The question of managing ethnocultural diversity — i.e. of how to reconcile particular ethnic and cultural claims with the broader demands of national cohesion and citizenship — is a challenging and pressing issue faced by all multiethnic states and met with a variety of responses that draw from different intellectual traditions. For Singapore, this question has been a key feature of its nation-building process since 1965 and its response has been the cultivation of an officially ascribed multiculturalism underpinned by the state-espoused ideological commitments to pragmatism and an ostensibly “Asian” communitarianism.
Yet such a model has, of late, been placed under much stress. Recent incidents such as last year’s social backlash against Anton Casey, the riots that erupted in Little India in 2013, the firing of Amy Cheong in 2012 for her Facebook comments towards Singaporean-Malays, and 2011’s ‘Cook a Pot of Curry’ movement, all illustrate the various tensions that inhere within the Singaporean model of multiculturalism. Tensions, moreover, that with a changing economic, demographic, and urban landscape, are increasingly becoming more noticeable and pressing. In light of all this, can the Singaporean model survive?
This module examines the conceptual framework of the Singaporean model of multiculturalism in order to evaluate its viability for the future. It does so by positioning the Singaporean model in relation to other existing theories of ethno-cultural identity and rights from liberal multiculturalism to poststructuralist critiques of identity and toleration. In so doing, it asks:
- What are the ideological, historical, and practical underpinnings of the Singaporean model?
- What might be problematic, contradictory, and insufficient about its accounts of identity, equality, political and civic responsibility?
- How else might a multicultural society negotiate its multiple and oftentimes competing ethno-cultural demands?