Junior Scholar Seminar: 25 July 2023

Exploring Student Responses to Representations of Poverty and Privilege in Singapore Poetry

Dominic Nah, PhD Candidate, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University

Tuesday 25 July 2023, 11am Singapore time (UTC +8), via Zoom

Literature educators have adopted dialogic pedagogies to balance aesthetic and ethical engagements of texts, but little research has been conducted in Singapore schools on student responses. To explore how Singaporean secondary school students respond to representations of poverty and privilege in a local context, Nah draws from case studies of two Secondary Three classes in mainstream schools who participated in a co-designed unit on privilege and inequality in Singapore poetry.

Nah situates his work in the strand of ethical criticism in literary studies influenced by Emmanuel Levinas’ other-centred ethical philosophy, which informs Suzanne Choo’s Cosmopolitan Literature pedagogy, whose principles of Confucian cosmopolitanism and application in Literature classrooms he takes up in this presentation. Focusing on the ethical values of empathy, hospitality and responsibility, he outlines a continuum of three stances of how students practise ethical interruptions of their prejudices toward the other: resistant and self-centred; receptive yet self-centred; and finally, receptive and other-centred stances. He uses this continuum to examine classroom discourse from two lessons where students discuss the poems “Candles” by Alvin Pang and “#firstworldproblems” by Loh Guan Liang, depicting a poverty-stricken Singaporean family and socio-economically privileged persona respectively. Lastly, he shares several implications for Literature teacher education.

Dominic Nah is a PhD candidate at the English Language and Literature Academic Group, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University. For his doctoral thesis, he examines student responses towards ethically oriented Literature pedagogies. His work has recently been accepted for publication in Changing English and English in Australia.


Brenton Doecke is Emeritus Professor at Deakin University. He has published widely in thefield of English curriculum and pedagogy. He is an Honorary Life Member of the Victorian Association for the Teaching of English and the Australian Association for the Teaching of English.


The Singapore Studies Junior Scholar Seminars are organised by AcademiaSG, an international and independent collective of Singaporean scholars, as part of our mission to promote research on Singapore. If you are a PhD student or post-doctoral scholar with research to share, read our Call for Proposals. We also welcome essays and commentaries for our Academic Views section. Write to our editors through our contact form to pitch an idea.