Singapore’s discipline through class consciousness : the “cosmopolitan” and “heartlander” in Raffles place ragtime and eating air
Hong, Grace Chu Yu
Date of Issue2015
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Singapore has often been criticised as a city of oppressed individuals controlled by an authoritarian government, with detractors citing the use of national campaigns as tools for policy implementation and “to change the attitude and behaviour of Singaporeans” (Sim). These campaigns included both restrictions of state-opposed “decadent behaviours such as gambling, opium-smoking and pornography” and encouragement of virtuous behaviours such as cleanliness and courtesy (Sim). Transitioning from the policies of the 1950-70s, current state intervention is no longer as extensive. What was an overt interventionist approach has transformed to a subtle regulation of citizens, where a hegemonic standard of values and behaviour inculcated through succeeding generations of citizens results in a society that self-regulates to maintain this standard. “From Singapore’s attempt to Asianize or indigenize the process of economic modernization, one can see that it has generally recognized modernity as the basis of its cultural identity” (Chun 61-62). It is hence woven into Singapore’s identity the purpose of economic progress, a city that prides itself in running like a well-oiled machine. I posit that current day Singapore is fuelled by Michel Foucault’s theorised system of discipline and punishment. Unlike the concrete actual fears of the past in getting caught by the authorities, Singapore now utilises a more intangible disciplinary power, where mere knowledge of supervision from a silent gaze is enough to regulate an individual to the right behaviour within his class. Although I acknowledge that class visibility in Singapore is complex as differences are not that apparent in part due to governmental efforts (Chua 15), for the purpose of this essay I will divide Singapore’s class system across middle to upper-class “cosmopolitans” and the working-class “heartlanders”. These were terms used in the 1999 National Day Rally Speech made by former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, and has since been academically cited in Singapore class discourse, as well as presented in local media (Chua 11). “Cosmopolitans” are those who are bilingual, speak proficient English, and have skills that command high incomes such as banking and engineering, while “heartlanders” speak Singlish, form the majority and identity of Singapore society, but do not possess expertise that would be sought after overseas (Poon 562-3). The body is thus “the site of inscription for specific modes of subjectivity”, in this case, advancement of Singapore’s economy (Grosz 241). Following overt intervention from the state, self-regulation—the disciplinary force that is Bentham’s Panopticon internalised—maintains one’s societal position and behaviour within the frame of advancing Singapore’s economy. More than a totalising discipline across Singapore, the gaze an individual encounters is class-centred; standards distinctive to the lifestyle and ambitions of each class. Furthermore, the level of self-regulation does not remain within these norms, but the disciplinary power is accorded through institutionalisation to physical spaces such as the school or home, creating environments that regulates oneself too. The importance of class consciousness is hence important, as one’s role as “heartlander” or “cosmopolitan” dictates one’s choices and lifestyle under a sense of stifling supervision. This class effected discipline is also reinforced by class markers such as public housing, and further transforms the home to a motif and place of entrapment; an identity marker that characters want to shake off. To overcome the suffocating limitations established by their class, characters rely on their vehicles of transport as an empowering sense of mobility, however temporal it might be. By the end of this thesis, I will prove that Singapore’s well-oiled machine is run by a class dictated disciplinary force that comprises both the residual effects of state intervention, as well as self-inflicted discipline that its subjects-citizens initiate. It is not only a disciplinary force to keep one within the norm, but an inescapable framework through which characters see their lives through.
Final Year Project (FYP)