AcademiaSG Lecture: Kenneth Paul Tan on looking at Singapore through the lens of ‘tragedy’.

Academic Views, Events / Sunday, August 27th, 2023

September 16 marks the 100th birthday of Lee Kuan Yew, who was not only the central character in the modern “Singapore Story” but also remains its key author. In this lecture, KENNETH PAUL TAN (Hong Kong Baptist University) considers an alternative to the official narrative — one that may be more reflective of the country’s present and future state.


Sunday 17 September 2023, 4–5:30pm Singapore Time.

In 2008, Kenneth Paul Tan anticipated the decay of meritocracy in Singapore’s technocratic political and public sector leadership, often credited then as a key factor in Singapore’s success story. What has emerged since is a crude form of elitism, lacking creativity, moral depth, and leadership to manage the contradictory dynamics of neoliberal globalization. In 2012, he anticipated the decay of more thoughtful and courageous strands of pragmatism in Singapore’s policymaking into a crude, unimaginative, and sometimes brutal form of market fundamentalism that — together with the rise of an entitled, insecure, and prickly ruling elite — would eventually create the conditions for widespread scepticism, popular resentment, and populist energies directed against the establishment and even authority in general. In a series of public lectures in 2019, he asked, “Are Singapore’s finest years coming to an end?” In this lecture for AcademiaSG, Tan revisits the underlying political and cultural criticisms that have motivated his writings over the decades, in order to explore the validity and desirability of explaining today’s (and possibly tomorrow’s) Singapore through the lens of “tragedy”. He also reflects on why critics like himself are often drawn to catastrophic thinking, what value that brings to the production of knowledge, and what price is paid for it. 

His lecture is moderated by Donald Low (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology).

Kenneth Paul Tan is a Professor of Politics, Film, and Cultural Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University. He teaches and conducts interdisciplinary research at the Department of Journalism, the Academy of Film, the Department of Government and International Studies, and the Smart Society Lab. He was formerly with the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, where he served as Vice Dean. His monographs and edited books on Singapore include: Singapore’s First Year of COVID-19: Public Health, Immigration, the Neoliberal State, and Authoritarian Populism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022), Singapore: Identity, Brand, Power (Cambridge University Press, 2018), Governing Global-City Singapore: Legacies and Futures After Lee Kuan Yew (Routledge, 2017), Cinema and Television in Singapore: Resistance in One Dimension (Brill, 2008), and Renaissance Singapore? Economy, Culture, and Politics (NUS Press, 2007).