[OPINION] A sociology of hope

Jayeel Cornelio

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[OPINION] A sociology of hope
Hope must be reclaimed as a collective feat. Whether in the classroom or the workplace, this is about understanding one another and the roots of our shared struggles. 

Filipinos are consistently hopeful. There’s no doubt about it.

The latest survey of Pulse Asia is no different. It shows that 92% of Filipinos are hopeful for 2023. Consistent across regions and socio-economic classes, it may be because the economy is now picking up.

But it’s not only because things are getting better. 

Even in the midst of uncertainty, Filipinos have proven to remain hopeful. Writing in early 2022, former senator Joey Lina suggests that this may have to do with Filipinos’ “deep faith and trust in God.”

For many, such endurance of hope is a cause for celebration. It is to them what makes our society truly vibrant, even resilient in times of crisis.

The philosopher Mary Zournazi has the right words for it. Hope is “not simply the desire for things to come, or the betterment of life. It is the drive or energy that embeds us in the world.” Hope is that which “sustains life in the face of despair.”

And yet hope has its limits too. 

While hope can bolster people’s morale, it can also be deployed to protect the interests of the powerful. And so we need to ask the following questions: What exactly do Filipinos mean when they say they are hopeful? What are they hoping for? And why?

It’s one thing to celebrate hope. But it’s quite another to question the conditions that leave us always hoping. It is for this reason that we need to have an honest conversation about hope and its limits.


The first has to do with what hope concretely means and whether it’s shared in the same manner among Filipinos.

The Social Weather Stations (SWS) offers some insights. In another survey, SWS asked respondents to describe their quality of life in the next 12 months. On average, 45% of Filipinos say that they will not be poor. 39% believe their quality of life will remain the same, while 4% are afraid it will worsen. 

But the data differ when disaggregated according to a family’s current quality of life. Among those who are “not poor”, 51% are optimistic. This figure is predictably lower among those who describe themselves as “borderline poor” (46%) and “poor” (41%). 

One’s sense of the future is thus shaped by the possibilities a person can access.

Qualitative research validates this point too, and with much more nuance.

In vulnerable communities, hope is closely tied to housing and land tenure. Whether it’s the urban poor in Cebu or the displaced people of Marawi, securing a place they can call their own is a dream.

Given the inequality in this country, there’s not much worth celebrating whenever we say we are a hopeful people. On the contrary, hope is a symptom of systemic problems that have left so many desiring of the benefits of progress that only few of us get to enjoy.

Valorizing hope

Romanticizing hope is a problem for another reason.

Time and again, Filipinos praise one another for being “resilient”, “maabilidad”, or “madiskarte”. We certainly hear these words from government officials. But we hear them too from the people around us.

To be sure, we draw on these qualities to help one another. Hopeful about the future, we convince each other that our problems will end if we just work hard enough.

Without us realizing it, this discourse valorizes suffering.

Therein lies, I believe, the internal contradiction of hope as we know it. 

In this discourse, Filipinos must endure their circumstances in the hope that tomorrow our dreams will be fulfilled. Deployed in this manner, hope lays the burden for progress on individuals.

But conveniently, it deflects responsibility away from the state over its misplaced priorities, corruption, and inefficiency.

For the sake of their dreams, OFWs must leave and employees must endure the daily commute. And for Noche Buena, P 500.00 is enough for a family, if only they are madiskarte. 

From this vantage point, nothing is impossible for the maabilidad Filipino. What it fails to  acknowledge is that people simply have no choice. Romanticizing hope is dishonest.

Sociology of hope

Make no mistake. This is not a critique of hope per se. Whether individual or collective, hoping, after all, has the “power to transform reality”.

And yet the sociological perspective rejects hope as an individual affair alone. This is because embracing hope as the task of the individual only serves the powerful. 

When the burden is placed only on individuals to pursue their dreams, hope loses its potency to recognize the relations that keep people powerless. If some of them move up the social ladder, all that gets recognized is their hard work. 

It is for this reason that hope must be reclaimed as a collective feat. Whether in the classroom or the workplace, this is about understanding one another and the roots of our shared struggles. 

When we confront hope in this manner, we realize that it is not worth celebrating. Hope must lead us to conclude that our struggles are deeply collective. –

Jayeel Cornelio, PhD is the Associate Dean for Research and Creative Work at the Ateneo de Manila University. He is a 2021 TOYM awardee in the fields of education and sociology. Follow him on Twitter @jayeel_cornelio.

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