Living with Myths in Singapore
edited by Loh Kah Seng, Thum Ping Tjin and Jack Meng-Tat Chia
Singapore is a mythic nation, where our ‘reality’ and ‘common sense’ are conditioned by a group of influential myths. Our main myths are examined in this collection of essays and thoughts on the social ramifications of myth-making: The Singapore Story (that our nation has a singular story), From Third World to First (our story of success), Vulnerability and Faultlines (the threats we still face despite success) and A Deficient People (the threats exist because people remain immature).
Myths build social consensus but also marginalise crucial stories, perspectives and possibilities that don’t fit the main narrative. Should we teach our students to be good citizens by telling them one unifying narrative of Singapore, or many varied narratives? Have we always said no to social welfare, or to the casino? Is liberal democracy necessarily a threat to social stability? Have Singaporeans historically been apathetic, ignorant or irrational?
The contributors to this book believe that knowing, and debating, how we live with myths will help us to better understand Singapore today, and to imagine its future. Here they share the robust discussions and debates which took place from 2014 to 2015 even as Singapore celebrated 50 years of full independence.
Contributors to the Book
Loh Kah Seng • Thum Ping Tjin • Jack Meng-Tat Chia • Mark Baildon •
Suhaimi Afandi • Christine Han • Gwee Li Sui • Terence Lee • Philip Holden •
Ho Chi Tim • Seng Guo-Quan • Lee Kah-Wee • Arthur Chia • Gareth Curless •
Teo Soh Lung • Chong Ja Ian • Laavanya Kathiravelu • Lai Ah Eng • Wong Chee Meng • Elaine Ho Lynn-Ee • Liew Kai Khiun • Edgar Liao • Teo You Yenn • Charanpal S. Bal
About the Editors
Loh Kah Seng is a historian and author of the award-listed book, Squatters into Citizens: The 1961 Bukit Ho Swee Fire and the Making of Modern Singapore. He is currently writing a book on the history of tuberculosis in Singapore.
Pingtjin Thum is a Research Fellow and co-ordinator of Project Southeast Asia at the University of Oxford. He runs the popular podcast, The History of Singapore.
Jack Meng-Tat Chia is a PhD candidate at Cornell University who works on the history of Chinese Buddhism in maritime Southeast Asia.
[This book] offers us the intellectual tools to boldly leap beyond the boundaries of ‘manufactured realities’ – in the spirit and tradition of the political lions of Singapura, past and present.
— Associate Professor Lily Rahim Zubaidah, The University of Sydney
This is an exciting book which strengthens a trend in Singapore’s intellectual life to critique the self-serving mythology of the country’s authoritarian state. The authors challenge the series of portraits that have been constructed to formulate Singapore’s identity, and offer a refreshing analysis that seeks to broaden and diversify our understanding of the city-state within the context of global social science disciplines.
— Carl A. Trocki, Professor of Asian Studies (Ret)
As Singapore moves into the next phase, it will be necessary to clear away the cobwebs in the mind which make ‘hard truths’ easy. This book is thus much needed for a new ‘culture of critical thinking’ to emerge, most importantly the citizens’ initiative and creativity and the emancipation of their minds. The current simplistic narrative has to be replaced by many new perspectives and interpretations. This is what this book begins to do. It is a must read!
— Tay Kheng Soon, Akitek Tenggara
Overall, Living with Myths is a valuable volume which contributes to a profound discussion on topics that cannot often be publicly contested. With language that is easily accessible, the collection provides an opportunity for productive conversations and exchanges between academics from different backgrounds and the general public.
— Cha: An Asian Literary Journal
Living with Myths is a valuable scholarly text about Singapore’s political and social mythologies… It is a sign of the quality of this book that so many of the contributors – and all of the editors – are young, independent-minded Singaporean scholars who are carving out distinctive, critical and new fields of scholarship for themselves.
— Michael Barr, Asian Studies Review
By laying bare some of the myths that undergird our present society, this volume provides a valuable starting-point for contending with harmful narratives, conceiving better policy and connecting with a community that has begun thinking seriously about these issues. Its insights can help us to be more truthful to those we serve, and to ourselves. We owe them, and ourselves, as much.
— Theophilus Kwek, Mekong Review
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Dimension: 150mm x 220mm