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24 OCTOBER 2014, FRIDAY. 7-10PM

Myths IV explores multiculturalism, an important plank of Singapore’s policy and identity. Imran Tajudeen complicates the idea of ‘racial enclaves’ in a walk through colonial Singapore’s culturally diverse spaces. Lai Ah Eng similarly takes us through the ‘maze and minefield’ of multiculturalism. Elaine Ho discusses the challenges facing multiculturalism as Singapore transforms into a cosmopolitan city.


Myths of Race and Place in the Fragments of Old Singapore City

Imran bin Tajudeen

ational University of Singapore


The remnants of the old city in Singapore that survived the urban renewal demolitions of the 1960s to 1990s play a prominent role today in the making and perpetuation of myths about Singapore history through the stories of neighbourhoods and communities, both imagined and real. Renovated, framed and marketed as ethnic-themed heritage districts, they are reimagined and promoted to tourists and Singapore citizens alike as discrete racial blocs. The narratives that have been constructed for these surviving fragments of old Singapore city actually flatten the story of its historical diversity. Simplistic assumptions about how nineteenth century colonial urban policies supposedly produced certain racial enclaves are used to promote exclusionary urban histories based on the supposed ‘habitus’ of different ‘races’. The interpretive violence that have been committed in the name of ethnic district packaging becomes clear if we compare these narratives with the actual socio-cultural landscape and urban histories in colonial Singapore. The use of historical data and archival materials, and the recovery and spatialisation of (former) inhabitants’ memories of lived experience, eviction, and demolition can be mobilized to challenge and complicate the official myths about how we lived among each other and the place of ethnicity in the city.


Dr Imran bin Tajudeen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Architecture at the National University of Singapore (NUS). His research interests include place histories and the processes, underlying motivations and assumptions through which notions of heritage have been constituted, and how they are narrated in contemporary reconstructions and representations. He has been engaged in a number of urban history and heritage documentation projects, among which the most recent is as Main Consultant for the recovery and documentation of the historic graves at Jalan Kubor, Kampung Gelam with Nusantara Consultancy. His doctoral dissertation (NUS, 2009) on the architecture and urban histories of Southeast Asian cities won the ICAS Book Prize for Best PhD (Social Sciences) in April 2011. He was postdoctoral fellow at MIT's Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture and the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) in Leiden, the Netherlands.









Maze and Minefield: Reflections on Multiculturalism in Singapore

Lai Ah Eng
National University of Singapore


Much has be discussed and debated about multiculturalism as one of Singapore's founding myths. This presentation does not reject it as a myth in the sense of it being untrue or purely a state ideology, but rather as a constant and complex reality of Singapore life that is at once like a maze and a minefield. The presentation necessarily begins with some brief reflections on the notions of race, ethnicity and culture intrinsically associated with multiculturalism. It then focuses on the multifaceted "maze and minefield" landscape, particularly on four core areas: cultural diversity; the sharing common spaces; racism, structural inequalities; and immigration, integration and citizenship. It then asks what cohesive multiculturalism means amidst growing differences, disconnects and divides.   


LAI Ah-Eng (PhD) is adjunct senior fellow at the University Scholars Programme (USP), National University of Singapore (NUS) where she teaches “Religious Issues in the Contemporary World” and “Multiculturalism and Its Contested Meanings”. Her recent past projects include ethnic relations, intercultural dialogues, and ethnic and religious diversities in Singapore. Her present projects include migration and diversity in Singapore/Asia with a focus on immigration, integration, social cohesion and multiculturalism. Lai Ah Eng is also active in public life as a commentator and in intercultural and heritage work.   















Cosmopolitanism: Aspirations, Risks or an Everyday Disposition?

Elaine Ho

National University of Singapore


Cosmopolitanism gradually became a buzzword in Singapore from the 1990s onwards as politicians and policymakers mobilised the idea to reinvent the country into a world-class city and to emphasise nation building. This talk examines how cosmopolitanism frames aspirations as well as risks. But the talk also considers how Singaporeans claim territorial belonging to argue against recent immigration. The talk reflects on whether our multiracialism model is able to accommodate the greater cultural diversity in Singapore today. Can we cultivate instead a cosmopolitan disposition that values the biographical ties we share with one another, Singaporeans and foreigners alike, in daily life?


Elaine Ho is Assistant Professor at the Department of Geography, National University of Singapore (NUS). Her academic research examines the way that citizenship, as a concept and in practice, is undergoing change as a result of transnational migration. Her research projects focus on Singapore, China and Myanmar. With John Gee, she is the co-editor of Dignity Overdue (2006, Select Books), which documents the inception of TWC2 (The Working Committee 2) from 2002-2003. The book represents a commitment towards preserving ‘alternative histories’ of Singapore. She is also the co-editor of Changing Landscapes of Singapore (2013, NUS Press). 







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