Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context
Issue 15, May 2007

Czarina Saloma-Akpedonu

Possible Worlds in Impossible Spaces:
Knowledge, Globality, Gender and Information Technology in the Philippines

Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2006,
pp. 247; ISBN 971-550-497-3 (paper)

reviewed by Jane Hutchison

  1. This book promises a constructivist study of ‘intermediate developers’ in the Philippine information technology (IT) industry. Intermediate developers are the analysts, designers, programmers, engineers and managers who develop and support computer-based information systems for both commercial and personal uses. Saloma-Akpedonu is concerned to examine these professionals’ everyday practices and mental maps of ‘doing information technology’ in the Philippines. I welcome her approach, but her use of central concepts lets her down.
  2. At the outset, Saloma-Akpedonu borrows from Foucault to argue that the Philippine IT industry is a ‘heterotopia’—‘a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted’ (p. 3). I admit to not being familiar with this term, but by the end of the book I was still none the wiser. This is because Saloma-Akpedonu fails to fully elaborate on this and other central concepts, and then often intermingles them in confusing ways. Heterotopia is introduced in only a single, short paragraph, using liberal quotes from Foucault, but with no additional insights from the author into the term’s particular meaning and value. From this concept she draws the pairing of ‘impossible spaces’ and ‘possible spaces’ that feature in the book’s title. I take it, the title refers to the following ‘unreal’ encounters. First, with IT professions in international division of labour spaces that were thought to contain assembly workers and, second, women in some technological spaces in a male-dominated industry. These are indeed two matters worth explaining; my concern is that the impossible/possible spaces framing was not supported by Saloma-Akpedonu’s empirical observations.
  3. With regards to the first of these encounters, it is true that the Philippines is no longer positioned in the global economy just as a cheap source of manufacturing labour (and agricultural products). Studies like these are therefore important in drawing attention to the growing significance of knowledge-based industries and the globalisation experiences of middle class professionals. Yet, despite all the talk of impossible/possible spaces, the first chapter provides quite a conventional account of the development of the Philippine IT industry since the late 1960s. Towards the end of this section we are informed that heterotopia ‘acknowledges rather than negates the idea that the world remains fragmented into formal sovereignties of unequal capacitie.’ (p. 31). My problem is that it is not clear that the concept does deliver this meaning, and certainly that this is not the distinctive meaning that Foucault intended. Later in the book, Saloma-Akpedonu implies that the impossible/possible spaces idea is equivalent to Schutz and Luckmann’s ‘actual’ and ‘potential worlds’, but again there is no proper elaboration and I remain unconvinced.
  4. The subject area of Saloma-Akpedonu’s book is an important one and her study is not lacking in interesting insights. The feature that disappoints is her conceptual and theoretical framing. I still cannot really tell you what the book’s title is supposed to mean.


This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

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