Chasing freedom: The Philippines’ long journey to democratic ambivalence 

Event details

PSC Seminar Series

Date & time

Tuesday 27 September 2022


PSC Reading Room 4.27 & Zoom


Adele Webb


Maxine McArthur

How did Rodrigo Duterte, and more recently Ferdinand Marcos Jr, earn the support of large segments of the Philippine middle class, despite elevating arbitrary rule and offering little tolerance for dissent?

This talk draws on Adele’s book by the same title published in January 2022. It tells the story of the love/hate relationship of the Philippine middle class with democratic politics, illuminating the historical roots and contingency of the Philippine middle-class’s reticence about democracy.

Drawing on historical archival work, discourse analysis, and fieldwork interviews, Adele’s research traces the attitudes of the Filipino middle class from the time of American colonisation in 1898 to the 2016 election of strongman Rodrigo Duterte. She makes the argument that democracy has been, and continues to be, living in an ambivalent way - that the simultaneous saying of “yes” and “no” to democracy by citizens is one of the defining features of the Philippines’ democratic journey. The prime source of this ambivalence is the Janus face of America’s “democratic imperialism” in the Islands and the lasting effects of a foreign policy legitimised by the deprecation of the Filipino subject.

This research provides lessons of global importance, in an age when disenchantment with democracy is on the rise. The Philippines is a bellwether case of democratic ambivalence, Adele argues. It demonstrates that ambivalence is not simply a “pathology” of democracy, but a persistent feature that needs to be accommodated into normative and descriptive accounts of how democracy works.

Adele Webb is a Lecturer in Politics and Policy in the School of Justice at Queensland University of Technology and Adjunct Research Fellow at Griffith Asia Institute in Brisbane. Her research is in the areas of Democratic theory, Southeast Asian politics, Philippine political history, Postcolonialism, Critical Policy Studies and International Development.

Adele holds a PhD from the University of Sydney and an MSc in Political Sociology from London School of Economics. Alongside her academic work, Adele maintains an active profile in public engagement, providing commentary on Philippine politics and geopolitics for the ABC, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, The Lowy Institute and The Australian Institute of International Affairs.

Zoom link -
Meeting ID: 878 2062 7268
Password: 033854

Updated:  9 December 2022/Responsible Officer:  Bell School Marketing Team/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team