and
look towards authoritarian alternatives.
This framework is drawn primarily from the work of Samuel Huntington.
Huntington (1968) argued that socioeconomic development unleashes forces—
social groups making new demands—that existing political institutions are
unable to contain. The result is a gap or lag between social mobilization
and political development. “Political decay” manifests in weak institutions and
predatory politics. This situation, he theorized, drives the upper and middle class
to turn against democracy in the name of political order. A number of scholars
have adapted this framework to explain the embrace of authoritarian rule in
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Democracy as Disorder 1041
several developing countries, including Argentina and Brazil (O’Donnell 1973),
Mexico (Centeno 1994), and South Korea (Davis 2004). In each case, the upper
and middle class moved to circumscribe democracy in order to quell social unrest
or advance developmental goals.
The focus of a weak/strong institutions’ framework is on the relative predom-
inance of valued, i.e., modern, institutions over elite-dominated, particularistic
politics and hierarchical social relations. Institutions are seen as bringing order
to disorder and thus represent progress.1A clear normative thrust is baked
into the analysis. Shallow democracies “need better, stronger, and more demo-
cratic institutions,” Diamond writes (2008:45–46). These include “Weberian”
or impersonal bureaucracies, programmatic political parties, the strict and
impartial enforcement of the law, and a robust and free press. The aim is
to “consolidate” democracy, with consolidation evaluated according to well-
defined standards, including honest elections, equality under the law, and the
protection of various freedoms.
The weak/strong institutions’ framework provides a compelling perspective
on political development but a thin account of democratic backsliding. The
account emphasizes the gap between rules and norms breeding frustration with
democracy. It focuses on what is missing—effective, impartial, and representative
institutions—to the neglect of what is already there. Specifically, the focus on
valued institutions obscures the vitality of other social rules, disvalued but
institutionalized nonetheless. These rules are seen as simply standing in the
way of consolidation. Crucially, we overlook the dynamic between valued and
disvalued institutions. We fail to appreciate how it shapes the experience of
democracy, for the middle class particularly.
The political scientist Guillermo O’Donnell (1996) made a similar point
some time ago. He criticized the notion of consolidation as US- and Euro-
centric. A consolidated democracy is one that is highly institutionalized and
where democracy is seen as “the only game in town.” O’Donnell questioned
whether consolidation was an appropriate yardstick. He pointed out that the
democracies in Latin America and Asia, relatively new at the time, were being
evaluated with reference to idealized versions of much older polyarchies. How
could they not come up short? He wondered whether they could ever be seen
otherwise than “stunted.” Perhaps the problem, he suggested, was not that
the new democracies lack institutionalization but that they are conceptualized
in a way that obscures the institutions they do have. Specifically, he pointed
to “particularism” being pervasive in Latin American democracies. The term
includes clientelism, corruption, and patrimonialism generally. Particularism
involves sets of rules that are, in fact, highly institutionalized, but because
these rules are informal and disvalued, scholars tend to discount or overlook
them and thus end up misrepresenting how politics in these places actually
works. O’Donnell is not just saying that we should study disvalued institutions
instead of valued ones. I hear him saying that we need to account for both
valued and disvalued institutions and their interaction in our description of
politics. Furthermore, I hear him calling for less prescription and more thick
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1042 Social Forces 99(3)
Heeding this call, I propose reframing the problem of democracy around
institutional contradiction. Within this framework, disorder is not the opposite
of institutionalization but, rather, the product of conf licting institutions.
Institutional Contradiction
Institutions may be defined, minimally, as a set of rules governing behavior with
respect to a particular field of activity. Because these rules are collectively held,
institutions confront individuals as being external to them or as imposed upon
them (Durkheim 1966). This means that individuals cannot alter institutions
by sheer will. They cannot simply disavow them. Institutions, moreover, exert
pressure upon us to play by their rules. Most of the time we go along with these
rules, having taken them for granted. It is when we contravene them that we feel
their pressure most keenly. This pressure takes various forms: formal sanction,
social disapproval, a twinge of shame, or the opportunity cost of an activity
foregone. Institutions may be said to “fix” behavior. They do so by conditioning
expectations or bringing people to see things in similar ways. They provide
cognitive models that guide behavior by making sense of it (DiMaggio and
Powell 1991). Institutions thus possess inertia. They are reproduced routinely
through the actions of individuals and groups without the need for repeated
mobilization (Jepperson 1991).
Institutional contradiction refers to a situation where different institutions
with conflicting sets of rules are taken to govern the same activity. The con-
tradiction is between two institutional logics or two fundamentally different
ways of making sense of an activity (Friedland and Alford 1991). Institutional
contradiction loosens the fixity of institutionalized behavior (Clemens and Cook
1999). Rules can no longer be taken for granted to the same degree, and thus
behavior becomes less predictable. Contradiction increases room for maneuver,
as alternative models of behavior present themselves or are actively enlisted
(Clemens 1993). It may be exploited strategically (Yang 1989)orpromptactors
to protect valued institutions from incursion (McDonnell 2017).
Institutional contradiction is associated with innovation and change. The
scholarship tends to focus on changes from one state to another and largely
neglects the experience of contradiction itself. This experience is significant,
however, as the crucible of change. In one of the few qualitative studies examining
it, Creed et al. (2010) argue that contradiction is deeply felt and induces actors
to become more reflexive about how they relate, or should relate, to an insti-
tution. Their informants—LGBT members of conservative Christian churches—
went from internalizing contradiction, abiding rules they felt alienated by, to
working toward bringing the institution into alignment with their identities.
Contradiction, in other words, led them to articulate normative claims.
Taking these ideas a step further, we might understand institutions to condi-
tion a moral economy—some consensus on what constitutes acceptable behavior
in a given context. Thompson (1971) famously discussed moral economy in
relation to the bread riots of the eighteenth-century England. He situated the
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Democracy as Disorder 1043
riots in the context of transition from a paternalistic model of state-society
relations to one dictated increasingly by market dynamics. The English working
class experienced the contradiction between these two institutional orders as a
violation of their assumptions about how bread should be provisioned. They held
that they, being needy, should be given priority over the dealers. This was, after
all, a standard enshrined by century-old law and custom. When the standard
began to erode in practice, they took to riot out of a sense of injustice. We might
think about institutional contradiction, then, as being, potentially, a situation of
moral agitation with implications for political action.
I will show that the upper and middle class experiences institutional con-
tradiction as a moral dilemma. They identify with and want to follow valued
institutions but feel compelled to participate in disvalued ones. If institutions
represent the rules of the game, they feel stuck in a game they cannot help but
play. The ubiquity of contradiction in political and social life gives rise to a
perception of disorder. Regressive norms are seen as prevailing over progressive
or modern rules.
This is not a situation where rules are decoupled from practices, as Meyer and
Rowan (1977) describe it. The rules are not purely ceremonial, the stereotype of
“third world” polities notwithstanding. They actually apply, although in some
sites and settings more than others, as, for example, McDonnell (2017) illustrates
with respect to Ghana’s “patchwork” state. These rules possess authority and
thus represent meaningful alternatives to which actors can refer. As much as
they decry crooked politicians, the use of connections and status to influence
outcomes, clientelism, and the misrule of law, they can also point credibly to clean
politicians, meritocratic procedures, civic practices, and the rule of law. In other
words, the dilemma that upper- and middle-class actors find themselves in—of
being caught between valued and disvalued institutions—is palpable. It springs
from a social and political order that is not only institutionally heterogeneous
but rife with contradiction.
The folk distinction between “rules” and “norms” is often rendered in terms
of formal and informal institutions. These terms are not quite precise, however.
Not all valued institutions are formal and not all disvalued ones informal.
Some informal institutions may serve to enhance the performance of democracy,
as the essays in Helmke and Levitsky (2006) illustrate. On the other hand,
some disvalued rules have formal status (e.g., laws protecting squatters from
wanton eviction) or follow from formal institutions (e.g., clientelist practices
grow directly out of electoral incentives). I prefer the terms valued and disvalued
institutions because they foreground the question of whose values are at stake.
They oblige us to locate perceptions of disorder in social space.
Socially Embedded
The category “upper and middle class” refers to a social position distinguished
by a particular bundle of capital, including, primarily, property and valorized
knowledge. The possession of such a bundle commits actors to distinct patterns
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1044 Social Forces 99(3)
of interaction, which result in a set of common experiences and generate a shared
subjectivity (Bourdieu 1987). This does not mean, however, that people who are
similarly situated in social space will agree on everything. Their social prox-
imity and the intensity of their interactions all but ensure sharp disagreements
over many things. What it means, rather, is that people clustered together in
social space are similarly oriented by virtue of their common endowments and
relations. Thus, they take a similar approach to most things. They reason and
evaluate on similar grounds. We might describe them as sharing a common sense.
A sensibility becomes common insofar as upper- and middle-class actors share
material interests and similar experiences by virtue of their social position.
Shared experiences include higher education, professional occupation, civic asso-
ciation, international travel, and the consumption of certain media. Common
sense is not simply given, however, but built up through mundane interactions
(Garfinkel 1967). Actors clarify and coordinate meanings in the course of such
interactions. They share stories with one another and work out a common
interpretation of their situation. In doing so, they entrench the presuppositions
underlying these accounts and commit themselves all the more deeply to a
commonly held version of reality. The corroboration of a common sense is
intensified by the relative closure of upper- and middle-class circles both socially
and spatially (Garrido 2019).
On the one hand, the sources of disorder informants’ identity threaten their
interests as property owners (informal settlement), business owners and taxpay-
ers (corruption), and constituents (clientelism). The upper and middle class may
engage in rule-bending, but most of them are not completely insulated from the
vagaries of social power and periodically find themselves to be the ones bypassed
or overruled. Hence, they generally favor a rule-bound order. Perceptions of
disorder reflect more than simply material interests, however; they index a
normative sensibility, a sense of how social and political relations should be
conducted—according to impersonal rules applied universally and with respect
for property and citizenship rights. As we will see, perceptions of disorder are
founded on stories of moral rules being flouted. These stories perform moral
boundary work (Lamont 1992). Informants draw moral boundaries against
corrupt bureaucrats, clientelist politicians, and informal settlers. They also draw
boundaries that cut internally or within class lines and serve to distinguish them
from other upper- and middle-class actors—indeed, even from themselves at
different times and in different situations. In this respect, the moral identity at
stake is not simply coincident with a class identity.
In sum, perceptions of disorder represent a view from somewhere. They
are rooted in upper- and middle-class position. The urban poor may share an
assessment of disorder, but they understand it differently. Their different social
position commits them to different patterns of interaction resulting in different
experiences of disorder. They do not identify clientelism and informal settlement
as sources of disorder. They experience corruption, to be sure, but not quite in
the same way. Corruption may involve being shaken down although not by tax
and customs agents but by cops “taxing” street vendors and jeepney drivers.
It may involve powerful others doing the bribing, say, to get housing officials
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Democracy as Disorder 1045
to eject settlers or judges to rule against them in eviction cases. Rule-bending
looms larger given their relative powerlessness. The urban poor are regularly
put in their place or overruled. In general, discrimination for being poor and
informal plays a significant role in their assessment of disorder. Consequently,
they are more likely to associate disorder with the “rich” (the upper and middle
class, essentially). Disorder may look like the blockading of a public street by
subdivision residents. Thus, the urban poor tend to diagnose the problem of
democracy differently (Garrido 2017).
Data and Methods
I conducted 81 interviews with the upper- and middle-class residents of Metro
Manila, 66 with the residents of 4 subdivisions and 15 with members of
government, civic, and business organizations, including the National Housing
Authority, the Makati Business Club, two life insurance companies, and a human
resources company. Organizations, being a different kind of site, represent an
effort to approach the upper- and middle-class population in a different way.
Interviews were collected over the course of 12 months between 2009 and 2010.
They were conducted in English and Filipino, recorded, and transcribed. I also
engaged in extensive participant observation—formally, by attending various
meetings convened by middle-class groups (including Rotary Clubs, homeowners
associations, a prayer group, a group of lawyers, and a business association) and,
informally, as a result of living in several middle-class households over the course
of a cumulative 3 and a half years working in the Philippines as a fieldworker for
a development NGO, a journalist covering Philippine politics, and an academic
researcher since 2005.
I selected subdivisions based on their class reputations. The subdivisions
in New Makati are well-known to be upper class, while the ones in Quezon
City (Phil-Am Homes and Don Antonio Heights) and Parañaque (BF Homes)
are reputedly middle class. These reputations are borne out by the physical
aspect of the subdivisions and by the higher occupational status of the res-
idents interviewed. I obtained interviews with residents by approaching the
homeowners association of each subdivision. In each case, I was referred to
the residents serving on the board. I began by interviewing them and then
obtained referrals from them to other residents. I proceeded, in other words,
by snowball. I continued until I had around 15 interviews per site. I selected
organizations based on their kind—government, civic, and business—in an effort
to cover different domains of middle-class activity. I obtained interviews with
their members through personal contacts.
I present a profile of informants in Appendix A. Almost all informants were
old enough to remember the people power protests leading to the country’s
democratization in 1986. In fact, many had personally participated in these
protests. Almost all were college educated and occupied as professionals and
small business owners. The profile describes persons whom, locally, would be
considered middle to upper middle class and upper class. Notably, the lower
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1046 Social Forces 99(3)
middle class are missing from my “sample.” Their omission follows from my
focus on subdivisions within Metro Manila. I draw attention to the oversight as
a blind spot potentially biasing my analysis.
I asked informants about Philippine political figures and events; the presi-
dential race underway in 2010; their relations with the urban poor, especially
those living in nearby “slums”; and their experiences of corruption. We ended
up talking about a wider range of “corruption” than I had anticipated—not
just the grand corruption of high-profile government officials, but the everyday
corruptions to which they were perennially subject as middle-class actors,
not just political corruption but the corruption of social relations generally.
Informants complained about people not following rules or bending them
in their favor. They depicted their predicament with respect to these various
corruptions. They wondered aloud whether democracy in the Philippines was
broken and proffered their ideas for how to fix it. Over time, I was able to
discern the shape of these conversations—remarkably standard in retrospect.
Informants were taking up the same topics and making sense of them in similar
ways, even if, ultimately, their conclusions varied. This is why, analytically, I
emphasize common sense. Specifically, I identify three topics—three set pieces
in the conversation—structuring the middle class’ common sense on democracy:
(1) disorder as the contradiction between valued (“modern”) rules and disval-
ued (“traditional”) norms, (2) the role of democracy in amplifying disorder,
and (3) the need to discipline democracy, or to bring rules and norms into
Democracy as Disorder
Red Means Stop? The Perception of Disorder
I am talking about corruption with Raul, a lawyer, when he pivots to the subject
of driving. I know where he is going with it. The topic has come up many
times before in my conversations about politics with upper- and middle-class
informants. “In the States, when you’re driving and don’t follow the rules, you
get a ticket. You don’t make it to your destination on time. Here, if you follow
the rules, you don’t make it to your destination at all. You stop at an intersection
and no one gives way. You’re stuck. I had a friend who lived in the United States
during martial law. He returned to the Philippines when Cory [Corazon Aquino]
became president. He told me, ‘I was driving along EDSA [Epifanio de los Santos
Avenue] and reached the corner of Ortigas. It was about two in the morning.
There was a red light, and so I stopped. The car behind me went around. As
it passed, the driver rolled down his window and yelled out “Idiot!”’” Raul
laughed. “‘What happened?’ my friend asked me. ‘I followed the rules but I’m
the idiot?’” He paused, his demeanor darkening. “You see? Everything is upside
down here.”
“It’s true even here in the village,” Leia told me. She works as a real estate
broker. The “village” is the upper-class subdivision of Dasmariñas in New
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Democracy as Disorder 1047
Makati. Her point is that the residents of Dasmariñas, being educated, should
know better. “There are stop signs, right? And so, when you see one, you stop.
You don’t slow down. You don’t roll past it. You stop, you look, and then go.”
“But even here in the village, if you stop, the person behind you will honk.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Because they don’t know what stop means. It’s a suggestion. Stop, question
mark. There’s a stop sign. There’s even a hump there. It’s the drivers!”Leia blows
air out through her teeth in evident frustration.
“So how do you get them to stop?”
“You have to instill fear in their hearts,” she smiled.
To be clear, it is not that people do not stop at the light but that they do not do
so reliably. At certain times and intersections or when traffic is light, some people
ignore the red and may even rebuke others for failing to observe the “norm.”For
Raul and Leia, the problem is not just that the rule is contested and thus unclear,
but that people—who either do not know any better or should know better—do
not respect it.
This story came up repeatedly in discussions of politics. The reason, I think,
is because it speaks to the general predicament upper- and middle-class actors
find themselves in. They see themselves as caught between “rules” and “norms.”
Rules are seen as modern and universal and norms as local and regressive. People
not stopping at red lights or stop signs have become emblematic of a type of
situation informants routinely encounter, where valued rules are flouted in favor
of disvalued norms. This type of situation substantially shapes their perception
of disorder.
Informants identified four main sources of disorder: corruption, rule-
bending, clientelism, and informal settlement. While there are other sources,
such as crime, these four are distinguished by their institutionalization. They
represent courses of action grounded in everyday practice. As such, they
are taken as relatively normal forms of behavior in Philippine society, not
unexpected in context and even compulsive in certain situations. These social
forms significantly structure informants’ political and social relationships. I
will discuss them in turn, highlighting, in each case, (1) the contradiction
between these disvalued forms and valued ones and (2) how informants
believe democracy has worsened this contradiction and thus amplified social
Corruption may be defined as the use of public office for personal enrichment.
It takes various forms, including bribery, kickbacks, graft, and embezzlement.
Scholars usually focus on the grand corruption of national politicians and high-
ranking government officials. I will emphasize the petty corruption of mid-
to low-level bureaucrats because it is this type of corruption—mundane and
inescapable—that directly impinges on the experience of upper- and middle-
class actors. Informants reported encountering corrupt officials while acquiring
licenses and permits, obtaining government contracts, remitting taxes, claiming
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1048 Social Forces 99(3)
imported goods, ejecting squatters, and driving. They experience corruption as
tolls they have to pay in order to conduct certain activities.
Corruption is not the rule everywhere, however. It is seen as more of a
problem in government than in the private sector and then in certain government
agencies more than others. Within government, some agencies are regarded
as “clean” (e.g., the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of
Education, and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)), while others
are notorious for corruption, including—in order of notoriety—the Bureau of
Customs, the Land Transport Office, Congress, and the Bureau of Internal
Revenue (BIR) (SWS 2016b). Thus, with respect to business transactions, even
those involving government, the rules are variable. Rent seeking is normal in
some sites, while impersonal procedures prevail in others. This heterogeneity is
a resource conceptually. It enables informants to point, credibly, to a different
way of doing things, to contrast government with the private sector, the BIR
with the DTI.
For most informants, corruption represents a source of moral discomfort.
They regard it as something they must put up with. Agnes, an actuary for a life
insurance company, recounted her experience paying taxes. She was quoted two
figures, one exorbitant and one more reasonable but contingent on her paying
“grease money.”
“It’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If I paid the right taxes, I
would be assessed the higher amount.”
“So, it’s better that you paid under the table?” I asked.
“Well, yeah. My papers moved. Otherwise the BIR would just sit on it.”
Agnes’ friend Tess spoke up. “I would rather pay the right taxes than deal
with fixers. It just makes me feel so uncomfortable, you know.”
“But sometimes there’s no other way,” Agnes protested.
“Yeah,” her friend admitted.
“You feel like you’re being held hostage. You have to give in or your papers
won’t move at all.”
“But that doesn’t make it right.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
Informants say that corruption has gotten worse under democracy. It has
ballooned in scale. Artemio recalled being a young lawyer during the Marcos
era. SOP (standard operating procedure, i.e., kickbacks) was only 5–10 percent,
he said, a “reasonable” amount. Now some politicians demand as much as
50 percent. Corruption has also become more widespread, extending all the way
down to the lowest rungs of government. “We’ve democratized corruption, Sixto
observed wryly. He served as a congressman in the years following democratiza-
tion. “Now even barangay captains ask for their share of SOP.” (The barangay
or barrio refers to government at the ward or neighborhood level.) Finally,
informants say that corruption has become commonplace. It is increasingly
conducted out in the open, “shamelessly,” Clara said. She remembered the head
of the National Housing Authority under Marcos, General Tobias, not being
“that corrupt.” “Developers would give him SOP as gifts. Just that, ‘gifts.’ It’s
not like that anymore. Today, it’s percentages.”
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Democracy as Disorder 1049
Rule-bending involves the use of power usually in form of money, social
connections, or position to circumvent valued rules. Scholars usually focus on
rule-bending by economic and political elites, mainly in the form of nepotism,
cronyism, and influence-peddling. I would draw attention once again to its more
mundane manifestations in order to highlight the experience of rule-bending in
everyday life.
The most common example of rule-bending, Felix, a physician, offered, “is
[use of] the wang-wang—the blaring siren associated with police and emergency
vehicles. Politicians and VIPs (or people who see themselves as such) use the siren
to bypass Manila’s notorious gridlock. “Everybody has one,” Felix complained.
“I’ve gotten into so many arguments with the motorcycles [the motorcycle
drivers forming part of the entourage]. They’re trying to get through traffic by
pushing you off to one side. I roll down my window and scream, ‘Who do you
think you are?’ God, it pisses me off. It’s so abusive.”
Months after my interview with Felix, the newly elected president Benigno
“Noynoy” Aquino would condemn use of the wang-wang in his inaugural
address. “Have you been stuck in traffic only to be bullied and bypassed by cars
using wang-wangs?” he asked rhetorically. “Me too.” The line struck a chord.
In the days following, it was taken up by pundits in various media more than
any other statement of policy or principle made in his speech. Public enthusiasm
deflated somewhat when, barely a week later, the vice president’s entourage was
caught on video blowing past a red light along one of Manila’s main avenues
at 11:30 in the morning. Undeterred, Aquino adopted a no wang-wang policy
and launched a broader campaign against “the wang-wang mentality” of elites.
The issue became a cause célèbre among the middle class because the use of the
wang-wang represented the prevalence of rule-bending in their everyday lives.
It represented an assertion of hierarchy and privilege over and against social
equality and meritocracy—principles informants uphold in theory if not always
in practice.
Informants say that democracy has enhanced the ability of powerful others to
bend the rules. Compared to the period of martial law, people have become less
fearful of government sanction. As the government’s authority diminished, the
power of money to determine various outcomes increased. Consequently, law
enforcement has become less certain. People know that they can pay to bypass
the law or avoid being punished for having broken it. This knowledge has led
to a proliferation of mundane rule-bending, including running the red and using
wang-wangs. It has bred a sense of impunity among the most powerful and a
feeling of outrage among those witnesses to it.
Clientelism denotes an exchange of political favor for electoral support. Infor-
mants use the term broadly to describe government catering to the masa or
lower class. They maintain that elections encourage a clientelist orientation,
particularly at the level of the barangay and city governments.
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1050 Social Forces 99(3)
Leon, a building manager who also served a stint as barangay secretary,
listed off the informal settlements around Barangay BF Homes. The barangay
encompasses part of the BF Homes subdivision but also includes several slum
areas. The residents of these areas, he estimated, comprised 65–70 percent of
the barangay’s population. They outnumber homeowners, which is to say, they
outvote them. This is why the barangay pays so much attention to them, he
explained, and why, conversely, it all but neglects the needs of the middle class.
Leon took issue, moreover, with the way local politicians portrayed their
service: as acts of personal beneficence. “Politicians advertise their projects in
big tarpaulins they put up alongside the road. They’re asphalting the road, and
they want to make sure you know who’s responsible. Why announce it? It’s your
job, right? Why put up a tarp telling us that this waiting shed was donated by—.
It’s your job, right? Right?!”
“They’re advertising to the masa. They deliver water to a slum area and then
put up a tarp saying, ‘Thank you for the Christmas gift.’ What Christmas gift?
We paid for it! How did it become a gift? It’s not a privilege. It’s our right! It’s
your responsibility [as an elected official].” He burst out laughing, perhaps self-
conscious for having gotten so carried away. The point, however, was widely
echoed. The political relationship should be conceived differently, not in terms
of clientelism but citizenship. Informants insisted that elected officials represent
their needs as a matter of course.
Informal settlement
Informal settlement, or squatting, is related to clientelism but inculpates the
urban poor specifically. Informants see the problem having worsened with
democracy. First, the institution of elections and decentralization of political
power brought about the recrudescence of clientelist politics. Congresspersons,
mayors, city councilors, and barangay captainslook upon squatters as voters and
thus may be led to cultivate their support in exchange for protection. Second, the
urban poor came to receive greater political priority. They gained new access to
the state in the forms of direct representation in Congress through the party-
list system and a government agency dedicated to urban poor issues (Karaos
1995). Third, the legal regime changed in favor of informal settlement. Squatting
was decriminalized in 1997. Years before, in 1992, the Urban Development and
Housing Act (UDHA) was passed. It mandated that evicted squatters be resettled
elsewhere or compensated the equivalent of 60 days wage. Technically, this is the
local government’s responsibility; in practice, it falls to the property owner to
finance the provision. Informants revile the “Lina Law,” as the UDHA is known
locally. They see it as encouraging squatting while, at the same time, making it
more difficult to remove squatters.
We might speak of informal settlement as institutionalized insofar as these
developments have provided the practice of a degree of formal sanction. Squat-
ting is illegal, but squatters are integrated politically through clientelist ties. They
have representation in government agencies and Congress. They are protected
from wanton eviction by law. To informants, informal settlement is wrong
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Democracy as Disorder 1051
Table 4. Sources of Disorder
Source of disorder Rule flouted Actors implicated Interests threatened
1. Corruption Impersonal
State agents
As economic
actors, especially as
taxpayers and
business owners
2. Rule-bending Universal
application of rules
Powerful others As rule-bound
3. Clientelism Citizenship State agents
As constituents
4. Informal
Private property Urban poor As property owners
because it undermines a valued institution: private property. Concretely, it
threatens their interests as property owners. Its institutionalization, therefore,
represents an affront.
Don Antonio Heights is located in a predominantly poor area. Hundreds of
squatters occupy lots within the subdivision itself. Residents feel besieged. They
take it upon themselves to wall vacant lots and blockade public throughways
with the aim of depriving squatters any possible foothold. Esme runs a garment
factory out of her house. She shows me a room where half a dozen young women
are working on sewing machines. We walk upstairs to a room filled with sunlight.
“The lot here [she points out the window to my left], the owners are in the States,
but we’re guarding it. See that wall? I saw squatters trying to settle in the alley
beside it, and so I said to my neighbor, ‘Let’s fence the area. If the subdivision
needs it, we’ll take [the fence] down.’ She didn’t want to. She said it was illegal.
I said, ‘For me, it’s not illegal because we’re just protecting our property. So, I
fenced it myself, no? Now my other neighbor over there [she gestures towards
the back of the house], his property was already fenced. We talked about it, and
he extended his fence to close the alley. We were scared that people would start
squatting there. See, that’s the problem here. Look at Don Vicente [Street]. It’s
basically a slum area now.”
Esme is driven to take matters into her own hands, even to break the law.
She feels justified in doing so because, in her view, informal settlement is plain
wrong. The fact that it is institutionally supported is also wrong and a source of
considerable grievance.
Tables 4 and 5present the data systematically. Tab l e 4 features the sources of
disorder at issue, including the valued rules flouted, actors implicated, and upper-
and middle-class interests imperiled. Tab l e 5 underscores the link, as informants
perceive it, between these sources of disorder and democracy.
Surveying the data, it would not be inappropriate to say that institutions
are weak. The government is corrupt, the rules are not consistently enforced
or followed, and citizenship and property rights are not guaranteed. But this is
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1052 Social Forces 99(3)
Table 5. How Informants Say Democracy Has Amplified Disorder
1. Corruption A series of corrupt presidents has entrenched
corruption, making it more acceptable and more
expensive. Further, the decentralization of political
power has made corruption more widespread
2. Rule-bending The government’s authority has diminished while the
power of money and privilege has increased.
Consequently, powerful others are more able to bend
the rules
3. Informal settlement Informal settlers gained political power under
4. Clientelism Elections encourage patronage politics
not quite how informants experience it. As we saw, the problem is not just the
gap between rules and norms but their contradiction. Things should be done
one way, informants feel, but instead they are done another way: corrupt rather
than clean, bypassing instead of following rules, constituents treated as clients
rather than citizens, and private property rights disregarded. It is clear to them
which way is the right way and which the wrong one, their judgment informed
by a well-defined and class-specific normative sensibility. The contradiction is
frustrating, but, more precisely, it is morally vexing. Informants see practices
they abjure prevail. As we will see in the following section, their moral dilemma
is aggravated by the fact that they often find themselves having to participate in
disvalued practices, corruption, and rule-bending particularly.
Institutional Contradiction as a Moral Dilemma
Clara has been working at the National Housing Authority for over 30 years. She
started out at the Commercial and Industrial Estates Department, which handles
land acquisitions. The corruption there was galling. The land bought from
private landowners was systematically overvalued and the land sold to them
undervalued. Buying or selling, upper management conspired with landowners
to defraud the government. “It’s happening right now.”Clara drew my attention
to a major development project ongoing in Quezon City, where, she claimed,
land was sold to the developer at a third of its value. She passed me a sheaf
of documents—evidence—in the hope that I would be able to do something
about it.
Sick of the corruption at estates, Clara transferred to procurement. It was
little better. She complained about the department renting things at ridiculously
marked up prices. For an event at a provincial site, it rented plants for 250
pesos (USD 5) a pot, electric fans for 2,500 pesos (USD 50) each per day, a
tent for 34,000 pesos (USD 680) a day, and Toyota Innova vans to transport the
managers for a whopping 900,000 pesos (USD 18,000). “We use these things all
the time. Why don’t we just buy them already?”Clara asked, a pained look on her
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Democracy as Disorder 1053
face. The question is rhetorical. She knows that the various suppliers have struck
deals with the procurement manager. “I have to sign off on all these purchase
orders and I’m asking, ‘Do we really need all this?’ But I can’t do anything about
it. Orders from above.”
She tells me about a friend who left the agency because she could not take
the corruption any longer. At the time, Clara thought about leaving too. “I felt
guilty about [staying], but what choice do I have? I have a son in college. I need
the job.” She feels stuck.
Being part of a corrupt agency gives Clara a bad conscience. This is not the
same thing as a guilty conscience. She understands that she has no choice but to
go along with the corruption, but she also knows that it’s not right, and, if she
could, she would do things differently. She would follow the rules. I would say
that most informants find participating in disvalued norms morally disturbing—
and yet many of them do so anyway. In fact, some are quite hard-nosed about
it. Though they may disvalue the activity, they do not shrink from participating
in it. On the contrary, they actively exploit it for personal advantage.
“There are two ways to deal with the government,” Del said. He owns a
motel franchise. “One is straight; the other is crooked. Nobody wins by playing
straight.”He told me about his former boss, a born-again Christian who insisted
on conducting business aboveboard. He wanted to set up a chain of privately
managed public markets. He had the capital, and it was a good idea, but he
refused “to kiss the mayor’s hand,” and, as a result, his venture went nowhere.
Del took the lesson to heart. “There’s RP and then there’s PR,” he declared. RP
is the Republic of the Philippines and PR, or public relations, its shadow. RP is
the world of rules and PR of the norms both supplementing and belying those
rules. His point was that you could not just pretend that the world of PR does
not exist. You had to engage it in order to get somewhere. “I could write a book
about PR,” he boasted and proceeded to regale me with stories of his shadowy
dealings with government. He clearly took pride in his ability to navigate the
PR world successfully. “It takes street smarts. You have a degree from a fancy
business school? Go teach. You want to do everything over-the-table? Go to the
US or Australia.”
It was also clear, however, that Del wanted the Philippines to become a place
where people followed valued rules. He likened Filipinos to mice in a maze.
They were stuck running along certain, pernicious pathways. “We need a new
environment,” he argued, one that leads people to make the right choices. He
brought up the book he was reading, Twelve Little Things Every Filipino Can
Do to Help Our Country by Alex Lacson. It came out in 2005 and immediately
became a bestseller. Lacson’s prescriptions were all very basic (#1 Follow Traffic
Rules) but hard to put into practice “because the right environment isn’t in
place.” “Well,” Del sighed, “at least my children are not following in my
footsteps. It’s a good thing too,” he chuckled. “When I drive, I use a wang-wang.
I have stickers [conferring special privileges]. But they don’t. They refuse to use
them. If they get pulled over, they just give up their license.”
This moral churning conditioned how informants related to democracy. It
made them want to “fix” it.They offered several ideas. Some called for restricting
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1054 Social Forces 99(3)
the franchise to taxpayers, some for imposing educational qualifications, and
others for disenfranchising squatters altogether. I got the sense, however, that
most informants were not especially wedded to any particular proposal. Indeed,
the same informants sometimes proposed multiple, contradictory ideas. Over the
course of our interview, for example, Cary and Ging proposed a dictatorship,
voting restrictions, the electoral college, and a parliamentary system. What
emerged clearly, rather, was the conviction that democracy in the Philippines
had become intolerable and that it had to be “disciplined” somehow. The term
“discipline” has a very specific meaning in context.
Disciplining Democracy
To informants, discipline is a state where valued rules are enforced. The word
was popularized during the martial law years. It was blasted on the radio, Jim
remembered: “‘Discipline is necessary!’” There was even a jingle that went with
it. “Discipline” (disiplina) has since become a shibboleth of the middle class. It
came up repeatedly in interviews as the answer to disorder. The Metro Manila
Development Authority (MMDA) has embraced the word. The government
agency is in charge of providing services metro-wide. At the time of fieldwork,
it had plastered the city with signs exhorting people to discipline. Practically
speaking, this meant things like following traffic rules, not littering, using the
crosswalk not jaywalking, and street vendors staying off the sidewalks. I asked
the MMDA’s general manager about the word.
“It’s very important to our mission. Discipline means that people follow
the laws and also that government enforces them.” He cited New York City’s
“broken windows” policy as an inspiration and claimed that a similar policy
of clamping down on even minor infractions was having a salubrious effect on
“It used to be that we’d tell people ‘there’s a law on this’ and they’d say ‘who
said so?’ And we’d end up having a ridiculous discussion that led nowhere. Now
we say ‘there’s a law on this’ and they say ‘ah okay’ and simply follow.”
“How did you get people to stop challenging you?” I asked.
“We didn’t mind them when they did. We didn’t think about winning elections.
We just went ahead and did what we thought was the right thing to do. We
enforced the smallest [most minor] laws, the ones saying that you’re not allowed
to hang laundry outside your property line. You’re not supposed to go out of
your house half-naked. You’re not supposed to spit on the street. You’re not
supposed to place anything on the road. We didn’t put people in jail, but we
gave them notices and called their attention [to the infraction]. It was difficult
to do politically. Politicians would take up the cudgel for the lawbreaker, saying
that it was just a minor offense. Well, it may be minor but it’s an offense all the
same and shouldn’t be tolerated.” We must strive, he insisted, to create “a culture
of discipline.”
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Democracy as Disorder 1055
Pockets of Discipline
Whenever someone invoked the term, they would point, almost invariably, to
one or more “pockets of discipline” in space or time. These pockets served as
an example of what discipline actually looked like, a critique of the surrounding
space, and a model for what the country could 1 day become. Jim, an accountant
with a multinational corporation, pointed to cities “led by strong people, like
Davao under Duterte.2It’s strict there. You cannot just do as you please. [The
police] will catch you and put you in jail. You go to Puerto Princesa and it’s clean
because of Hagedorn [the former mayor]. That’s what it was like under martial
law. People formed lines [instead of scrambling for the bus]. They followed traffic
rules. The whole country was one big Subic.” The Subic Bay Freeport Zone is
a special economic zone and resort area. The place is viewed as both physically
and culturally distinct from its surroundings (Reyes 2015). Informants believe
that laws are more likely to be enforced within its perimeter.
Subic, Singapore, and the early days of martial law were frequently cited as
pockets of discipline. These pockets were generally seen as the work of “strong
leaders.” This leader has to be strong enough to overcome the pressure exerted
by powerful actors with a stake in “disorder”—i.e., corrupt officials, populist
politicians, informal settlers, and inveterate rule-benders. Informants described
the strong leader as having “political will” or “an iron hand.” Commonly cited
examples include Marcos, Lee Kwan Yew, Dick Gordon (Subic), Bayani Fer-
nando (Marikina City), Duterte (Davao City). These leaders were credited with
bringing people’s behaviors in line with valued rules, usually by scrupulously
punishing transgressions.
Despite the association of these pockets with autocratic leaders, informants do
not necessarily believe that discipline can only be achieved through authoritarian
government. Most maintained that discipline could be achieved within the
context of democracy, just not democracy as presently constituted. “We need
democracy,” Jim said, “but we also need discipline, and discipline requires some
sort of authority. We need a combination of the two. It can’t be like democracy
in the US. That’s just chaos in my view. It can’t be the other extreme either
because people won’t put up with it. We need something in the middle, a blend
of freedom and authority.” Above all, he emphasized, “we need rules to be
Informants saw pockets of discipline as being transformative. Where rules
were strictly enforced, people not only followed them but were “re-oriented”
accordingly. That is, they developed a disposition for order.
“[People in Manila] drive like they own the goddamned road!” Allan com-
plained. “Nobody stays in their lane. They beep at you even when it’s red. You
don’t move and they get mad at you. But put them in Subic—.
“Aha!” His wife Marlene exclaimed knowingly.
“And they drive like they’re in America. They stop at the red light. Even just
a stop sign, they stop. Why? Because the law is implemented.
For Sixto, as a reform-minded politician, cultivating “islands of discipline”
represented a strategy for change precisely because he believed in their
transformative power. He imagined that the order contained within these spaces
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1056 Social Forces 99(3)
would “radiate outward” by virtue of their demonstration effect. Rather than
trying to overhaul government in toto, he advocated focusing locally on such
islands—on enclaves of various kinds and cities reformed by strong leaders—in
the hope that 1 day their order would prevail.
The vision of a disciplined democracy was a focus of aspiration for informants.
Moreover, it represented a source of hope. They were invested in it. They held
on to this vision even when the prospect of its realization looked dim, as it did in
2010. “We might still produce a leader who will change things,” Artemio opined.
“But I’ll admit, it’s like waiting for Christ to return.”
I have sought to articulate the upper and middle class’ experience of democracy
with a politics of discipline. In doing so, I developed a new way of thinking
about the “problem” of democracy. As seen on the ground, the problem is not
that institutions are weak but that valued institutions are actively contradicted
by disvalued ones. The problem is not just that elites dominate politics but that
people, including the poor and the middle class themselves, do not follow the
rules. This framework has us look beyond valued institutions at their dynamic
with disvalued ones, and beyond political institutions at institutions governing
various types of social relationships, including property rights and even traffic
rules, because these too bear on the experience of democracy. We are led to
see institutional contradiction as a moral dilemma, a conflict between the way
things are done and the way informants feel they should be done, according to
a normative sensibility bound up with interests specific to their social position.
The framework provides a better account of democratic backsliding: socially
embedded, broader in scope, and closer to middle class experience.
Although I am not trying to explain support for Duterte—for this we need
more than a structural account but a conjunctural one (see Garrido under
review)—my account sheds light on why the upper and middle class would
support someone like Duterte. It enables us to ground the appeal of Duterte’s
strongman persona in an experience of disorder. Duterte distinguishes between
law-abiding citizens and rule breakers and benders: the corrupt, criminal, and
unruly (Curato 2017). His is a politics of discipline, of bringing practices into
alignment with valued rules, forcibly if necessary. An account of democracy
as disorder enables us to explain why so many in the upper and middle class,
the bastion of a normally critical civil society, support his hardline approach—
because they see it as targeted not just at errant groups (e.g., drug dealers and
users) but at a disorderly public generally.
Further, we might extrapolate from this experience to that of the urban middle
class in other middle-income developing country democracies, including India
and possibly Brazil. A framework focused on institutional contradiction provides
us with a clear hypothesis to assess: that an experience of democracy as disorder
is partly driving democratic backsliding. We are led to focus on a particular group
(the upper and middle class), to view their experience in a particular way (in
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Democracy as Disorder 1057
terms of moral agitation), using particular methods (ethnography), and to iden-
tify not just perceptions of disorder but the vision of order underlying it, under-
standing both as socially embedded. The framework, in other words,has value in
directing research on one important topic (democratic backsliding) by focusing
our attention on another, the upper- and middle-class experience of democracy.
About the Author
Marco Garrido is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of
Chicago. He recently published The Patchwork City: Class, Space, and Politics,
in Metro Manila with the University of Chicago Press.
1. For Huntington (1968), institutions were valued by definition. They repre-
sent “stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior” (p. 12, my emphasis).
2. Before becoming president of the Philippines, Duterte was known primarily
as the mayor of Davao City. As mayor, he gained notoriety for using strong-
arm tactics against criminals, drug pushers, and Communist rebels.
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Appendix A: Informant Profile
Average age 57
Sex (%)
Male 58
Female 42
Occupation (%)
Executive/manager 14
Small business owner 33
Professional 36
Government official 13
Unemployed/retired 5
Final level of education completed (%)
Postgraduate 35
College 63
Vocational 2
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... In the absence of an autocratic leader, people emphasized the personal aspect of discipline. The upper and middle class particularly hailed following valued rules-if not necessarily the law 1 -as the hallmark of civic virtue (Garrido 2021). The Metro Manila Development Authority's calls to discipline reflect this sense of the word. ...
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I describe how the upper and middle class in Metro Manila see the democratic state and how they imagine reforming it. I argue that they are not turning away from democracy towards authoritarianism but, rather, seeking to “discipline” democracy. The notion of discipline connects an experience of democracy as disorder with support for “strong” or quasi-autocratic leaders. I develop it with respect to the following observations: (1) The disciplinary state is largely inspired by examples set by the Philippine state itself operating at the subnational level and by states elsewhere. These “pockets of discipline” effectively function as heterotopias in Foucault’s sense. (2) Informants look to “strong' leaders” to cultivate discipline in a population. (3) The exercise of discipline is a performance aimed at an unruly public. (4) The idea of discipline is rooted in upper- and middle-class social position. And finally, (5) as informants see it, the disciplinary state is not necessarily an undemocratic one. By unpacking the notion of discipline, we are better able to understand why the Philippine upper classes largely supported presidential strongman Rodrigo Duterte and why they continue to support him despite the illiberal character of his administration. The notion may also provide insight into democratic disenchantment elsewhere in the Global South.
... Thompson (1971) argues that 18th-century English peasants protested out of perceived contradictions during the period of transition from redistribution based on a paternalistic model of state-society relations, where bread prices are kept at a certain level to keep the population from starvation, to one governed by market principles. As Garrido (2020Garrido ( : 1042 aptly puts it, this is a situation where there exist 'two fundamentally different ways of making sense of an activity'. ...
Similar levels of inequality may be coded as acceptable or unacceptable in different places. To account for misrecognition of inequality, the existing studies highlight the roles of ideological legitimation and situated comparison through which individuals read inequality around them, but these accounts can be further elaborated upon. This article argues that it is neither the belief in ideology nor social comparison alone but rather the relationship between the two which shapes particular ways in which inequality is experienced. The dominant collective narratives rooted in macro-level contexts and individuals’ situated comparisons shape perceptions of the contradiction (or lack thereof) between how people think things should be and how things are in three specific ways. The proposed framework is put to use with interviews with 98 millennials in Japan and South Korea.
... moments -to rival the most riveting telenovelas. In their everyday lives, meanwhile, the upper and middle class in Metro Manila have had to contend with various forms of disorder, including crime, petty corruption and rule-bending, rampant squatting, spotty infrastructure, arthritic traffic, and dirty air (Garrido, 2020). 1 Such instability inevitably colors how people feel about democracy. It is no wonder that satisfaction with it has been fickle, largely varying with administration (see Figure 2). ...
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Philippine scholars have largely interpreted Duterte’s support among the upper and middle class as a rejection of the previous administration’s incremental reformism. They also point to the growing appeal of a politics of discipline. These explanations are insufficient. They cannot tell us why the upper and middle class supported Duterte when they did in 2016. The Aquino administration was not the first to disappoint and Duterte hardly the first avatar of discipline to appear on the political scene. In this article the author argues that we need to understand support for Duterte as having crystallized over time with respect to a series of events. Specifically, we need to account for the trajectory of democracy in the Philippines and the contingency of support for him. By placing this support in conjunctural context, we are better able to understand the upper and middle classes’ predisposition to ‘strong leaders’ and their turn to Duterte in 2016.
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We know a lot about the new wave of autocrats and how they operate but much less about why so many people, particularly in the developing world, are cheering them on. Case-in-point: How do we make sense of widespread popular support for Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte's strongman rule? Scholars generally cite frustration with a democracy widely regarded as elite-dominated and endemically corrupt, but this account is underspecified. Filipinos have been frustrated with liberal democracy for a long time and Duterte is not the first law-and-order candidate to seek the presidency. I will argue that we need to situate Duterte's election and enduring appeal in the conversation about democracy as it has unfolded on the ground. Specifically, (1) repeated failures to reform democracy have resulted in (2) conditional support for democracy and increasing openness to certain authoritarian forms of government. (3) These attitudes manifest on the ground as calls for “disciplining” democracy. (4) Rodrigo Duterte is seen as a “strong leader” and the answer to such calls, hence his enormous popularity. I will provide evidence for each of these claims and make the case for grounding the illiberal turn in people's experience of democracy.
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In the May 2016 elections, a significant number from among the Philippine urban middle class helped elect President Rodrigo Duterte, a candidate who seemed to pose a threat to democratic governance. The voting behavior of a Philippine middle class "who should know better" has caught the attention of many foreign observers, and raised the question: Why are the Filipino middle-class ambivalent about democracy? This article seeks to contribute to this discussion by pursuing three lines of inquiry: first, what is democratic ambivalence, what are the challenges it poses to existing theory, and why does it matter; second, how does ambivalence-simultaneously saying "yes" and "no" to democracy-manifest in Filipino middle-class evaluations of democracy; and third, what are its possible explanations. The article contends that ambivalence poses difficult questions for scholars of democracy, which call for a re-engagement with a contingent conception of middle-class democratic support. Through analysis of interview data, it suggests that a narrative of "in the Philippines, freedom needs restraint" is shared among a middle-class public; rather than being understood as a rejection of liberal democracy, the ambivalent narrative reflects a negotiated response to the experience and observation of how democracy "works." Finally, the article suggests that the search for the roots of this "authoritarian nostalgia" may need to consider the normative legacies of the American colonial period; in particular, the use of "democracy" as a discourse to justify the abuse of power and the imposition of a subjugating authority. Contemporary middle-class democratic imaginaries may still bear the weight of these founding contradictions. Yet while ambivalence may reflect the contradictions and compromises of democracy in the past, it also holds potential, since ambivalence signals a rejection of the status quo and the desire for change.
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Why do the poor respond to some populist appeals and not to others? Populist support is largely attributed to a leader’s “populist style.” Populist style is seen as consisting of tactics aimed at cultivating popular identification. This explanation, however, cannot tell us why the poor discriminate among leaders employing similar tactics. This article considers the question with respect to the Philippine populist Joseph Estrada. It finds that the poor support Estrada because they perceive him to be sincere, or someone who cares about them beyond electoral considerations. They see him as sincere because his political performance engages their expectations and has proven coherent over time. The collective nature of their belief in Estrada’s sincerity helps account for its objectivity, durability, and diffusion. The empirical case presents an opportunity to develop a more sophisticated account of populist style and to show that it depends as much on the political savvy of supporters as on the skill of leaders.
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Early in his administration, Rodrigo Duterte, the controversial sixteenth president of the Philippines, did what no other Filipino president has done before – announce a separation from the geopolitical interests of its former colonial master, the United States of America. Beyond the personal slights caused by the US criticism of his anti-drug campaign lies a deeper sense of historical grievance that has been ingrained in Duterte's generation and his identity as a Mindanaoan. Not only does he represent Mindanao's resentment towards " imperial Manila, " but also a historical blowback against " US imperialism. " Duterte's nationalist exhortations can be traced to the cycle of regime narratives in the Philippines, which serves as a medium for institutional continuity and change through the mobilisation of ideas at a discursive level. By reviving the anti-US nationalism of his youth, Duterte is repudiating the liberal reformist, albeit elitist, narrative of the Aquino-to-Aquino regimes. Duterte's so-called " pivot to China " is also a dramatic reversal of his predecessors' strong anti-China and rabidly pro-American foreign policy position. This paper blends Vivien A. Schmidt's discursive institutional analytical framework with Stephen Skowronek's concept of presidential leadership in political time to analyse how crafted narratives are transformed into governance scripts that bind together a coalition of interests within a particular institutional setting. „ Manuscript
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Since assuming the presidency, Rodrigo R. Duterte has “stuck to his guns” in carrying out his campaign pledge to launch a violent anti-drug campaign. Duterte’s presidency was preceded by six years of political stability and high growth under the relatively liberal and supposedly reformist administration of President Benigno “Noynoy” S. Aquino, III. What did voters find so appealing about Duterte given that drugs and criminality were not a major national concern until he launched his candidacy? Unlike previous populist politicians in the post-Marcos Philippines, Duterte’s strongest support did not come from the poorest voters but rather from the elite and the middle class who most feared for their personal security. Although Aquino was widely perceived to be personally honest, his administration had become “systemically disjunctive” and vulnerable to replacement by violent illiberalism because its narrative of “good governance” had been undermined, its strategic allies were weakened, and liberal institutions discredited. Duterte is an illiberal populist who changed the prevailing political order into an illiberal one through a new law-and-order governing script, new key strategic groups (the communist left and the police), and the quick removal of remaining liberal constraints (particularly in Congress and the Supreme Court). Duterte constructed a strongman political model at the local level before “nationalising” it after his election as president
en Populism is about populist publics as much as it is about populist leaders. Presently, they are pejoratively represented in public and academic conversations. Populist voting is mostly approached as a social pathology, especially in mainstream populism studies. This study is a contribution to the emerging tradition of extending empathetic approaches to the study of populist publics by interrogating how populist supporters make sense of their votes and politics through their own perspectives. Using a year‐long political ethnography of supporters of populist Philippine president Rodrigo Roa Duterte in a big slum community in Metro Manila, this research offers an intimate understanding of the electoral motivations of those who voted for him. Specifically, their vote for the populist Duterte is about making their everyday misery visible, bringing authenticity to politics, and overcoming bureaucratic inertia. Empirical observations in the field reveal the unique threefold representational, experiential, and action‐oriented dimensions of populist publics' vote in the Philippines. Abstract zh “我们都是罗德里戈·杜特尔特”:菲律宾民粹主义大众投票的不同层面 民粹主义与民粹主义大众、民粹主义领导者的相关度是一样的。目前公共交流和学术交流中对这二者的表述都含有贬义。民粹主义投票基本被视为一种社会病态,这在主流民粹主义研究中尤为明显。本文通过质疑民粹主义支持者如何从各自视角理解投票和政治,对在民粹主义研究中添加移情措施这一新兴传统做出了贡献。通过使用一项持续一年的,针对菲律宾民粹主义总统罗德里戈·罗亚·杜特尔特(Rodrigo Roa Duterte)支持者(来自大马尼拉市中的一个大型贫民窟社区)的政治民族志研究,本文深入理解了那些为杜特尔特投票的选民动机。特别地,选民为民粹主义者杜特尔特投票是希望让自己的每日遭遇得到关注,让政治回归真实,让官僚惰性得以克服。实证观察结果显示了菲律宾民粹主义公众投票的三个独特方面:代表性,经验性和以行动为导向。 Abstract es “Somos Rodrigo Duterte”: Dimensiones de las Filipinas. Voto de los públicos populistas El populismo se trata tanto de públicos populistas como de líderes populistas. Actualmente, están representados peyorativamente en conversaciones públicas y académicas. La votación populista se considera principalmente como una patología social, especialmente en los estudios de populismo general. Este estudio es una contribución a la tradición emergente de extender los enfoques empáticos al estudio de los públicos populistas al interrogar cómo los partidarios populistas dan sentido a sus votos y políticas a través de sus propias perspectivas. Esta investigación ofrece una comprensión íntima de las motivaciones electorales de quienes votaron por él. Específicamente, su voto por el populista Duterte consiste en hacer visible su miseria cotidiana, llevar la autenticidad a la política y superar la inercia burocrática. Las observaciones empíricas en el campo revelan las tres dimensiones singulares de representación, experiencia y orientación a la acción del voto del público populista en Filipinas.
Scholars have paid increasing attention to democratic backsliding, yet efforts to explain this phenomenon remain inchoate. This article seeks to place the study of democratic backsliding on sturdier conceptual, operational, and theoretical foundations. Conceptually, the challenge of backsliding is to define changes that take place within a political regime. Methodologically, the challenge involves measurement of intraregime changes, as alternative coding schemes change the population of units that have experienced democratic backsliding. Theoretical challenges are dual: First, despite a rich and diverse literature, we lack readily available theories to explain backsliding, and second, the theoretical debates that do exist - centered on the causes of democratic transitions, democratic breakdowns, authoritarian resilience, and democratic consolidation - remain unresolved. We consider how these theories might be called into service to explain backsliding. By doing so, the article aims to set the terms of the debate to create a common focal point around which research can coalesce.
This book draws on the extensive literature on populism, democracy, and emerging markets as well as interviews with senior government officials, experts, and journalists in the Philippines and beyond, This book is the first to analyze the significance and implications of the rise of Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte within a rapidly-changing Asia Pacific region. As China's power in the Pacific grows rapidly, nations that have traditionally been US allies, such as the Phillipines, are experiencing political convulsions; Duterte's open willingness to realign towards China (at the expense of America) in exchange for infrastructure investment is one of the clearest indicators of what China's rise might look like for nations around the world. Timely, precise, accessible and fast-paced, this book will be of value to scholars, journalists, policy-makers, and China watchers. © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2018. All rights reserved.
What accounts for the troubled condition of liberal democracy today? Standard explanations cite factors such as slowing economic growth and rising economic inequality, political polarization and gridlock, globalization, and moral and cultural decadence. Yet such explanations cannot account for the speed with which democracy's decline has surged to the forefront of political discourse around the world. And it can hardly be a coincidence that disaffection with liberal democracy and support for populist parties are growing in both new and longstanding democracies alike. Simultaneously, authoritarian regimes of various stripes are showing a new boldness as the confidence and vigor of the democracies wane. Liberal democracy will regain its former health only if voters become convinced not only of democracy's intrinsic merits but also of its superiority to all possible alternatives. © 2017 National Endowment for Democracy and Johns Hopkins University Press.
Within seemingly weak states, exceptionally effective subunits lie hidden. These high-performing niches exhibit organizational characteristics distinct from poor-performing peer organizations, but also distinct from high-functioning organizations in Western countries. This article develops the concept of interstitial bureaucracy to explain how and why unusually high-performing state organizations in developing countries invert canonical features of Weberian bureaucracy. Interstices are distinct-yet-embedded subsystems characterized by practices inconsistent with those of the dominant institution. This interstitial position poses particular challenges and requires unique solutions. Interstices cluster together scarce proto-bureaucratic resources to cultivate durable distinction from the status quo, while managing disruptions arising from interdependencies with the wider neopatrimonial field. I propose a framework for how bureaucratic interstices respond to those challenges, generalizing from organizational comparisons within the Ghanaian state and abbreviated historical comparison cases from the nineteenth-century United States, early-twentieth-century China, mid-twentieth-century Kenya, and early-twenty-first-century Nigeria.