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27 MARCH 2015, FRIDAY. 7.30PM-10.30PM.

Myths VIII throws light on dark areas and seductive buzzwords.


Ian Chong reconsiders Singapore’s external threats. Laavanya Kathiravelu rethinks our racial categories. Arthur Chia peers behind the new discourse of innovation.


Openness and Reform under the Shadow of Danger

Ian Chong

National University of Singapore

A narrative common in Singapore is that the nation and its people face ever-present existential security risks. Addressing these dangers often translates into calls for restraint on civic participation and liberalisation; contestation opens the country to danger. Singapore is not the only society with such concerns. This talk briefly examines Taiwan and South Korea to consider how other societies facing heavy external threats deal with issues of reform and public participation. These cases obviously cannot replicate Singapore's experience, but can offer ways to think about how developed societies in Asia deal with reform under the shadow of outside threats.


Chong Ja Ian teaches political science at a public university in Singapore. He works on international politics and security. His book, External Intervention and the Politics of State Formation: China, Indonesia, Thailand—1893-1952 (Cambridge, 2012), received the 2014 Best Book Award for International Security Studies from the International Studies Association. Chong’s publications appear in several academic and non-academic journals.















Rethinking Racial Categories

Laavanya Kathiravelu

Nanyang Technological University


This talk suggests an alternative starting point for the governance and politics of ethnic diversity in Singapore. The state has used the threat of racial disharmony to impose a series of disciplinary measures that include restrictions on public gatherings as well as the imposition of strict racial categorizations. These ways of dealing with difference, that rely on prescribed modes of recognition, no longer seem to function convincingly.


Drawing from examples of cross cultural friendship between Singaporeans and foreigners of different nationalities, and inter-class networks between middle class and low wage migrant workers, this talk suggests that the national myth-making around raced and classed difference are inadequate to deal with the contemporary realities of diversity in Singapore. Instead, it suggests that encouraging a symbolic and civil space of convivial relations and cooperation based along alternative points of connection may provide better options for managing a diverse population.


Laavanya is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Sociology at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). She researches contemporary labour migration, urban diversity and the politics of ethnic identities.















Innovation: Smart Nation, Technology and Governance in 21st Century Singapore

Arthur Chia
Independent scholar


In this presentation, I will share some thoughts about “innovation” – a relatively new term which has emerged in the public imaginary, brought about by recent economic and technological conditions, and made into a compelling object of state investment and rhetoric. I will discuss how “innovation” reflects the history of social and economic engineering throughout Singapore as a means of modernization, and how it also reflects the Singapore government as a technocracy where engineers, economists and managers hold collective power at the highest level of government. Hence, Singapore’s “innovation” is more than economics and technology, and has more than economical and technological implications.


Arthur Chia is currently researching and writing a paper about innovation in Singapore. He obtained his PhD at Southeast Asian Studies Department, NUS in 2012 and was a post-doctoral Fellow at MIT. His research and teaching interests include Anthropology, History and Science, Technology and Society Studies.






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