Module Introduction

ANNOUNCEMENT: This website was created for the Semester 1, AY2014/15 offering of this module and has yet to be updated for AY2016/17. You may browse the current content to get a sense of what this module is about, however, please note that there will be quite a few changes forthcoming.

Classes meet: Wednesdays 2 - 6 pm, Cinnamon College, SR 3

Note: This module satisfies the USP Singapore Studies requirement.

It is your duty to read the policy page and to familiarize yourself with the stipulated terms and conditions.

How do you know you’re Asian? or Global?

On this side of the 21st century, it appears almost patently obvious that Singapore’s future belongs in Asia. All around us we see signs of this happening. In the rhetoric of Singapore’s leaders, we are told that the world’s economic centre of gravity is shifting to China and India. In our daily lives local practices are transmogrified into hybrid, Asian, modern, and globalized forms: from the Asianized banking products we consume to the specialty Asian news channel we watch, and from the Asianizing Zoo and the Asian ethnographic museums we visit to the Asian exotica we buy and eat; it seems that Singapore’s cultural landscape is in transition. But what are the nodal points of this transition? Is there really any merit to the current official view that this “return” to Asia represents a reaction to the folly of Singapore’s earlier policies of deculturalization?

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At the same time the state articulates its Asianist visions, it also tries to suggest that is also, contradictingly, global. So alongside the Asian identities, Singaporeans are also encourage to situate themselves in the larger global context. Ultimately this begs the question: is Singapore meant to be Asian or global, or are these identities reconcilable?

The intention of this course is therefore to make sense of the current relationship between Singapore, Asia and the larger world. In particular it seeks to investigate the processes of how Asia has discontinuously come to be imagined and represented in Singapore. In particular, how should we critically frame the intellectual questions we need to raise? What sorts of theoretical lenses do we need to apply in order to make these questions meaningful? What evidence is there to support the different forms of Asianization in Singapore? In order to address these broad issues, the module does the following:

  • It examines the theoretical categories that are imbricated: Orientalism, nationalism, modernism and modernization, capitalism, globalization and regionalism, and gender.
  • It contextualizes Singapore's Asianism in a broader comparative context; such as how Asianism is manifested in other Asian societies and how non-Asian (mostly "Western") societies attempt to come to terms with it
  • It examines the ambivalent function of Asianism in Singapore: is it a form of anti-Western revanchism? Is it intended to discipline or domesticate the Singapore state? Does it institute national memory or culture by managing the pasts that need to be forgotten and the pasts that need to be invented?
  • It examines where in Singapore dominant ideas about Asia come from and how we can consider alternative or opposing ideas in this context.

What you will get out of this course

Although this module encourages national self-reflection and challenges the everday assumptions and given-ess of Singaporean life, like other USP courses, it instils greater critical awareness that can be transferred to other forms of knowledge and practices. In general, it aims at:

  • Encouraging students to think critically about what is Asia and how we have come to think about it in the way we do
  • Developing students’ intellectual and theoretical ability in handling complex and ambivalent problems associated with power, knowledge, and culture
  • Fostering students’ cultural reading skills
  • Providing the context in which other country/society/nation/culture’s representations of Asia could be investigated
  • Encouraging students to develop connections between critiques of Asia and their own disciplinary interests

Prior Expectations

Students from all disciplinary backgrounds are welcome to take this course. Since this is a level 3000 inquiry module (previously called CBM) it is, understandably, more advanced. There are a number of things students must be mindful of before enroling for this course. First, I expect you to have completed your Writing and Critical Thinking module and have taken at least one other USP level 2000 course in the humanities and social sciences domain. Prior attendance in a Singapore Studies module like USE2304 (“Singapore: The Making of a Nation”) or USE2305 (“Southeast Asia: The Making of a Region” see below) is not necessary although it will give you an advantage. Second, the reading load for this module is going to be heavy (50-100 pages a week). As with all other 4 MC modules, you will need to be able to devote at least 6 hours each week (on top of class attendance) to this module for non-classroom related activities like attending group meetings and doing the readings, assignments, and essays.

USP3505 in relation to USE2305 "Southeast Asia: The Making of a Region"

Students who have taken my earlier module USE2305 (“Southeast Asia: The Making of a Region”) are also welcome to take this module. While there are some topical similarities between the two, there are a number of essential differences. First, the scope has been expanded to the wider Asian region, which generally now includes Northeast, South, Central, and Western Asia. Second, while USE2305 is organized in a somewhat chronological way, USP3505 is more conceptually-oriented, and the module focuses on 6-7 critical concepts and themes.Third, the module also examines Singapore's Asianism in relation to similar forms experienced in other parts of Asia, so there is more comparative analysis in this module. Finally, as this is a level 3000 course, one of its objectives is also to help you develop skills for your ISMs and other honours-related research projects.