The End of Identity?
“Perhaps the reality is that Singapore cannot build both a national identity and a global city identity. The national identity served us well in our formative years, but the global city identity will carry us forward. We are actually in the midst of a transition from the former to the latter. A global city identity is much more fluid, less rooted, than a national identity.” Read the full article here: The End of Identity?.
This article by Singaporean journalist Sudhir Thomas Vadeketh has me increasingly interested in learning more about the socio-political climate of Singapore – especially because I loved every minute I spent visiting Singapore last summer. As the academic job market remains bleak for PhDs, I have started looking for jobs internationally. Singapore is always on the top of my list.
I only spent two weeks in Singapore and I just barely began to pick up on how Singaporean culture, politics, and economics are structured. From the surface, Singapore appears to have everything I love: diversity, amazing public transportation, loving & friendly people, low-crime (no crime?), happening nightlife, great food, and lots and lots of people. Beautiful people with musics and traditions and languages from all over the globe.
I have to admit, however, that the first day we arrived in Singapore my husband and I were quite shocked. We walked around the posh Orchard Road neighborhood taking in the food, all of the languages, and shops from all over the globe. We also quickly noticed the prices and the fact that we were far too poor for Singapore. Two things struck me: 1. the fact that Singapore’s booming economy paints a stark contrast to our life in the U.S. since 2008; and 2. that this is what globalization is. I mean, this is really what globalization is.
Before visiting Singapore I thought I understood the complexities and nuances of globalization because I was familiar with the major academic theories and debates. I understood it from an ideological and academic perspective. But I had never truly experienced globalization before visiting Singapore. Cosmpolitanism, yes. Globalization in constant dialogue with nationalism, yes. But not globalization in the sense that the author here discusses – when a globalized identity effectively consumes a national identity, that (in reality) never really existed in the first place.
That first day I walked down Orchard Road and thought “this is amazing Indian food, fantastic Chinese opera, beautiful Malay clothing, the best of European designers, the worst of U.S. popular music. But where are the Singaporeans?”
If there is a national identity still at play, and the author says there is, I did not see it during my trip. Well, I should rephrase that statement. I saw national government propaganda and experienced the not-surprisingly highly nationalistic “National Day,” but I did not see nationalism in how the actual people engaged with each other and their foreign visitors. Yes, I know – tourist, two weeks, etc… But even if I lived there for years, if I became one of the migrant workers Vadaketh discusses, I’m not sure I would see it even then.
Which brings me to my next point.
A few days ago I was talking with my academic colleagues about looking for jobs or research fellowships in Singapore. The first question I got was, “Could you really live there?” They were referring to, of course, the strict political control exerted by the government over the population. It was amazing to visit Singapore and not see any semblance of crime or poverty, but unsettling to know that it was likely still there, hidden from view. Like crime and poverty, social tensions are lurking in the background even though on the surface people appear to get along splendidly.
I’ve also started to realize that of all the jobs I found in Singapore are in technology, and was interested in what Vadeketh had to say about the low priority on art in Singapore’s meritocracy. My colleagues also brought up what it would mean to work in a country that does not share the same ideas about freedom of speech (and hence academic freedom) as in the U.S.
Which all leaves me wondering if I could actually live there. I’m not sure. But then again, my hunch is that Singapore will continue to grow and prosper economically. Maybe it is just election season getting to me, but I have less and less faith in our political system. Singapore’s education system, while lacking crucial aspects, does continue to garner attention while ours appears to be meeting its demise. And while social injustices undoubtedly exist, I was struck by the lack of hate and anger in Singapore, particularly when compared to our current socio-political climate in the U.S. While I’m not sure what the future will hold, I will keep my eyes and ears on Singapore in my job search, if only to learn more about what I find to be a truly fascinating culture and amazing city.