Accounting for Change in Diverse Societies

Diversity and Nation-Building in Singapore

Publication Date: April 2017

Daniel Goh

Daniel Goh is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the National University of Singapore, as well as a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament for the Worker’s Party of Singapore, currently holding office as a member of the Central Executive Council. His research focuses on state formation, post-colonialism, multiculturalism, and heritage politics. His recent publications include “Singapore, the State and Decolonial Spatiality,” and “Between History and Heritage: Post-Colonialism, Globalisation, and the Remaking of Malacca, Penang, and Singapore.”

In Singapore, commitment to multiculturalism has been a central part of the country’s identity since independence. The top-down, four-ethnicity framework that Singapore adopted in the 1960s (Chinese-Malay-Indian-Other) has sought to maintain harmony among the city state’s different ethnic groups by defining Singapore as a multi-ethnic state, thus avoiding some of the pitfalls of majoritarian politics. How important a role has top-down social engineering played in Singapore’s form of multiculturalism? What distinguishes Singapore’s model from more liberal forms of multiculturalism?