Places for Happiness: Community, Self, and Performance in the Philippines by William Peterson (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2016)

Paul Dwyer


When Clifford Geertz famously touted “thick description” as the basis of ethnographic inquiry, he concluded that the central task of the researcher is “the enlargement of the universe of human discourse” and “to reduce the puzzlement … to which unfamiliar acts emerging out of unknown backgrounds naturally give rise” (Geertz 1973, 14; 16). This sets the bar high (and Geertz acknowledges the essentially incomplete, provisional nature of his own anthropological interpretations) but it still seems to me an appropriate ambition for any performance research that is grounded in an ethnographic approach. Certainly, it’s a benchmark against which William Peterson’s study of community-based performances in the Philippines ranks very highly. Drawing on more than a decade of participant-observation fieldwork experiences in Metro Manila, Marinduque and other locations, Peterson offers detailed accounts of large-scale Easter processions and Passion Play performances, of highly choreographed, mass participation forms of street dancing, and of satirical performances in connection with election campaigns. Throughout the book, his focus is on explaining “[h]ow an individual Filipino’s need for happiness is met through involvement in localized performance practices that link them to a community and that in turn provide a shared, foundational identity for both the individual and community” (2).


theatre; performance; Philippines; community

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Geertz, Clifford. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic Books.


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