Research

Theory is always a detour on the way to something more important.

Stuart Hall

As an introvert in a world that privileges the extrovert, a queer soul in a society that defaults to straight, and a Filipino American whose ancestors are often forgotten in US history, I do research that speaks to the intersections of social life. Specifically, I study the intersecting nodules—whether people, things, places or practices—that emerge within migration, community-organizing, and cultural production. By studying how alternative forms of social life emerge, congeal, stick, collide, contradict, unmoor and dissolve in the encounters that take place at its thresholds of sameness and difference, I examine the ways in which social stratification is reproduced, reformed, and resisted in order to imagine more life-sustaining forms of social life.

In other words, my research is driven by a set of questions: How are bodies, things, places, practices, and discourses assembled as “common-sense” systems for organizing collective life, and for what purpose? On one hand, what maintains harmful social, material and discursive formations? On the other hand, what persists despite these formations? In bridging theory and practice, how does scattered life—whether displaced diaspora, alienated things, dislocated places, contradictory practices, or disciplined discourses—come together and find its place in the ensemble working toward collective liberation? And what modes of creativity enable the transformation of harmful formations of power and collective life?

Inspired by my experiences as a member of Malaya Movement, my current research starts with the Philippine war on drugs that began under the Duterte administration, a war that has claimed 30,000 lives from 2016 to 2022. Starting with the Philippine war on drugs, I’m studying its connections to the drug wars in the Americas and how this particular genealogical strand might link Black, Indigenous, Latino, LGBTQ+, and Filipino struggles for freedom. To do so, I’m partnering with activist and community organizations, examining political economy histories of the US and the Philippines, and exploring cultural production since the 70s and 80s (especially OPM and protest music).

Revolution seeks to win control of the state and its resources, while abolition wants to quit playing and raze the stadium of settler-slaver society for good.

Savannah Shange

What set me on this path was the year 2012 when my mom and my grandpa were both diagnosed with cancer. With all the surgeries, all the radiation and chemotherapy sessions, all the medical bills, my lack of the tools and support I needed to navigate the healthcare industry, and the emotional gravity of being on the sidelines of illness and death, the world felt big, lonely, alienating.

Those years were grueling and harrowing, but they reminded me about the importance of community. When my grandpa passed, I remember walking into his funeral and I was overwhelmed with the floods of people coming in from all walks of life: friends, community organizers, religious leaders, coworkers, and more. I was amazed by how many people squeezed into the narrow funeral home and listened to my family speak, sing and mourn.

Now that I look back, this gathering of people also reminds me of when I was little, all the people from the church and the neighborhood would come to my grandparent’s house to share a feast of Filipino dishes, chitchat, and karaoke on Sundays after church, holidays and other special occasions. People I didn’t know would pinch my cheeks and tell me how they knew me when I was an infant. I can’t count how many times my grandma would proudly make me a plate of food and tell me my grandpa made my favorite Filipino dish: adobo. But one of my favorite memories of these gatherings was the time my grandpa asked me to sing karaoke. He inserted a blank CD into a recording machine that was hooked up to his clunky TV and professional karaoke machine. Then, he recorded me singing and later offered it to me as a gift. I regret misplacing that CD where I sang Who Let the Dogs Out? at the top of my lungs. It may seem silly, but this moment is a reminder of my grandpa’s affinity for generosity. This is something I hope to continue. In fact, in the wake of losing my grandpa, questions of community and belonging occupied my mind. Specifically, I could not stop wondering, “who will support my loved ones when I am gone?”

“Only in community with others has each individual the means of cultivating [their] gifts in all directions; only in community, therefore, is personal freedom possible.”

Karl Marx

Through my undergrad and my masters, I started frequently volunteering in the community and began doing research into my Filipino ethnicity hoping to learn more about community and belonging. I read novels, conducted interviews to listen to relatives recount their migration stories, and tediously struggled through the lack of Filipino mentors to look up to and US scholarship on the colonial history between the Philippines and the US.

Through my studies and volunteering, I then found my way to activism. I slowly started attending protest actions. And I learned from scholar-activists who transformed their research into material practices. Some curated better museum representations, protested in the streets, and advocated for undocumented rights. Others were engaged in community participatory projects and developed art to communicate beyond the confines of language. From being in the streets to learning from others, these experiences helped refined my sensitivity to the possibilities that research made available to me and inspired me to join an activist organization in hopes of putting research in service of my communities.

From research to activism, I learned that if things can be thought and made, they can be rethought and remade; that a better world is possible. Thus, my research aim is a modest but necessary one, to help make pathways for imagining sustainable forms of collective life that build upon care, reciprocity, mutual interdependence, and fairness rather than individualist solutions based on merit and opportunity and punitive, carceral solutions based on fear, terror, competition and domination. In short, my aim is about making room for social life to grow.

The point is not to render ideas less complex but to make the complex clear.

bell hooks

Index

migration: diaspora, refugees, asylum-seeking, citizenship, labor export programs

community organizing: social movements, multiracial coalition building, queer collectivities, international, global, or transnational solidarities, identity, belonging, alterity, alienation, relationality, surplus, social reproduction, co-production, collaboration, reciprocity, contamination, intersectionality, social stratification

cultural production meaning making, research, music, poetry, performance, creative activism, copyright, food, dance, film

health: medicine, drugs, healthcare industry, wellness industry, bioethics, disability, neurodivergence, ecology, care, environmental health

safety: violence, surveillance, borders, policing, prisons, military, mass incarceration, infrastructure, terrorism, the state, biopower

praxis: scholar-activism, community-participatory research, ethnography, cultural studies, decolonization, abolition, epistemology, phenomenology, marxism, performance studies, affect theory