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20 JULY 2015, MONDAY. 7.30PM-10.30PM.

Living with Myths IX tackles fuzzy stories and expedient narratives. C. J. Wee Wan-ling considers Kuo Pao Kun’s cultural legacy beyond multiculturalism. Teo You Yenn examines the links between poverty, welfare and development. Mark Baildon and Suhaimi Afandi argue that the teaching multiple perspectives of history fosters good citizenship.


Kuo Pao Kun beyond Multilingualism and Multiculturalism  

C.J. Wee Wan-ling

Nanyang Technological University


Kuo Pao Kun (1939-2002), the acknowledged doyen of theatre in Singapore, is usually remembered by ground-breaking productions that broke through the single-language theatre traditions in Singapore (in Mama Looking for Her Cat) and that challenged the socio-cultural engineering policies that put culture under erasure (in The Coffin is too Big for the Hole) in the name of creating a modern industrial-capitalist society. He is also remembered as an internee under the Internal Security Act (detained from 1976-80) who emerged apparently intact in his creative capacity, and who proceeded to become the founding artistic director of The Substation: A Home for the Arts – and later also to be actually awarded the state’s Cultural Medallion. Thirteen years after his early demise, there is danger of turning Kuo into a warmly appreciated figure of Singapore multiculturalism, and forgetting that he was part of the larger history of the Cold War in the region. He was also a figure with a progressive social orientation who reworked May 4th Movement notions of art in the midst of Southeast Asia.


This presentation will attempt to think through how, first, his social orientation towards the ordinary man continued in his work in the 1980s, even as he reworked his art to engage with the question of fading artistic-cultural traditions and contemporary culture in a world where capitalism was increasingly advancing in strength; and second, how his thinking of art and culture for Singapore broadened out from perhaps around the mid-1990s to addressing questions of nationalism and state authoritarianism in the region at large. The presentation will suggest that the warm – now almost fuzzy – myth of the multicultural Kuo Pao Kun should be reworked to think of Kuo Pao Kun as the public intellectual who saw that art and cultural questions in Singapore had larger links to the region at large. Kuo Pao Kun's cultural legacy for Singapore is larger than the terms that it’s sometimes cast in.


C. J. Wee Wan-ling is professor of English at the Nanyang Technological University, and previously was a fellow in the Regional Social and Cultural Studies programme at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS). He is the author of Culture, Empire, and the Question of Being Modern (2003) and The Asian Modern: Culture, Capitalist Development, Singapore (2007), and the co-editor of Contesting Performance: Global Sites of Research (2010). He is also the co-editor of Two Plays by Kuo Pao Kun (2002) and the editor of The Complete Works of Kuo Pao Kun vol. 4: Plays in English (2012). 


Poor people don't like oats either: Imagining Poverty, Constructing Need and Deservedness

Teo You Yenn

Nanyang Technological University


How do we imagine poverty and the poor? How do these myths shape public debates about need, deservedness and, ultimately, the welfare regime? In this paper, I explore the various common sense understandings of the poor and poverty. I situate these understandings in the broader discourse of development and economic growth. I argue that scripts about poverty and wealth, about class position and status, set the context for contemporary and ongoing debates about what poverty is and how it needs to be addressed. Our imaginations and myths about how poverty comes about and who the poor are—how they think and behave, what their tastes and sensibilities are—reverberate through practices of individual do-gooders, of “corporate social responsibility” programs, and of the Singapore state. Undoing some of these myths is crucial to the work of rethinking welfare and wellbeing.


TEO You Yenn received her PhD in Sociology from the University of California at Berkeley. She is currently Associate Professor in the Division of Sociology at the Nanyang Technological University. Her work has focused on how state policies intersect with and shape norms and practices. In ongoing research, she explores the everyday experiences of people in low-income households in Singapore and the phenomenon of poverty in a wealthy city. Her writings address questions around governance, state-society dynamics, citizenship, welfare, and the reproduction of inequalities. Her book, Neoliberal Morality in Singapore: How family policies make state and society, was published by Routledge in 2011. Her work has also been published in Signs; Economy & Society; Population, Space and Place; Social Politics; TRaNS; and Development and Change. Apart from her academic work, she volunteers at the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) and is currently serving her third term as a Board Member.



The Myth that a Singular Historical Narrative Moulds Good Citizens

Mark Baildon and Suhaimi Afandi

National Institute of Education


In this paper, we examine school history curriculum and its efforts to promote a singular official Singapore story. We critically examine the idea that this story “is based on historical facts” and is not “an idealized legendary account or a founding myth [but rather] objective history” (Lee, 1997). Embedded in school curriculum to forge a common national identity and create good national citizens, the unintended consequences of a singular narrative in school history will be discussed. Combined with other structural constraints, historical investigation as a truly interpretive act tends to be missing in many history classrooms and historical knowledge is often treated as neutral and unproblematic, rather than constructed, contested and controversial. Although the myth of a singular narrative provides a tidy, very manageable account of the past, it doesn’t allow for students or teachers to wrestle with the complexities of the past or the interpretive practices that are necessary for living in the 21st century. As a result, many students regard history as propaganda, lifeless, boring, and lacking in any real value. This paper makes a case for challenging this myth by outlining the ways school history can accommodate multiple historical narratives and make history education an interpretive enterprise. By allowing students opportunities to participate in forms of historical inquiry that challenge accepted versions of the past and construct their own interpretive accounts they learn to participate more broadly and fundamentally in practices that give them a real stake in society and nation-building.


Mark Baildon is Associate Professor and Head with the Humanities and Social Studies Education Academic Group at the National Institute of Education (Singapore). He has taught social studies in secondary schools in the United States, Israel, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan and his research interests focus on ways to support social studies inquiry practices and 21st century literacies.


Suhaimi Afandi is Lecturer with the Humanities and Social Studies Education Academic Group, NIE. He specializes in empirical research on the ways history and the past are understood by students. He is keen on developing a ‘responsive historical pedagogy’ – one that engages students’ initial ideas about history, extends their understandings and draws them to a deeper appreciation of the historical past.



C.J. Wee Wan-ling






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