Elitism, Ethnicity and the Nation-Building Project
by Michael D. Barr & Zlatko Skrbiš
318 pp., illustrated
Democracy in Asia # 11
Available from NIAS Press worldwide
Singapore has few natural resources but, in a relatively short history, its economic and social development and transformation are nothing short of remarkable. Today Singapore is by far the most successful exemplar of material development in Southeast Asia and it often finds itself the envy of developed countries. Furthermore over the last three or four decades the ruling party has presided over the formation of a thriving community of Singaporeans who love and are proud of their country.
Nothing about these processes has been 'natural' in any sense of the word. Much of the country's investment in nation-building has in fact gone into the selection, training and formation of a ruling and administrative elite that reflects and will perpetuate its vision of the nation. The government ownership of the nation-building project, its micromanagement of everyday life and the role played by the elite are three fundamental elements in this complex and continuing process of construction of a natrion. The intense triangulation of these elements and the pace of change they produce make Singapore one of the most intriguing specimens of nation-building in the region.
In this critical study of the politics of ethnicity and elitism in Singapore, Barr and Skrbiš look inside the supposedly 'meritocratic' system, from nursery school to university and beyond, that produces Singapore's political and administrative elite. Focusing on two processes - elite formation and elite selection - they give primary attention to the role that etho-racial ascription plays in these processes but also consider the input of personal connections, personal power, class and gender. The result is a study revealing much about how Singapore's elite-led nation-building project has reached its current state whereby a Singaporean version of Chinese ethno-nationalism has overwhelmed the discourse on national and Singaporean identity.
1 Introduction: Island, Colony, City, Nation
4 The Culture of Elite Governance
5 Incomplete Assimilation: From Civic Nationalism to Ethnonationalism
6 Building the ‘New’ Singaporean and New Elite
7 Catching Them Young: Afraid to Fail in Kindergarten
8 Grades, Kiasuism and Race: Primary School and Beyond
9 Sorting the ‘Scholars’ from the ‘Commoners’: Secondary School and Junior College
10 Winners and Losers: Gender, Race and Class in Elite Selection
11 Making a Mandarin: Inside the Administrative Elite
12 Conclusion: A Tentative Assessment of Singapore’s Nation-Building Project
Prof. Zlatko Skrbis
Zlatko Skrbis is Professor of Sociology at The University of Queensland. His main area of research interest is in the intersecting areas of migration, globalization and culture. He is the author of Long-distance Nationalism (1999) and Constructing Singapore (2008, with Michael Barr). His recent journal articles include papers in the Sociological Review, Nations and Nationalism, Theory, Culture and Society, Ethnic and Racial Studies and Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. He is currently working on the Australian Research Council funded longitudinal project on life pathways of young people in Queensland, Australia.
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- Feb. 29 2016
After a year of 48-hour days and frantic juggling, first copies of the printed volume of End of Empire: 100 Days in 1945 that Changed Asia and the World, edited by David P. Chandler, Robert Cribb and Li Narangoa, finally reached the NIAS Press office this morning.