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“Why they hate Singapore”: the outer limits or new possibilities of postcolonial theory

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  • L243 Politics Of A Specific Country/Region
  • L370 Social Theory
  • L712 Human And Social Geography Of Asia
  • Anthropology
  • Economics
  • History
  • Linguistics
  • Political Science


Postcolonial studies have long been associated with certain forms of normative politics: from the critical historiography of the Subaltern Studies collective to calls for self-determination, democratisation and liberation in and for the non-Western and formerly-colonised worlds. This has largely been explored in and through the Indian and African experiences of European colonialism. Comparatively, though, postcolonialism has had less to say about the newly-rich economies of East and Southeast Asia. These economic and developmental “success” stories have been self-consciously shaped by political ideologies that assert discourses of governance and rights as well as communitarian politics quite at odds with the ideals of a great degree of postcolonial scholarship. This paper explores several recent developments in the politics and society of Singapore. It identifies instances where individuals who support the ruling party’s policy have utilised terminology and arguments that are (on the one hand) explicable as instances of postcolonial resistance towards Western ideas and ideologies but (on the other) deployed in support of politics that stand starkly at odds with most of those espoused in the theory and praxis of much postcolonial scholarship. The paper suggests that far from abandoning postcolonialism’s normative politics, scholars need to be aware both of the ambiguous relationship with colonial modernity that characterises much of newly industrialising Asia and to continue to work to uncover acts of oppression and dispossession within these societies. Critical and self-reflexive postcolonial scholarship can, it will be argued, play a key role not just in enabling alternative futures for Asian peoples and societies but in ensuring that postcolonialism is not silenced by those who would adopt its methodologies against its politics.

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