Individuality Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez

Individuality and questions connected with the moral freedom of the individual in public spheres have occupied a prominent place in the discourse surrounding societal transformation in recent years.

Studied against totalizing frames associated with collectivism, the primary contention is that the everyday gestures and articulations of individuals who either opt out or are disenfranchised from these nodes of authority become muted or dismissed, thus ultimately getting purged as articulators of difference. By being relegated to the margins of the merely personal and idiosyncratic, individual agency was previously made coeval with adventurism, opportunism, and factionalism. This is in pointed contrast to current discourse gaining momentum alongside the fall of various authoritarian regimes globally, which envisions the practice of everyday life as a site of negotiation—where the subaltern is able to arguably negate or at least incrementally subvert power strictures as they intrude into daily thought and living.

Individuality, particularly in the light of deepening theorization in the arena of pop culture studies, has been conscripted into the project of transformation precisely with regard to its potential to wear down hegemonies wholly imposed upon those who fall between the cracks or exist in variably liminal states. The debates surrounding the parameters within which individual agency is exercised are also seen against myopic tendencies thought to be inherent in localism. However, by recuperating nuance or rescuing individual subjectivity from forlorn positions within the domain of critical inquiry, social scientists have now turned to mining these for anecdotes of selfhood where traces of emancipatory cues and gestures may or may not be evinced. While still keenly maintaining a materialist analysis of on-the-ground conditions converging toward the axis of the individual as situated within a complex web of contending interests and relationships, it is now thought that amid this interiority, this nonunitary, unfixed, nonlinear construction of representation, this becoming or making of self, aspirations toward autonomy or resistance can and do take root.

This persisting tension between self and collective will is at the heart of the censuring of dissidence as well as the relegation of the private sphere as merely the realm of the mundane and trivial. Perhaps, as Asian specialist Caroline Hau and other like-minded scholars have pointed out, it is in light of this untenable dualism vis-à-vis self and the collective, that charges about how this field remains largely undertheorized should be taken.

Particularly in light of the wearing down of socialist states in Eastern Europe and blatant veering toward capitalism in China, parties who were indeed previously disenfranchised from participating wholly within the public sphere have increasingly been asserting their position within the realm of sociopolitical action and thought. This attempt to recover the worth of the experiential vis-à-vis purely theoretical, macro analysis, this upholding of the primacy of the grassroots self is also manifest in the burgeoning global network of civilian, nonstatist initiatives. These pose as a third force around local yet globally conversant advocacies that palpably make present what was institutionally effaced in deference to the common or greater public good as defined by states and international capital.

Within the creative sphere, this assertion of individual articulation comes by way of the mining of biography as a valid ground from which references and subject matter can be drawn. Thus we see a deliberately individuated stream of meaning-making in such fields as film, visual art, and literature, which in the past would have been regarded as thematically inferior to those more pointedly directed at grand socio-political tropes. It is these initially lone but potentially rhizomatic utterances that may suggest hope for critical transformation in the long term inasmuch as it may be within the mutable, ungovernable networks of cybersphere, that the dynamics of individual initiative may ultimately thwart agents of control in varying fronts.


John Fiske, Understanding Popular Culture, Routledge, London 1989.

Caroline Hau, On the Subject of the Nation: Filipino Writings from the Margins 1981 to 2004, Ateneo de Manila University Press, Quezon City 2004.