Singapore and National Identity [Book Reference]

This section of the book illustrate how the national identity built by the government failed to connect with the Singaporeans’ conception of national identity. The government’s image of national identity consist of the element of ‘civil’ and ‘ethic’ but the Singaporeans’ national identity is much simpler. It is highly celebrated that a ‘real Singaporean’ should consist of following three elements which basically is sharing similar experience and that shared experience will become their culture and form their own national identity:


  • They had friends who participated in National Service.
  • They had friends who struggled through the education system.
  • They ate, celebrated, learned, and suffered together, as well as they served, and were being served by other Singaporeans

[Section from 23-46]

Abstract: This study wants to shed new light on the politics of Singapore’s national identity invention. Since independence in 1965, the Singaporean government has tried to generate a sense of national identity in Singapore. While at first, the priority was on pragmatic values to promote the economic development, this changed in the late 1980s when the government became concerned with the widespread materialism within the society. As an alternative, so-called Asian values sought to provide an ideological alternative and a new basis for a stronger national identity. At the same time, average Singaporeans have developed their own unique conceptions of the city-state’s national identity, which sometimes contradict the official nation-building efforts and thus constitute a subtle form of opposition. Many Singaporeans demand greater participation in the negotiation of their Singaporean identity, which demonstrates the difficulty of constructing a sustainable authoritarian civic national identity.



Book: Oatman, S. (2009) Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs. 2nd Ed. Germany: GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Institute of Asian Studies and Hamburg University Press.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.