Vicente L. Rafael is Professor of History at the University of Washington. His books include
The Cell Phone and the Crowd: Messianic Politics in the EDSA II Uprising
This chapter explores the question of translation as the communication of messages from one medium to another across social space. Seized by those who receive and relay such messages, translation as communication becomes a social force productive of unexpected effects. The chapter examines the workings of this translative force among early twenty-first-century middle-class Filipinos in the context of a particular historical event: the civilian-backed coup that overthrew President Joseph Estrada in 2001. The focus is on two distinct but related media: the cell phone and the crowd. Cell phones, in particular the language of texting, was credited by middle-class actors for mobilizing the crowd in support of the coup. But this chapter also looks at how the crowd eluded middle-class attempts at commanding and instrumentalizing their energies. Instead of serving, like the cell phone, as the ready medium for transmitting bourgeois demands to the state, the crowd raised the specter of class warfare that arrests bourgeois attempts at controlling the communicative and political conditions of national life.