Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethnicity and the Nation-building Project

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NIAS Press, 2008 - History - 304 pages
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Singapore has few natural resources, but, in a relatively short history, its economic and social development and transformation are nothing short of remarkable. Today Singapore is by far the most successful exemplar of material development in Southeast Asia and it often finds itself the envy of developed countries. Furthermore, over the last three and a half decades the ruling party has presided over the formation of a thriving community of Singaporeans who love and are proud of their country.

Nothing about these processes has been 'natural' in any sense of the word. Much of the country's investment in nation building has in fact gone into the selection, training nd formation of a ruling and administrative elite that reflects and will perpetuate its vision of the nation. The government ownership of the nation-building project, its micromanagement of everyday life and the role played by the elite are three fundamental elements in this complex and continuing process of construction of a nation. The intense triangulation of these elements and the pace of change they produce make Singapore one of the most intriguing specimens of nation building in the region.

In a critical study of the politics of ethnicity and elitism in Singapore,Constructing Singapore looks inside the supposedly 'meritocratic' system, from nursery school to university and beyond, that produces Singapore's political and administrative elite. Focusing on two processes - elite formation and elite selection - it gives primary attention to the role that ethno-racial ascription plays in these processes, but also considers the input of personal connections, personal power, class, and gender. The result is a study revealing much about how Singapore's elite-led nation-building project has reached its current state whereby a Singaporean version of Chinese ethno-nationalism has overwhelmed the discourse on national and Singaporean identity.

 

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Contents

Introduction Island Colony City Nation
1
The Singapore Story Constructing a National Myth
18
Constructing the Nation Elitism and Ethnicity
39
The Culture of Elite Governance
57
Incomplete Assimilation From Civic Nationalism to EthnoNationalism
87
Building the New Singaporean and New Elite
112
Catching Them Young Afraid to Fail in Kindergarten
127
Grades Kiasuism and Race Primary School and Beyond
150
Sorting the Scholars from the Commoners Secondary School and Junior College
179
Winners and Losers Gender Race and Class in Elite Selection
208
Making a Mandarin Inside the Administrative Elite
229
Conclusion A Tentative Assessment of Singapores NationBuilding Project
252
Bibliography
272
Index
297
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