What the crisis reveals about the health of Singapore democracy

20200501 Post Event Notes / Saturday, May 2nd, 2020


Readings on Singapore’s neo-authoritarian traits, minority stereotyping, academic interventions and community engagement, contributed as a follow-up to the webinar, “Beyond the pandemic”, on 1 May 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic is a lens through which the weaknesses of Singapore’s neo-authoritarianism can be seen more clearly. Over the years, my research interests have grown around a model of neo-authoritarianism based on the dialectical relationship between neoliberal globalization and authoritarian populism. In the Academia.SG webinar “Beyond the Pandemic”, when referring to neoliberal globalization, I focused on the primacy and pervasiveness of market logic in all spheres.  When referring to the rise of authoritarian populism, I focused on the growing resentment towards a disrespectful elite and the stigmatization and policing of minorities as folk devilish causes of society’s degeneration. In particular, I expressed concerns surrounding issues related to migrant workers. I also spoke on civil society’s against-the-grain efforts to intervene where the state has failed, and how academics – through their research, teaching, and outreach roles – can engage with communities to transform society in activities of mutual learning and inter-disciplinary collaboration.

Most of these ideas are discussed in some way or other in my book:

Tan, K.P. (2017) Governing Global-City Singapore: Legacies and futures after Lee Kuan Yew, Routledge.

To read more about my thinking on global-city Singapore’s embrace of neoliberal globalization, see:

Tan, K.P. (2018) Singapore: Identity, Brand, Power, Cambridge University Press. (Also available in a Chinese edition, from April 2020.)

Tan, K.P. (2013) “Forum theater in Singapore: Resistance, containment, and commodification in an advanced industrial society”, positions: asia critique, 21(1).

Tan, K.P. (2012) “The ideology of pragmatism: Neo-liberal globalisation and political authoritarianism in Singapore”, Journal of Contemporary Asia, 42(1), 67-92.

Tan, K.P. (2012) “Alternative vision in neoliberal Singapore: Memories, places, and voices in the films of Tan Pin Pin”, in D. Lim and H. Yamamoto (eds.) Film in Contemporary Southeast Asia: Cultural Interpretation and Social Intervention (pp. 147-167), Routledge.

Tan, K.P. (2011) “The narcissistic state and The Singapore Story as its mirror”, in W.S.W. Lim, S. Siddique, & D.F. Tan (eds.) Singapore Shifting Boundaries (pp. 73-83),

Asian Urban Lab.

Tan, K.P. (2008) “Meritocracy and elitism in a global city: Ideological shifts in Singapore”, International Political Science Review, 29(1).

Tan, K.P. (2007) Renaissance Singapore? Economy, Culture, and Politics, NUS Press.

Tan, K.P. (2003) “Sexing up Singapore”, International Journal of Cultural Studies,

6(4), 403-423.

On authoritarian populism, see:

Tan, K.P. (2017) “Resisting authoritarian populism: Lessons from/for Singapore”, Foreign Affairs, 96(4).

Tan, K.P. (2010) “Pragmatic secularism, civil religion, and political legitimacy in Singapore”, in C.L. Ten (ed) State and Secularism: Perspectives from Asia (pp. 339-358). World Scientific.

Tan, K.P. (2009) “Who’s afraid of Catherine Lim? The state in patriarchal Singapore”,

Asian Studies Review, 33(1), 43-62.

Tan, K.P., & Lee, G.J.J. (2007) “Imagining the gay community in Singapore”, Critical

Asian Studies, 39(2), 179-204.

On minority stereotypes, see:

Tan, K.P. (2015) “Images of the migrant worker in Singapore’s mainstream news media: prospects for integration”, in M.T. Yap, G. Koh, & D. Soon (eds) Migration

and Integration in Singapore: Policies and Practice (pp. 160-191), Routledge.

Tan, K.P. (2009) “Racial stereotypes in Singapore films: commercial value and critical possibilities”, In P.S.D. Goh, M. Gabrielpillai, & P. Holden (eds) Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (pp. 124-140). Routledge.

Tan, K.P. (2008) Cinema and Television in Singapore: Resistance in One Dimension, Brill.

Tan, K.P. (2010). Pontianaks, ghosts and the possessed: Female monstrosity and

national anxiety in Singapore cinema. Asian Studies Review, 34(2), 151-170.

On academic interventions and community engagement, see:

Tan, K.P. (2017) “Civic education and deliberative democracy in Singapore”, in C. Soon, & G. Koh (eds) Civil Society and the State in Singapore (pp. 203-228), World Scientific.

Tan, K.P. (2013) “A ‘Singapore school’ of public policy”, in K. Mahbubani, S.N. Yiannouka, S.A. Fritzen, A.S. Tuminez, & K.P. Tan (eds) Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy: Building A Global Policy School in Asia (pp. 127-148), World Scientific.

Tan, K.P. (2009) “Service learning outside the U.S.: Initial experiences in Singapore’s higher education”, PS – Political Science and Politics, 42(3), 549-557.

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